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Underside of NYPD reveals itself in $1 million robbery at warehouse; Fragrances taken by the truckload

NYPD badges out, Kelvin Jones and the other armed men turned up out of nowhere at a New Jersey warehouse and began barking orders.

Jones told startled workers that the New York Police Department had sent the team there to inspect for counterfeit goods -- even though the wholesale dealer of Prada, Versace and other fragrances was legitimate.

The men herded about a dozen employees into a tiny back office and tied them up. By then, it was obvious something was amiss.

"We were kind of shocked," one worker recalled. "We were like, why is the NYPD coming in here like this?"

Another blurted: "You're not cops."

But Jones was indeed an NYPD officer. In fact, he had held an elite undercover position.

Two with him were also part of the NYPD. A third was a former officer. But these were hardly "New York's Finest."

What they'd set up to look like a police raid was instead a brazen, $1 million robbery.

Eventually, the 30-year-old Jones would face trial. And his case, though largely overlooked, isn't isolated. In the last two years, prosecutors have accused officers of planting evidence in drug investigations, of running illegal guns, of robbing drug dealers, of routinely fixing traffic tickets as favors.

How Jones became an undercover officer and the exact nature of his assignment weren't made public at his trial in Newark, N.J., in 2010, and police officials won't discuss it. But court documents offer hints: They show the NYPD authorized the Caribbean-born Jones to use the aliases Michael Kingston and Kelvin Johns. And in a handwritten journal, he made cryptic references to assignments in cities far from New York.

That was before he was demoted to ordinary patrol -- a transfer that still gave him access to an internal police database he used to help hatch the warehouse holdup.

In his new assignment, Jones learned that two patrolmen were routinely robbing prostitutes and brothels, according to trial testimony. Jones sought out one, Brian Checo, to get in on the action.

"I told him it's not worth it because it's not a lot of money," recalled Checo, who pleaded guilty and agreed to become a government witness. "And that's when he said he is going to have something for us and he is going to let us know."

About two months later, Jones let Checo know he wanted help robbing a warehouse. This one was in Brooklyn, and it stored counterfeit clothing.

Checo and two others -- Patrolman Richard LeBlanca and former Officer Orlando Garcia -- signed on.

Converging on the Brooklyn warehouse, the officers used a broom to knock out a security camera. Jones shouted out the names of the employees before the men handcuffed them, and trucks began showing up to haul merchandise away. He told his crew the goods would be sold to a fence.

Word later came that the same fence had made Jones an offer he couldn't refuse, this time regarding a perfume warehouse in Carlstadt, N.J.: If he and his cohorts could "get four trucks of perfumes, he will give them $500,000."

On the day of the robbery in 2010, Jones, using the name Mike Smith, went with the others to rent two 24-foot trucks. LeBlanca maxed out his debit card renting one, and Garcia had to use his card, too. Both, incredibly, used their real names -- a mistake that would come back to haunt them.

There were six trucks in all. Four carrying hundreds of boxes of perfume and other merchandise valued at $1 million got away, but the two 24-foot trucks rented earlier that day were left behind after someone called the police.

Afterward, panic set in. Jones advised his cohorts to report that cards used at the truck rental office had been stolen.

But when it dawned on Checo that Jones had made himself a "ghost" -- with prepaid phones, the alias, the out-of-state plates -- and he lashed out.

Police and federal agents arrested the officers. The owner of the truck rental agency picked Jones out of a photo array. Checo, as promised, flipped, and the other two robbers also cooperated.

Jones was convicted at a federal trial in Newark in December 2010.

At sentencing, he contended, "I was framed," but the judge was unmoved.

The former NYPD undercover officer is serving a 16-year sentence in an Ohio prison.