Graffiti legend was also an NYPD cop
By KATHIANNE BONIELLO
Last Updated: 11:24 AM, November 6, 2011
Posted: 9:34 PM, November 5, 2011
Police have discovered the identity of one of New York City’s most prolific graffiti vandals -- and he’s one of their own.
Steven Weinberg, 43, of Flushing, a patrolman who retired from the NYPD in 2001 after hurting his leg, is the notorious “Neo” -- one of the peskiest subway taggers of the 1980s.
And the spray-painting miscreant is making a comeback, cops say.
“He’s definitely prolific,” a source said.
Transit cops investigating graffiti in northeast Queens watched as Neo’s tag began appearing all over train trestles and highway overpasses the last two years, not far from Weinberg’s home.
They knew their nemesis was a cop. Numerous tipsters confided that Neo once wore a badge, and detectives uncovered a faceless photograph of Neo online, back to the camera, wearing an NYPD raid jacket, according to court documents.
Meanwhile, Neo was almost taunting investigators. Without identifying himself by name, the aging vandal gave a lengthy interview to the underground graffiti Web site SubwayOutlaws.com in which he bragged about his time as Neo and identified himself as a cop and “a cripple.”
Weinberg, who uses a cane, wasn’t hard to track down once his name finally surfaced.
Cops found “numerous e-mails” talking about Weinberg’s “graffiti-related activities,” as well as Neo’s MySpace page, which had comments revealing the ex-cop’s birthdate. A search warrant executed at Weinberg’s home on Sanford Avenue turned up “additional evidence,” sources said.
“The evidence recovered led to ‘Neo’ being identified as Mr. Steven Weinberg,” read a memo sent by a transit sergeant to the bureau’s chief.
Weinberg was arrested at his home on Aug. 3, 2010, and charged with felony criminal mischief and misdemeanor making graffiti and possessing a graffiti instrument.
Grilled by detectives, Weinberg reportedly confessed to at least one crime -- tagging the walls of the Clearview Expressway in May 2009.
His trial could begin as early as Thursday in Queens Criminal Court.
The married Queens dad doesn’t deny he once was Neo.
He roamed the city’s rail yards and stations, dodging subway cars and hanging from elevated tracks during the height of the graffiti scourge, “bombing” trains and trestles with his bubble-lettered signature.
At the same time, cops were desperately trying to crack down on such quality-of-life crimes in a new and ultimately successful approach to combating the city’s crime epidemic.
“I started ‘writing’ in Flushing, Queens, in 1979, mainly hitting up my name on the stairways in my building,” Weinberg told SubwayOutlaws in the undated interview confirmed by Weinberg’s lawyer as authentic.
The future officer of the law got an education in thuggery with the Nation of Graffiti, or NOG, crew before he ever signed up for the Police Academy.
“Once I got caught ‘racking’ [stealing] paint and maced the employees so that I could get away,” he recalled. “It was a good plan at the time, until the cops came, and maced me with two cans of the stuff.”
Neo’s acrobatics made for a dangerous pastime.
“Climbing on rooftops, swinging from elevated platforms, and almost getting hit by trains pulling out, is what I call fun,” he said.
Neo and the NOG crew mercilessly hit trucks, buses, mail trucks, parks and schools with their aerosol artillery, but the favored targets were subway cars, which helped Neo achieve “all-city” status -- graffiti slang for taggers whose work was seen on subway trains in the boroughs.
Weinberg hung up his paint can and decided to go straight -- joining the NYPD in 1995 at the age of 27.
But his career derailed when, as a patrolman hunting for victims’ remains in a homicide investigation, he tripped over a fence, seriously damaging the nerves in his leg, his lawyer said. He left the job in May 2001 on an approximately $38,000-a-year disability pension.
Police say that, unable to work, Weinberg returned his attention to his first love: graffiti.
But his lawyer, Patrick Broderick, says there’s no way the crippled cop went back to his rebel roots.
“He hasn’t been Neo since 1988,” Broderick said. “It is ludicrous because he is physically incapable of doing that.”
The current charges -- and his client’s alleged confession -- are bogus, bristles Broderick, who insists there’s a Neo copycat on the streets. “It just couldn’t be him,” he said.
“He didn’t even want to leave the Police Department,” said Broderick, who described Weinberg as a hero for his participation in the murder case on which he was hurt.
Weinberg has since filed suit against the city in Manhattan Supreme Court, claiming his 2010 arrest was based on “defective information.”