By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former police officer, cleared of rape charges but convicted of official misconduct, was sentenced on Monday to one year in prison for repeatedly returning to the apartment of a drunken woman while on duty.
Former New York City Police Officer Kenneth Moreno and his co-defendant, former Officer Franklin Mata, were accused of helping an intoxicated fashion executive into her East Village apartment in 2008, then returning to the apartment three separate times and raping her while she lay semi-conscious and helpless.
Moreno testified he had only cuddled with her in bed and had returned to the apartment to counsel her on binge drinking.
A jury in May -- faced with no DNA evidence and an admittedly intoxicated witness whose recollection was fuzzy -- cleared the men of felony rape and burglary charges.
But the jury convicted both Mata and Moreno, who admitted calling in a fake 911 call to give them an opportunity to return to the apartment, of official misconduct charges. Both were stripped of their badges.
Before sentencing Moreno on Monday, a judge ridiculed his trial testimony as a "clear" case of perjury.
"You told a story that was incredible," said state Supreme Court Justice Gregory Carro. "Your testimony was classic for admitting what you couldn't deny and denying what you couldn't admit."
Watching from the front row was their accuser, supported by several members of the National Organization for Women in the seats behind her.
The officers had helped the woman into her building after a cab driver called 911 to report that his passenger was too drunk to get out of his taxi. But they returned three more times that night without notifying dispatchers, prosecutors said.
Carro said he was imposing the maximum sentence on Moreno, giving him one year in prison for each of the three counts, noting the law required they be served concurrently.
The prosecution team disagreed with that legal interpretation and asked for what they said was the maximum: two years in prison.
Moreno's attorney, Joseph Tacopina, said three misdemeanor convictions for a first-time offender did not warrant a jail sentence, adding that the probation department has recommended no prison time.
He said he would file a motion seeking to release his client on bail pending appeal.
Mata's sentencing was postponed until Wednesday.
Moreno still faces drug possession charges stemming from heroin found inside his locker. The next hearing on that case is September 12, when a trial date will be set, Carro said.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)