3 N.Y.P.D. Commanders Are Arrested on Corruption Charges
By WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM and JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN
JUNE 20, 2016
Three New York Police Department commanders, including a deputy chief, were arrested early Monday, along with a Brooklyn businessman, on federal corruption charges stemming from one of several continuing investigations into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign fund-raising, according to court papers.
The arrests, of a deputy chief, a deputy inspector and a sergeant, were one of the most significant roundups of police supervisors in the recent history of the department. In striking the top ranks, the case is a particular blow to the storied — and sometimes sullied — reputation of the nation’s largest municipal police force.
The court papers in the case detail lavish gifts the two senior police officials are accused of receiving in exchange for taking official action, including expensive meals, free overseas and domestic trips, and the referral of business to a security company associated with one of the officials. The deputy inspector was also accused of receiving a trip on a private jet to Las Vegas for the Super Bowl weekend in 2013, and was said to be accompanied by a prostitute.
The criminal complaint, sworn out by a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent on a public corruption squad, Blaire Toleman, describes how the New York Police Department played the roles of chauffeur, bodyguard and concierge to two businessmen.
On some occasions, the police officials drove the businessmen around town, using lights and sirens to expedite the trips. Other times, the police intervened to help the businessmen settle disputes with rivals.
“They got, in effect, a private police force for themselves and their friends,” Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a news conference on Monday. “Effectively they got cops on call.”
In addition to the deputy chief and deputy inspector, a sergeant was charged in a separate but related scheme that involved aiding applicants for firearms licenses, the papers said.
Court papers unsealed on Monday also disclosed that a police officer who was involved in that scheme had previously pleaded guilty to bribery charges and was cooperating with federal authorities. In that scheme, bribes — as much as $18,000 per gun license — factored into between 100 and 150 gun licenses in recent years, according to the court papers.
The core of the bribery scheme detailed on Monday, however, relates to the gifts showered on the police by two businessmen, Jeremiah Reichberg and Jona S. Rechnitz, both of whom have been generous supporters of the mayor. Mr. Reichberg, 42, of Borough Park, Brooklyn, was charged along with the officers, the papers said. Mr. Rechnitz, 33, of the Upper West Side in Manhattan, had been a target of the fund-raising investigation until recent weeks, when he pleaded guilty to corruption charges and began cooperating with the federal authorities, people briefed on the matter have said.
Mr. Bharara said little on Monday about the connection between the various inquiries, beyond noting in response to a question that “there is no allegation that has anything to do with the mayor anywhere” in the court documents unsealed Monday.
Arrested were Deputy Chief Michael J. Harrington, 50; Deputy Inspector James M. Grant, 43; and Sgt. David Villanueva, 42, and Mr. Reichberg. They were expected to appear in United States District Court in Manhattan on Monday afternoon. The officer who worked in the pistol license division who has already pleaded guilty was identified as Richard Ochetal. Their lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment.
The arrest of two senior police officials on bribery charges in a single case is a rarity, despite a long docket of colorful police scandals over the years. While past scandals might force police commissioners and chiefs into retirement, it was usually rank-and-file officers and low-level supervisors who found themselves facing criminal charges. …
The official action taken by the senior officers included closing a traffic lane in the Lincoln Tunnel to provide a police escort for a businessman visiting the United States, dispatching police officers to the area near a jewelry business run by associates of Mr. Reichberg to disperse people handing out fliers for a rival business, and sending officers to disperse protesters in front of the business of an associate of Mr. Reichberg, according to the court papers. One of the officials also helped the men with their applications to get Police Department pistol licenses.
Some of the conduct detailed in the court papers veers toward the bizarre. It describes the two businessmen, both Orthodox Jews, visiting the deputy inspector’s Staten Island home on Christmas Day in 2013, wearing elf hats to deliver a video game system for his children and a piece of jewelry for his wife valued at $1,000. On the same day, the two men visited the deputy chief’s home and delivered a video game system for his children.
Far from being an unwelcome intrusion, it was the start of what Inspector Grant apparently hoped would become a Christmas tradition. When Christmas rolled around the next year without any gifts for his family, Inspector Grant expressed his disappointment to one of the businessmen, Mr. Reichberg, during a phone conversation in January 2015, captured on a wiretap.
“First of all, first of all, the two elves didn’t come” for Christmas, he said using an expletive for emphasis, according to the papers. During the same conversation, Inspector Grant complained that Mr. Reichberg had not invited him to the Super Bowl again this year, choosing instead to extend the invitation to another police official.
“See, you don’t love me anymore, bro,” Inspector Grant complained, according to the complaint.
The arrests early Monday morning by agents with the F.B.I. and investigators from the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau were to be followed by the execution of search warrants, according to officials. The charges included bribery, honest services wire fraud and conspiracy.
New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton will retire in September, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday: here.