As the sun descended over the red apartment in the South Bronx, the hitman continued his stakeout. Growing weary, he phoned an associate with a request: “Bring me water, bananas, and cocaine.”
His name was Rafael Francisco, nicknamed Six-Seven in a nod to his former cabbie dispatch number. Now his livelihood depended on home invasions and murder-for-hire. And his method was almost always the same: police impersonation.
The year was 1997, and Six-Seven ran his operation from a Bronx parking lot he extorted from its owner. Two weeks later, his men readied themselves for the hit. For $50,000, they’d been hired by a high-ranking drug lord whose teenage brother was killed during a robbery gone bad. Under the afternoon sun, the ex-cabbie and his associates donned police garb and sped away from the lot. Six-Seven carried his favorite gun, a .38 caliber revolver dubbed The Abuser. “When it goes off, it sounds way too beautiful,” he’d say.
Outside the red apartment, the hitmen spotted a target with another man. They flashed their badges and escorted them into a van. Back at the parking lot, the kidnappers hovered over the face-down victims. “Where’s the money?!” one demanded. Another crewmember fetched a gas tank. The van, along with an SUV, sped off.
Hours later, a group of students spotted the SUV engulfed in flames near a highway. One heard a noise. It was caused, the medical examiner would testify, by either the twisting of the van’s metal, or the steam escaping the fractured skulls of the two dead men inside. Plastic flexicuffs dangled from one man’s wrist, duct tape residue pasted to his mouth. The other man’s body was fused to the vehicle. Both had been shot in the head. The story blew up on the morning news and rose to the top of the NYPD’s priority list.
That day, police received a call about a pink-shirted gunman behaving erratically in the Bronx. A responding officer pulled the man over and discovered inside a treasure trove of police impersonation gear: a bulletproof vest, walkie talkie, duty belt, fake police ID and zip-ties, along with a loaded .40 caliber gun.
As the officer cuffed him, the man declared, “Don’t arrest me, I’m one of you!”
“What do you mean?” said the cop.
“I’m a police officer.”
The cop didn’t buy it. At the precinct, a police-impersonation detective was met with derision.
“Go fuck yourself,” the suspect said.
The suspect was released, but the detective opened a file on him. The detective didn’t know it then, but he just interviewed one of Six-Seven’s hitmen. They would meet again, 16 years later, in the Dominican Republic.
Six-Seven was one of the baddest dudes living in one of the baddest neighborhoods during one of New York’s baddest crime eras. But his legacy extends to this past March, when the last of 20 defendants was sentenced for a series of cold-case murders and robberies tied to his organization and two affiliated gangs. Collectively, these three interconnected crews, along with a few associates, were responsible for at least 13 murders and several dozen robberies. Their payout was close to $1 million worth of stolen drugs and money, with witnesses suggesting a far higher take.
During the 1990s, police impersonations in New York were at a peak, largely because the fake-cop ruse facilitated home invasions. With kilos of dope and millions of dollars hidden inside drug stash houses, the potential for high payouts spawned sophisticated robberies plotted by tipped-off criminals undeterred by violence.
“There was more money in the ghetto than Midtown Manhattan,” recalls an ex-NYPD detective.
Originally, the robbers would bum-rush apartments, with limited success. Then they got creative. One approach involved posing as deliverymen, perhaps with flowerboxes concealing guns. In other instances, robbers knocked on doors with beautiful women flanking them, dropping the guards of dealers inside. But police impersonation was the closest thing to a slam-dunk method. Following a flash of a badge, victims could be handcuffed in an instant.
During a 17-year investigation beginning in 2000, an NYPD detective and an ATF agent rolled up the most notorious police impersonation crew in the city. After spearing the most wanted police impersonator in New York, they were led to a bigger fish, a drug dealer responsible for six murders. And that led them to a bona fide whale: Six-Seven.
In 1992, a Dominican teenager named Ray Flores immigrated to the Bronx and began selling fruit, aspiring to the American dream. When his landlord visited his family’s tenement, Ray’s father ordered him to hide because only two tenants were permitted to live in the apartment. But Ray had to use the bathroom. “You gotta shit yourself, shit yourself,” his father suggested.
Ray moved out and met a local crack dealer named Jimmy, who offered Ray a place to sleep. When Jimmy was jailed, he asked Ray to watch over the block.
Ray did much more. He learned to cook crack in a double boiler, mixing it with rum or beer, making it more flavorful. The recipe was a boon: Ray went from selling 100 grams to more than a kilo a week. His $7,000-a-day earnings allowed him to recruit more people. The crew members boasted names like El Grande, El Actor, Rambo, and Asesino—“killer” in Spanish.
To brand themselves, Ray’s mostly Dominican crew sold their product in gold-capped vials, distinguished from the red-capped vials sold by blacks, and the blue-capped vials sold by Puerto Ricans. They called themselves Solid Gold. Though he wasn’t yet 20, Ray was the most powerful person in the neighborhood.
Upon his release, Jimmy challenged his one-time protégé, demanding his block back. Ray held a meeting, where it was determined that Jimmy must be killed. “I spent a lot of time putting my business together,” Ray says now.
A contractor carried out the hit. Ray, who attended the funeral, was surprised by the ease of the job; everyone on the block knew what happened, but no one said anything. Afterward, killing got easier for Ray.
His next target was a dealer who sold crack in gold-capped vials, which Ray considered trademark infringement. The father of Ray’s godson did that murder, killing an innocent man in the process. Next on Ray’s hitlist was an ex-con who ran the block before Jimmy. A Solid Gold member shot him in the head in broad daylight. Next up was the rival dealer of Ray’s mentor—the guy who taught him how to cook crack with beer. The target survived a fusillade of bullets unloaded by a Solid Gold gunman, but not so lucky was the 16-year-old girl in the vestibule behind him. She was shot 11 times and died.
Police began raiding the neighborhood in response to the girl’s death, and Ray started losing money. One day, he was griping about his problems to Hector “Montana” Pena, the uncle of a Solid Gold member who belonged to Six-Seven’s crew.
“You think you’re in the wild wild west,” Montana lectured. “You don’t shit where you eat. If you had talked to me, we could have kidnapped him, pretending to be police officers. We would have killed him and thrown him somewhere. And the block would have been nice and quiet.”
(In a written exchange, Montana, who is serving a life sentence, declared his overall “innocence” but declined to respond to the individual claims in this article.)
After the girl’s death, Solid Gold migrated to Manhattan’s East Village, but a local cocaine dealer named Pedro Medina didn’t appreciate another crew’s presence. Medina confronted Ray with a machete, demanding that he leave Manhattan. Medina became the next man on Ray’s hitlist. This time, Ray took Montana’s advice: He called Six-Seven.
The ex-cabbie lived in a trailer in the back of his parking lot. Known to snort coke off Penthouse covers with an Uzi on his lap, the wiry 48-year-old kept his AK-47 next to the trailer door, once boasting that if a visitor opened it at night, the gun would fire automatically. His crew stashed other guns inside random cars at the lot, and stole those cars to do their jobs. To ensure that clients could call them at any time, they wired a sidewalk payphone to a small parking lot office. A federal prosecutor would call the lot “a den of iniquity.”
Six-Seven agreed to the Medina job. In exchange, he’d receive a Jaguar and the proceeds from Medina’s pocket. The early morning of the hit, Montana threw on a gun belt, vest, and NYPD jacket, affixed his scanner and grabbed a fake badge. Montana, Six-Seven, and an associate named Romantico hopped into a random car from the parking lot. Fifteen minutes later, the crew was waiting for Medina at his Brooklyn house.
“We’re policemen from the Narcotics Unit,” Montana announced, approaching Medina upon his arrival. “We’ve been following you from the Village. We have a warrant.”
In the backseat of the car, when Montana revealed he was a hitman, Medina pleaded for his life.
“Today is my daughter’s birthday!” Montana was unmoved. “This is so you don’t go after people with machetes,” he said. Then he pulled the trigger, twice, according to three government witnesses.
Hours later, Ray drove to the parking lot. There, Montana was smugly flipping two .38 caliber cartridges in the air like quarters. Ray shook his hand. Nearby, Six-Seven wore Medina’s black jacket—a keepsake.
That morning, an ironworker on a Manhattan highway spotted a garbage bag on the roadside with a pair of legs protruding from it. Investigators identified the body as Medina’s. Solid Gold tripled their drug sales that year. And the Medina case went cold.
Three years later, in 2000, a man living on a Manhattan cul de sac heard a knock one morning. Two men dressed as police officers greeted him. One was tall and good-looking. He wore a gray suit, carried a clipboard, and flashed a badge.
The men, in fact, were robbers. The tall one’s name was Jose “Joselito” Rodriguez, a smooth-talking 30-year-old who often dressed in a fedora and trench coat, resembling a detective. He knew police lingo; it wasn’t the “43rd precinct,” for example, it was the “four-three.” Not even his crew members knew where he lived; each time they dropped him off, he ducked into a ruse apartment several blocks from his own.
For this job, Joselito was tipped off to 300 kilos of cocaine. As they ransacked the apartment, Joselito led one of the women, 21 years old, into the bathroom. He locked the door, sat her on the toilet, unzipped his pants, and forced himself on her.
“It would be easy for the rest of them to go over to you, but I’m not going to allow that,” Joselito said when he finished.
Outside the bathroom door, a robber was shouting. “Yo, what you doing, let’s leave, there ain’t nothing here!” Joselito emerged and the crew fled.
When they left, the woman called the real cops and Detective Mike Clohessy went to work.
The son of an Irish cop, Clohessy was a brusque investigator with a memory for faces. One of the first men assigned to the NYPD’s recently established Police Impersonation Group, he already knew about a fake detective in the area with a gray suit and clipboard. Known to force female victims into oral sex, the unnamed suspect was the most wanted police impersonator in the city.
“There was a lot of pressure,” Clohessy recalls. “He went up to chiefs’ office. We had to get this fuckin’ guy.”
Two days later, Joselito’s crew struck another stash house, and hit another a week after that. But the next job was to be the biggest yet: 500 kilos of cocaine. The rip required several men and Joselito was joined by Ray and Victor Marte, who used to own the parking lot Six-Seven ran his crew from.
The afternoon of the job, the crew entered the apartment and drew their guns, but suddenly sirens sounded: One of the residents had called relatives, who called the police. The robbers fled in Marte’s van, but witnesses took down the plate number.
Clohessy traced the number to an anonymous man living near a Bronx parking lot and conducted a stakeout. When Marte finally appeared, Clohessy’s partner pulled the van over and discovered cocaine inside. Back at the precinct and facing drug charges, Marte coughed up Joselito’s identity. Now, Clohessy had a name to go with the face of the most wanted fake cop in New York.
A week later, at Joselito’s apartment, Clohessy was greeted by a super bagging up trash, who said the tenant moved out the night before. Clohessy seized the trash bags. They reeked, to the displeasure of cops back at the precinct. Clohessy combed through dirty diapers and baby food, eventually discovering a piece of paper with an IP address. A week later, a subpoena of AmericaOnline led to a hit in Rochester, New York.
An overnight warrant was obtained, and the next day Joselito was arrested and confessing to home invasions committed by a nexus of fake cops he worked with. Clohessy called his contact at the ATF, an agent named Charlie Mulham.
“I think we got a good one,” Clohessy said. “And Charlie, this could be the tip of the iceberg.”
Mulham is built like a cannonball, with a thick Brooklyn accent, but he eventually realized his strongest talents lied inside the interview room. Here, he used his charisma to coax criminals to flip to “Team America,” as he likes to say.
Clohessy and Mulham had met a year prior through a family connection. After immediately clicking, the two lawmen partnered on a fake-cop commercial robbery case the DA’s office wouldn’t touch. The detective and agent took it federal and won. It was a rare occurrence of ATF-NYPD collaboration those days.
Eager to partner again, Mulham listened to the Joselito story. At the time, the ATF wasn’t investigating stash house robberies, yet Clohessy recognized a huge need. Because home-invasion victims were often drug traffickers, they made lousy witnesses, causing their cases to die in state court.
As the lawmen were talking, a light bulb went off in Mulham’s head. What about the Hobbs Act?
Originally designed for labor racketeering, the Hobbs Act allows the feds to prosecute robberies affecting interstate commerce. Because drugs technically fit that category, stash house robberies could satisfy Hobbs Act requirements. Other federal agents had tried this approach, but it was rare.
In 2003, Mulham convinced the U.S. attorney’s office to take the Joselito case. His hope was for a simple conviction for home invasions. But the case, Mulham was about to realize, would become the window into a host of darker crimes buried in time.
Inside the federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan, Mulham led Joselito into a 6-by-9-foot room with a thick shade covering the window so jail inmates across the street can’t see who sings. Joselito started ticking off names of his fake-cop associates. Almost as an addendum, he mentioned two Dominican brothers. One, “Ray,” was a bit-man, present for just a few robberies.
Mulham and Clohessy conducted similar proffers with Marte and another robber, getting them to flip to Team America. But the lawmen still didn’t know the depth of their underworld, or whether their crimes extended beyond home invasions. Mulham obtained a few warrants, including one for Ray.
Two months later Dominican agents tracked Ray to a local beach, where the ex-kingpin was about to bite into a ham sandwich. “The Yankees are looking for you,” the agents said.
Suddenly, Ray felt a rush of relief.
“I had so much peace in my heart,” he recalls. “All those years running are behind me.”
After a life of crime, Ray knew he could be put away for life. But he had a card in his pocket and was ready to play it.
Ray was extradited, and Clohessy met him at JFK Airport. When the detective asked him about home invasions, Ray responded, “Do you want to talk about robberies or do you want to talk about murders?”
“Charlie, you won’t believe it,” Clohessy told Mulham on the phone, as customs was processing Ray. Mulham’s reaction to the murders was muted. His training told him the focus should be on the indicted charges, which were robbery and police impersonation.
“Hobbs Act or murder?!” Clohessy protested. “Where are you on the scale?!”
“Get as much as you can,” said Mulham.
During the ride to the ATF office, Ray wouldn’t stop talking; Clohessy couldn’t write notes fast enough, even with chicken scratch. The killings stretched back to 1994, Ray said.
“I ran a crew,” Ray confessed in an interview room with Mulham. “We got rid of our competition whenever we could.”
Mulham listened to Ray speak matter-of-factly about the first hit he ordered, 12 years earlier, on his boss, Jimmy, and how the murder brought the 19-year-old instant fear and respect in the neighborhood.
“I knew this day was going to come, Charlie,” said Ray. “I will never lie to you.”
He began speaking of other criminals in his orbit. When he got to Six-Seven, Ray said, “I was around a lot of crazy guys, but no one was even close to that guy. He was the most dangerous man I’ve ever met in my life.” Ray told Mulham about the story of Pedro Medina—how Ray hired Six-Seven’s crew for the hit, and how they did it on the week of Medina’s daughter’s birthday.
Over the next few years, during interviews, Mulham and Ray began to bond over stories about their families. To Mulham, Ray was the most honest criminal he’d ever met, with a demeanor that could have made him a corporate businessman. Armed with Ray’s information, Mulham and Clohessy fanned out, and rounded up more than a dozen criminals.
“The case kept on growing, like peeling skin from an onion,” recalls Mulahm’s boss, Frank Napoli. “It took on a life of its own.”
In 2013, Clohessy greeted Montana inside a Dominican prison. The detective immediately recognized him as the pink-shirted man who told him to go fuck himself 16 years earlier—the day the two victims were discovered in the torched SUV.
Through their investigations into Six-Seven, Joselito, Ray, and others, Mulham and Clohessy identified a crime—stash house invasions conducted by police impersonators—that wasn’t being controlled. When they looked around, they found similar cases in abundance. People were being tortured.
Throughout those investigations, Clohessy became a constant presence in the ATF office. Mulham began passing cases along to other agents, who in turn partnered with Clohessy-referred NYPD detectives. “They were running an informal, two-man task force,” recalls Jason Zamaloff, one of Mulham’s former supervisors. “It was unchartered waters.” The partnership helped restore interagency trust, which had been lacking.
The work led the ATF’s New York Field Division to create the Strategic Pattern Armed Robbery Technical Apprehension task force, SPARTA. It uses a mix of ATF agents and NYPD detectives to crack down on particularly violent crews who use similar methods to commit similar crimes.
“Charlie is the grandfather,” SPARTA chief Andy Boss said. “All the other agents learned from him.”
With the money he made through his crimes, Six-Seven moved to the Dominican Republic and launched a trucking business. At Mulham’s request, Dominican intelligence agents apprehended him near the Haitian border. He and Montana, who was snagged through a Dominican police sting, were extradited. In 2013 they were found guilty of the Medina homicide, and the double-murder resulting in the torched car. Six-Seven died in prison, at 66.
In a written exchange, Montana blamed his conviction on hearsay, claiming, “Everything that was said was written and scripted by the government.”
Joselito served 15 years until his deportation two years ago.
This past March, Ray’s mentor, the guy who ordered the hit resulting in the teenage girl’s killing, received 12 years—the last sentencing of the cold cases linked to Six-Seven and Solid Gold.
Ray pleaded guilty to six murders, but because of his cooperation, a judge gave him 11 years. Released last year, the 45-year-old Ray now lives in Spain.
“I do feel remorse, but it’s too late for me,” he says. “I’m not sure of hell or heaven. I’ll see what God has to say when he sees me.”
While incarcerated, Ray called Mulham each year on the agent’s birthday to express his gratitude. The day of his deportation, Mulham met him at JFK Airport’s curbside. Ray pledged to keep in touch.
“You’re my friend,” Ray said. “You never lost faith in me. You gave me a new life.”
“You played the game the right way, Ray,” Mulham replied, staring into the eyes of the man who helped bring down the worst fake cops in New York. “You never lied.”
Ray leaned over and hugged Mulham, who surprised himself by hugging his one-time quarry back.
“He was one of the most violent guys I’ve ever arrested,” Mulham says now. “But he’s one guy the penal system will never see again.”
As Ray walked into the airport, disappearing from Mulham’s sight, a little piece of Mulham vanished, too. The investigation, he says, “consumed my life. The best part is that it never felt that way, because it was so interesting. It’s truly a case for the ages.”