On a November night in 2011, a crowd of men gathered inside a motorcycle club on Buffalo’s East Side to watch a title fight on pay-per-view television. They also enjoyed the entertainment of strippers, and some employed the services of prostitutes at the party.
Five off-duty New York State troopers were among the revelers that night while as many as 10 scantily clad women pranced around a stripper pole in a corner of the New Brotherhood Motorcycle Club or danced in front of men near the unlicensed bar where liquor was served.
One of the off-duty troopers organized the “giant stag party.”
Two paid for private lap dances and sex acts.
A fourth sporadically checked for weapons at the door.
The fifth just got drunk.
What happened that night led to a months-long state investigation that has rocked the State Police.
It also ended the careers of four of the troopers, and cast a taint on the fifth.
State Police brass trying to get to the bottom of what happened that night looked at what the troopers did and what they did not do inside the former church hall, as well as what they said and what they did not say afterward.
They heard from a prominent pastor and political leader in Buffalo who talked about the respect one of the troopers had earned in the community.
The party also brought attention and scrutiny to the New Brotherhood Motorcycle Club, whose members included several police officers and firefighters.
Titus Z. Taggart, an 18-year State Police veteran, attracted the most attention earlier this year when he was fired and also criminally charged for his role in organizing the party.
But revelations that other troopers had roles in the scandal are now coming to light because of one of them, Frederick Franklin Jr., is going to court to try to get his job back.
The 18-year-veteran was fired after a disciplinary hearing in August, and a transcript of the hearing is included in his court filing this month.
The testimony from troopers and others who were inside the hall that night provides an eyewitness account of a party that one State Police official likened to “a bomb that has blown up over all of us,” bringing discredit to the force.
State got tipoff
Uncovering what happened at the party started with a tip that Taggart was promoting parties where money was being exchanged for sex.
The tipster had been at an earlier party Taggart had organized, and he spotted and then confronted a young woman he knew who was dancing for money. He alerted state police about Taggart’s upcoming party on Nov. 12.
That night, an investigator for the Internal Affairs Bureau kept watch outside the club and snapped photographs of those entering and leaving the Miller Avenue building.
The investigation initially focused on Taggart, but after running checks on the license plates and looking at photos, investigators realized other off-duty troopers attended the party.
One photo showed three of the troopers leaving the club: Franklin, Michael Petritz and Jeremy C. Smith. Troooper Mark Hufnagel also attended.
Taggart was fired in June. He pleaded guilty earlier this month in Erie County Court to promoting prostitution.
Franklin was fired after his hearing.
Petritz and Smith resigned, a State Police spokeswoman said. Both had admitted to paying for sex acts.
Hufnagel remains a trooper, although Franklin’s court papers indicate he was suspended for 60 days. Others who attended said he was highly intoxicated.
One trooper’s defense
Franklin’s disciplinary hearing was conducted before a three-member board composed of high-ranking State Police superiors.
Franklin testified. So did Petritz and Smith. Taggart did not appear.
Kevin P. Bruen, a lawyer for the State Police, laid out the accusations against Franklin.
“This case is not about Fred Franklin organizing or promoting strip parties,” he said. “This case is about him knowing that the strippers were providing extras and failing to act until the last possible moment when Trooper Taggart was stopped at the border.”
Richard T. Sullivan represented Franklin at the hearing and argued that the trooper was “guilty of one thing: going to a party.”
“Fred Franklin attended a party with his girlfriend, and unfortunately at that party, Trooper Taggart engaged in illegal activities. Nobody disputes that,” Sullivan said. “There is not a single witness … that said Fred Franklin had anything to do with the illegal activities that were going on at that party.”
But State Police officials saw it differently. Bruen, the State Police lawyer, argued that Franklin knew what was happening at the party.
“Trooper Franklin knew what Trooper Taggart had going on because of the absurd lengths that Trooper Franklin went to distance himself from this conduct,” Bruen said.
So what were those “absurd lengths?”
At the hearing, Franklin called the pole for dancers a “support pole” for the building.
Blue tarps divided a balcony into two areas where strippers provided private sex acts. Franklin testified the tarps were placed there because of roof damage.
Bruen scoffed at his explanation. “I am not Bob the Builder, but I suspect tarps protecting roof damage go on top of the roof, not inside in the shape of two rooms,” Bruen said.
“He knew what was happening upstairs based on the fact that he’s a smart guy, 18-year trooper,” Bruen said. “Any one of us would have known, walked in, had a very bad feeling about this set up immediately. What’s going on upstairs? Why are there chicks and dudes going upstairs?
“At some point, you gotta put on your big boy pants. You’ve got to put on your trooper hat,” Bruen said.
And then there was the testimony of Cary Akine, who told the board he attended the party with his friend Hufnagel.
“Basically, strippers showed up and then different gentlemen showed up,” Akine said.
The strippers and men climbed the stairs to the second-floor area divided by tarps.
Akine said he asked Franklin what was going on up there. “He said, ‘You don’t want to know,’ ” Akine told the board.
Defending the club
But when it came time for him to testify at his disciplinary hearing, Franklin said that Taggart told him the dancers were offering lap dances upstairs.
Franklin insisted he did not know Taggart had arranged for partygoers to pay for sex behind the tarps.
“I didn’t pay attention to what was going on,” he told the board, saying he sat with his girlfriend at the club’s front door most of the night, occasionally checking for weapons. “I was just naive.”
Troopers Petritz and Smith both testified that they did not tell Franklin that Taggart arranged for women to go upstairs with them.
Franklin also defended the motorcycle club to which he belonged.
The New Brotherhood Motorcycle Club was made up of African-American police officers, firefighters and others who shared a passion for riding motorcycles, he said.
Club members cleaned up the neighborhood, participated in parades and talked to youngsters in the area, he said. To defray expenses, members rented the building for birthday parties, baby showers and other events. The rental fee was $150.
“It’s … a place where people in the neighborhood that couldn’t afford to go to Chuck E. Cheese’s and have a birthday party for their kids or, if people wanted to get together, [and] they couldn’t afford to rent out Salvatore’s or something like that. ...This was a place where anyone in the neighborhood … [could] rent the building for a reasonable cost,” he said.
Franklin also found the club a comfortable place to socialize. “We weren’t worried about running into people that I arrested or that are drug dealers,” he said. “It just was a place where upstanding African-Americans can go without the threat of something happening.”
But the club was also a place where Titus Taggart threw parties with prostitutes.
‘A mobile strip club’
A Taggart party “can best be described as a mobile strip club,” Bruen told the hearing board. Some were held at the motorcycle club.
At the November party, Taggart walked around with dollar bills in his hand making change for the men in attendance so they could tip the dancers. Bruen described how Taggart’s parties operated:
Taggart would find a venue and print tickets and fliers. He usually promoted the parties around a sporting event. At the Nov. 12 party, the Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez fight was being screened.
Partygoers would pay for a ticket to enter.
Taggart used his extensive contacts with strippers in the region to arrange for their appearances.
Taggart paid $150 to the motorcycle club for use of the hall. He kept the money raised by selling tickets. The club kept whatever it made selling alcohol. And the dancers and prostitutes kept the money they collected.
The board also heard how Taggart crossed the border with women.
The informant who tipped troopers off to the Nov. 12 party told investigators that Taggart was bringing young women from Canada into Western New York for parties.
So troopers placed a GPS device on Taggart’s personal car, said Capt. Kevin M. Reilly of the Internal Affairs Bureau at the disciplinary hearing. State Police worked with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to track his border crossings.
State Police detected Taggart crossing the border in January and asked U.S. border officials to conduct a more thorough inspection. His car was searched. He was interviewed, and so was the woman who accompanied him, a woman flagged as a possible money smuggler and prostitute.
Both were separately released hours later.
But federal officials downloaded all the data from Taggart’s phone, including some 2,000 pages of text messages. And some were between Taggart and Franklin, Reilly said.
Some texts dealt with details of the party at the motorcycle club.
“Also pretty obvious from the texts, he was kind of a friend of Trooper Taggart,” Reilly said of Franklin. “I believe he had knowledge of what was going on at the parties.”
A role model in Buffalo
One of the tragedies of the scandal is that Franklin was considered a role model in the community. The 1988 City Honors graduate earned a band scholarship to Mount Union College in Ohio, where he played percussion instruments and football. He transferred to Buffalo State College, but left before graduating in order to attend the New York State Police Academy.
As a trooper, he pointed out at the hearing, he won the award for making the most DWI arrests on the Thruway in 2011.
“It just really hurts because I’ve been an asset and a stand-up person my whole life,” Franklin told the board. “And to be involved or accused and to look really bad, it just really hurts.”
In fact, the hearing board noted that Franklin had 18 years of “positive service.”
The Rev. Darius G. Pridgen, pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church and the Ellicott Council Member, also spoke on Franklin’s behalf at the hearing. “There’s always a respect level when Fred comes in ... ,” Pridgen said.
Franklin pleaded with the board not to recommend his dismissal, to not look at him the same way people viewed Taggart. “It hurts me to be in this position as a father, as a trooper, and just as a man,” Franklin said. “It’s hard for me to put in words like how much you need to know that what he did was not what I did.”
Board urges dismissal
In the end, though, the board found Franklin guilty of misconduct for being aware that sexual services were provided and alcohol sold without a license but failing to take proper police action. Franklin also “went to extreme and oftentimes ridiculous lengths to distance himself from his association with Titus Taggart and his involvement with the motorcycle club,” the board concluded.
“A reasonable person, especially a trooper with over 18 years of police experience, would surmise that the area was being used for sexual favors,” the board said.
Franklin’s unwillingness to accept responsibility, failure to show remorse and his claim of naivete fall “well below the standards required by a seasoned member of the New York State Police,” the board said. “To permit him to return to duty would send a message that lying to avoid responsibility is an acceptable means of escaping consequences for one’s actions,” the board concluded. State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico accepted the board’s recommendation and fired Franklin.
Franklin has appealed his dismissal in State Supreme Court.