NEW YORK – A city police detective, two firefighters and a funeral arranger nicknamed "The Undertaker" were involved in an illegal gambling ring that ran high-stakes poker games, federal authorities said Thursday.
The four men were among 15 people arrested early Thursday on charges of conspiracy to operate an illegal gambling business and illegal gambling.
All the defendants -- including New York Police Department Detective Richard Palase, firefighters Michael Bergen and Gerald Parsons and funeral planner Joseph Fumando, a retired police sergeant and Bergen's retired firefighter father -- pleaded not guilty in federal court in Brooklyn. A federal magistrate released each on $75,000 bond.
Outside court, a lawyer for the detective said his 46-year-old client had an unblemished record in his 15 years on the force.
"He's never been in trouble before," said the lawyer, Peter Brill.
Other defense attorneys expressed surprise at the scale of the investigation in a case with no allegations of violence or ties to organized crime.
"I don't understand the expenditure of resources just for a card game," said Joseph Sorrentino, a lawyer for one of the accused.
The probe was launched last year by the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau. Indictments say investigators learned the defendants ran games that rotated between four locations on Staten Island, and on some nights took in more than $2,000.
Evidence includes intercepted text messages and phone calls of Palase and other defendants, the court papers said. Some of the defendants acted as card dealers while others recruited players, the papers said.
Unlike the other defendants who left the courthouse out the front door to face news photographers, Palase never appeared, sparking speculation that he was allowed to duck out a restricted back exit.
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne later said the detective "was given no special consideration" during the arrest process.