WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- A former Wilmington police officer has pleaded guilty in connection to a botched prostitution sting last year.
Andy Lazzaro admitted to misdemeanor willful failure to discharge duties this afternoon.
He admitted getting drunk during the sting in March 2012, but did not admit to prosecution claims he engaged in inappropriate behavior with women who came to an RV staged as a bachelor party.
District Attorney Ben David says there were two video recording devices hidden in the RV. He said on was in the front, and the other was in the back. David said Lazzaro had to be driven home by another officer, Sam Thompson. David said Lazzaro had the recorder from the front of the RV in his pocket, and audio from it revealed he asked Thompson to help him edit video from the other recorder and that Thompson agreed. David said there was no evidence Thompson ever did this and that there is no evidence of any criminal action. That recording device later went missing and has never been found. Thompson has since been transferred to patrol, according to WPD Deputy Chief Mitch Cunningham.
"There weren't any felonies that we could establish beyond a reasonable doubt," David said. "You've asked about the missing key fob. If we could prove where that is, that would be a felony. That would be obstruction of evidence if we could prove that beyond a reasonable doubt. And believe me: We looked."
Prosecutors say they cannot prove what happened to the camera. They also say they believe $1,500 unaccounted for from $2,400 in special funds used in the sting was likely an issue of poor accounting by officers involved, which led to two supervisors, Joe Fitzgerald and Will Richards, being disciplined. Fitzgerald later quit.
Deputy Police Chief Mitch Cunningham, speaking on behalf of WPD because Chief Ralph Evangelous was out because of a previously scheduled medical procedure, says the department has taken corrective measures to make sure something like this does not happen again. He says the key now is to maintain the public confidence.
"Our officers brought this incident to our attention; officers within our agency. And then from that investigation it moved over to the SBI, and then they did their investigation, and we've gotten to the bottom of it," Cunningham said.
But we pointed out that it took months for officers to come forward, and in February Evangelous said the "code of silence" among law enforcement needed to stop.
"Well, certain officers came forward," Cunningham said. "We did our investigation, and because of that investigation we transferred people, officers resigned, so it's been a difficult time for our agency. But I think the public trust is maintained when they see how this process worked and its ultimate result."
Judge Russell Davis sentenced Lazzaro to 45 days suspended sentence, 12 months unsupervised probation, court costs, a $100 fine and 24 hours community service. He cannot be a law enforcement officer during his probation. Lazzaro has also agreed to give up his law enforcement certification.