WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Four bodies believed to be the missing men allegedly killed by retired Briarcliff Manor cop Nicholas Tartaglione during a busted drug deal in April were recovered Tuesday on property he rented in Orange County.
Chester police Chief Peter Graziano confirmed the recovery and said the bodies were being taken to the county medical examiner’s office for positive identification.
Tartaglione, 49, was arrested Monday on drug conspiracy charges accusing him of killing the four in April. On Tuesday, state police and the FBI converged on the property on Old Mountain Road in Otisville to search for their remains.
Tartaglione is charged in a five-count indictment for a conspiracy to distribute at least 5 kilograms of cocaine and “the senseless murder” of the four men, which was part of that conspiracy, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. The former cop pleaded not guilty to the charges at his arraignment Monday.
“While all murders tear at the fabric of our communities, when the alleged perpetrator of a gangland-style, quadruple homicide is a former police officer, that strikes at the heart of civilized society,” Bharara said.
Tartaglione and others had allegedly conspired to sell cocaine from June 2015 to April 2016, prosecutors said.
Martin Luna, Urbano Santiago, Miguel Luna and Hector Gutierrez were killed in and around a bar called the Likquid Lounge in Chester as part of that drug activity, officials said. Some of them were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time, officials said.
The bar is run by Tartaglione’s brother, Graziano said.
“These four men had not been seen or heard from since the day of their alleged murder,” Bharara said. “We hope that today’s arrest brings some measure of comfort to the victims’ families and loved ones.”
All four men were last seen in a 2010 Chevrolet Equinox that was believed to have been parked in the Chester Diner parking lot between 2:30 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. on April 11, Middletown police said in the spring. A relative of Miguel Luna spoke with him by telephone at about 5 p.m. that day but there was no communication with any of the four men after that, police said.
Graziano, the Chester chief, said that it is believed one or two of the victims had been involved in drug activity. He said Tartaglione had come to the attention of authorities in recent weeks and had been interviewed by federal agents.
“I don’t know exactly what he said; I’m not sure he admitted to anything,” Graziano said.
Tartaglione appeared in White Plains federal court Monday and remains in custody. He is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine, and four counts of murder in furtherance of a conspiracy to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine.
The indictment superseded another one that was ordered sealed by the magistrate judge. It could not be determined whether anyone else was charged in the earlier indictment.
Reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, Tartaglione’s lawyer declined to comment.
Tartaglione was a cop in Mount Vernon and Pawling before joining the Briarcliff Manor department in 1996. He receives an annual tax-free pension of $65,000 after retiring on disability in 2008 — but he was planning to give up the pension after applying this year for a job with the Mount Vernon Police Department.
He had a checkered career in Briarcliff Manor. He was suspended in 1999 following his arrest on perjury charges after Westchester prosecutors accused him of lying at a Department of Motor Vehicles hearing regarding a drunk-driving arrest he had made. Tartaglione was acquitted at trial but the village fired him on departmental charges.
Tartaglione successfully sued to get his job back in 2003 with $320,000 in back pay. He claimed that authorities concocted the perjury allegation as a way to remove him from the force, but his wrongful arrest lawsuit against the village and District Attorney’s Office was dismissed.
He also had a longstanding feud with Clay Tiffany, a cable television host and gadfly who accused Tartaglione of beating and harassing him on numerous occasions. Tiffany, who died last year, settled a federal lawsuit against the village and Tartaglione, receiving more than $1.1 million.
In addition to his law enforcement career, Tartaglione was involved for years in animal rescue efforts, helping his parents who ran a dog-grooming business, Dapper Dog, in Nyack. He was rescuing horses and dogs on a 65-acre property he recently bought in Orange County.
Tartaglione faces a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life on the drug conspiracy charge. He faces a minimum of 20 years and the possibility of the death penalty or life in prison on each of the charges accusing him of murder in furtherance of the drug conspiracy. Federal prosecutors will determine whether to seek the death penalty in the case.
Graziano, the Chester chief, said he doesn’t believe the department had ever investigated a quadruple homicide before. He was struggling with the idea that someone with a law enforcement background was involved.
“He took an oath. He was a police officer,” the chief said. “This is incomprehensible … What happened that made him turn to this kind of activity I don’t know.”