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Wrongly accused Elmhurst brothers settle suit

The Elmhurst brothers who sued the city for $10 million because they lost their supermarket after being falsely arrested on drug charges have accepted a combined $300,000 settlement with the city, according to the city Law Department.

Jose and Maximo Colon were having a drink at the Delicias de Mi Tierra bar in Elmhurst Jan. 5, 2008, when NYPD officers arrested the pair and four other men on charges of selling cocaine to undercover officers.

Two of the arrested men later pleaded guilty to selling three bags of cocaine to Detective Steven Anderson and Officer Henry Tavarez, according to the Queens district attorney’s office. But the officers contended that the two men sold them only one bag of cocaine and that the Colons and the other two arrested men sold them the other bags.

After a court appearance, Jose Colon was released from jail, after which he went to Delicias de Mi Tierra and retrieved surveillance camera footage that showed the officers never spoke to the brothers.

Maximo’s attorney, Christina Hall, said the officers’ actions were a result of the push by the NYPD to make large numbers of arrests. Jose Colon was represented by attorney Rochelle Berliner.

“More bodies, more opportunities for [Anderson and Tavarez]. It was an opportunity for them to get ahead on the backs of our clients, of mine and Ms. Berliner’s. It’s really disgusting,” Hall said, adding that the Colons are experiencing a range of emotions about the settlement. “It’s mixed reviews. They’ve lost everything so they’re trying to put their lives back together.”

Connie Pankratz, a spokeswoman for the Law Department, declined to comment on the details of the $300,000 settlement, but offered a general statement.

“We believe the settlement was in the city’s best interest,” she said.

The brothers said the arrests prompted the city to revoke their licenses to sell lottery tickets and cigarettes at their supermarket, causing it to go out of business.

City attorneys at first moved to dismiss the suit, arguing the brothers had not made persuasive arguments about any policy in place to wrongfully arrest minorities or manufacture evidence against drug suspects.

But Brooklyn Federal Court Judge Jack Weinstein wrote that he and other judges had heard “anecdotal evidence of repeated, widespread falsification by arresting police officers of the New York City Police Department” and allowed the suit to continue.

Tavarez and Anderson were indicted by a grand jury in January. Tavarez, 27, pleaded guilty in June to offering a false instrument as part of a deal that put him in jail for five days in return for cooperation against the other defendants. Tavarez’s lawyer, Lawrence Fredella could not be reached for comment.

His partner and co-defendant, Anderson, pleaded not guilty to charges of drug sales, filing a false instrument, falsifying business records, misconduct, unlawful imprisonment, conspiracy, attempted perjury and tampering with a witness for allegedly trying to convince Tavarez to claim he forgot the details of the drug bust. His case is still pending, according to Helen Peterson, a spokeswoman for the Queens district attorney’s office.

The Colons are still awaiting the results of a separate civil lawsuit against Anderson and Tavarez, both of whom no longer work for the NYPD.

“It’s not over for the boys yet because we still have the two perpetrators that we’re trying to get into court, Anderson and Tavarez. We’ve gotten default judgments against them already and if they ever show up we will litigate right there in court,” Hall said. “They just want justice.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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