WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – A former officer with the Wilmington Police Department entered a guilty plea in court Wednesday afternoon in connection to behavior from an incident in March 2012.
According to the Asst. District Attorney's Office, the SBI has been investigating the event since March of this year.
Andrew Lazzaro pleaded guilty Wednesday in New Hanover County court to willful failure to discharge duties and will surrender his police officer certification. A judge sentenced Lazzaro to a 45 day suspended sentence, 12 months unsupervised probation, and to pay court costs.
WECT reported in March 2013 the SBI agreed to investigate possible criminal activity by the Wilmington Police Department at the request of the District Attorney's Office and Chief Ralph Evangelous.
The investigation was requested in response to allegations the WPD Narcotics Unit botched an undercover sting that opened in December 2012 and closed at the end of February 2013.
A news release at the time said the investigation stated the officers acted outside of acceptable standards for the use of alcohol on an undercover prostitution and drug sting, but did not break any laws.
WECT learned in court that Lazzaro played the role of the bachelor in the sting. In court, the DA's office said that Lazzaro drank to the point of intoxication. Other officers were drinking as well, but they were not drunk. There was inappropriate contact with Lazzaro and a dancer.
An investigation by WECT found that a video camera used in an undercover prostitution sting was reported missing several months after the sting.
The DA's Office and SBI were not able to find enough evidence to charge anyone with taking the camera. In court we learned that an Officer Sam Thompson drove Lazzaro home the night of the sting because he was drunk. The DA tells us he is heard on tape agreeing to help Lazzaro edit the video tape. The DA said Thompson would not face any charges, and Deputy Chief Mitch Cunningham said Thompson was transferred out of the unit.
Documents obtained by WECT earlier this year confirmed the involvement of two WPD Officers who resigned after information of a botched undercover prostitution sting came to light.
On the day of the prostitution sting in question, Sgt. JP Fitzgerald checked out $2,400 from the WPD's Special Investigative Fund for the operation.
Receipts show that Fitzgerald and four other officers spent $1,552 on an undercover operation listed as "Cape Fear Entertainers."
The receipts do not indicate what the money was spent on, although Evangelous has said that the operation used a RV and that alcohol was consumed.
Sgt. Fitzgerald was demoted to Corporal in February following an internal investigation into the sting, he resigned from the force not long after. District Attorney Ben David stressed in a press conference that they found no criminal actions by Fitzgerald.
A judge sentenced Lazzaro to a 45 day suspended sentence and 12 months unsupervised probation and court costs.
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