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Saturday, May 6, 2017

Men Who Impersonate Police Officers

     Years ago when starting out in St. Louis as an FBI agent I worked on a squad that, among other things, handled impersonation cases. Because I felt that I was impersonating a FBI agent, and getting paid for it, I didn't like these assignments. While it is a federal crime to impersonate a federal law enforcement officer, federal prosecutors will not press a case unless the perpetrator misrepresented himself to acquire something of value. In the cases I worked the impersonators were trying to impress someone, often a woman, or simply trying to make their lives seem more exciting. (The beauty of impersonating a FBI agent over actually being one is that the impersonator doesn't have the paperwork associated with the job.) I questioned several of these people and found them harmless and in some cases pathetic.

     Naftali Berrill, the director of a private consulting firm called New York Forensics believes that police impersonators come in two flavors, and that both types pose a danger to themselves and to others. One group consists of criminal predators who employ the ruse to gain entry into a house or a car with the intent of robbery, rape or murder. (Serial killer Ted Bundy lured some of his victims into his Volkswagon by impersonating a police detective.) Many of these predator impersonators are violent sociopaths.

     According to Berrill, the second group of impersonators are men who are mentally or emotionally disturbed. Many of these people deal with feelings of inadequacy by using the indicia of law enforcement to expert power over others. Many of them are also depressed and lonely. Some are suicidal while a few might be capable of much worse. Police impersonators, as the cases below reveal, come from all walks of life. And not all of them are losers in their real lives.

Rabbi Alfredo Borodowski

     Raised in Argentina, Alfredo Borodowski earned his degree in law in 1996 at the University of Buenos Aires. After immigrating to the U.S. he became an ordained rabbi. In 2013, Borodowski lived in the Westchester County community of Larchmont, New York where he presided as rabbi of the Sulam Yaakov Congregation.

     In 2013, in the Westchester towns of White Plains, Yonkers, Greenburgh, and Mamaroneck, Rabbi Borodowski began impersonating a police officer by flashing a fake badge at motorists who annoyed him by either driving too slowly or erratically. In one case a 26-year-old driver told police officers that a man (Borodowski) chased him down, and as a police officer, scolded him for swerving in front of him.  

     Borodowski yelled at a 24-year-old woman for driving too slowly in a school zone. In White Plains, the rabbi tailgated a man then ordered him off the road by flashing a badge. The motorist's offense: Driving too slowly. The rabbi cop impersonator, on the Sprain Brook Parkway, chased a 30-year-old woman three miles then banged on her widow as she waited at a traffic light. According to this motorist, "He pulled out a badge and told me that he's going to have me arrested. First he said it was for slow driving. Then he said, 'no, I'm going to lock you up for erratic driving.' When the light turned green he jumped into his car and peeled off."

     When real police officers took Rabbi Borodowski into custody, he denied impersonating a police officer. "What happened," he said, "was that the girl was driving too slow, and I hate it when people do this because it causes traffic backups. She must have been going 15 miles per hour so I told her, 'police! I am calling the police.'"

     In February 2014, Rabbi Borodowski, the self-appointed crusader against slow driving, pleaded guilty in exchange for a fine instead of time in jail. The police impersonator also promised to seek psychiatric counseling. Hopefully he hasn't been impersonating a rabbi.

Bruce W. Browne

     On August 9, 2013, a police officer in Old Lyme, Connecticut, in response to a call from a citizen who spotted a man walking along a beach road with a handgun holstered at his side, came upon a blue 2004 Ford Crown Victoria that looked like a police car. The officer took note of the two-way radio and police-style emergency lights. The Ford's license plate revealed that the vehicle was registered to Bruce W. Browne, a resident of Wolcott, Connecticut. The officer learned that the owner of the police-style car was the estranged, half-brother of Scott Brown, the former U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. (Senator Brown does not spell his last name with the silent e.)

     Earlier that day, Mr. Browne had approached three boaters as a law enforcement officer. (Browne had served a stint with the U.S. Coast Guard Reserves.)

     Inside Bruce Browne's Ford Crown Victoria police officers discovered a cache of police related equipment that included three loaded 9 mm pistols, a black nylon duty belt with two sets of handcuffs, an expandable baton, and twelve loaded pistol magazines. Mr. Browne also possessed a bulletproof vest with "POLICE" embroidered on the front and back. A silver TSA (Transportation Security Administration) badge was attached to the police vest.

     A local Connecticut prosecutor charged Bruce Browne with impersonating a police officer, breach of peace, interfering with a police officer, and possession of a dangerous weapon in a vehicle. The suspect posted his $50,000 bail.

     In February 2014, the 49-year-old Browne pleaded guilty to impersonating a police officer and falsifying a military discharge certificate. Two months later, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the judge sentenced Browne to a prison term of one year and a day. (Without the extra day, the crime would have been a misdemeanor offense served in a local jail. By adding the day, the case became a felony that involved a stretch in prison.)

Ninh Nguyen

     In September 2013, an officer with the Indianapolis, Indiana Police Department spotted, along a funeral procession route for a police officer killed in the line of duty, 38-year-old Ninh Nguyen. Nguyen, wore a police uniform that included a duty belt with a holstered gun, two sets of handcuffs, and a Taser. The Indianapolis officer, from past experience with Nguyen, knew he was a police impersonator. The officers saw the fake cop taking photographs of the funeral procession from his black 2012 Dodge Charger. Nguyen had equipped the vehicle with a siren, flashing lights, and a two-way radio.

     Following Nguyen's arrest, a Marion County prosecutor charged him with impersonating a public servant, a felony that carries a sentence in Indiana of six months to three years in prison. The prosecutor also charged Nguyen with theft of city property. The suspect pleaded not guilty to all charges, posted his bond and was released from jail.

     In the truck on Nguyen's phony police car, officers found an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and police equipment that had been stolen from the Indianapolis Police Department. A search of his house produced a 37-millimeter grenade launcher, more assault rifles, shotguns, more handguns, and several thousand rounds of ammunition.

     This was not the first time Mr. Nguyen had been in trouble with the law for this type of behavior. In 2004, while driving a white Ford Crown Victoria with strobe lights, Nguyen pulled over a motorist for speeding. The cop impersonator wore in a security officer's uniform. Two years later the authorities charged Nguyen with the unlawful use of a police radio, a misdemeanor offense. A local prosecutor dismissed that offense. In 2012 police were investigating Nguyen in connection with a peeping Tom accusation. That case did not lead to an arrest.
   
Matthew Michael Lee McMahon

     On Monday evening, June 2, 2014, in St. Augustine, Florida, a St. Johns County detective behind the wheel of an unmarked police car on the International Golf Parkway, passed a 1999 Ford Crown Victoria. Matthew Michael Lee McMahon, the driver of the car, turned on his red and blue emergency lights, pulled up alongside the police officer, and with a stern look on his face, gave him the slow-down hand gesture. The real officer pulled out of traffic and came to a stop on the shoulder of the highway. When McMahon didn't take the bait the St. Johns County officer pursued McMahon and pulled him over.

     That night McMahon found himself sitting in the county jail. The next morning a local prosecutor charged him with the improper display of blue lights. The accused impersonator paid his $5,500 bond and walked out of the St. Johns County Detention Facility.

     Note to police impersonators: It's never a good idea to enforce the law on a cop. If you do, the cop will return the favor.


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