Three members of the NYPD were busted Monday morning for taking payoffs including a free hooker — in exchange for doing favors for a deep-pocketed fund-raiser for Mayor de Blasio.
FBI agents and cops arrested Deputy Chief Michael Harrington, Deputy Inspector James Grant, and Sgt. David Villanueva.
Harrington was assigned as a senior chief in the NYPD’s Housing Bureau. Prior to that, he was second-in-command in the office of then-Chief of Department Phillip Banks.
Grant was the commanding officer of the 19th Precinct on the Upper East Side. Villanueva was assigned to the gun licensing division.
Jeremy Reichberg, a Brooklyn-based diamond merchant and prominent donor for the mayor, was also arrested, court records show.
“They [Reichberg and friends] got, in effect, a private police force for themselves and their friends — effectively they got cops on call,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. “Days like today are not pleasant or easy for people in the business of law enforcement. An officer who betrays his badge betrays every honorable officer, as well as every member of the public.”
He described the misconduct as “separate and serious criminal schemes” that involve “some of the highest and most sensitive levels of the New York City Police Department.”
Grant and Harrington were slated to be released on $250,000 bond. Villanueva pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Monday afternoon, and was slated to be released on a $200,000 personal bond. Reichberg was slated to be released with a $500,000 bond.
“James is one of the most upstanding men you will ever meet,” said a relative of Grant, who declined to give her name. “The man that he was he is never going to be again.”
Another relative became irate at the media, and told a reporter who asked about the charges, “May your wife be raped by many people.”
In addition, authorities said Monday that Police Officer Richard Ochetal, a second former member of the gun licensing unit, pleaded guilty before he was indicted. He is cooperating with the feds.
Grant and Harrington accepted “substantial bribes” from Reichberg, including a hooker, flights, hotels rooms, jewelry, business cards, and pricey meals, according to the criminal complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan.
Reichberg paid for home improvements for the men and high-end seats at sporting events. He spent well over $100,000 on the cops, the complaint said.
In return, Reichberg and friends in the Hasidic Jewish community in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn got favors, like police escorts, assistance with private disputes, free security at religious sites, fixed tickets, and special access to parades and other cultural events, the complaint said.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said Monday the investigation began when two police officers came forward on the same day about three-and-a-half years ago. Harrington, Grant and Villanueva were all suspended following their arrests, he said.
“This case shows, whether you’re a cop or a chief, if you break the law you’ll be handled the same way,” Bratton said.
Mayor de Blasio did not talk with the press Monday, but his office issued a brief written statement.
“The Mayor and Commissioner Bratton are both committed to ensuring that the NYPD maintains the integrity and trust that the public expects from its Police Department,” said Monica Klein, a de Blasio spokeswoman.
The complaint said Reichberg brazenly carried around business cards that identified him as an “NYPD Liaison.” He claimed he could fix tickets and smooth out other police-related issues, and told people he was a “fix it guy.” In addition to Grant and Harrington, he had a close relationship with then-Chief of Department Banks.
Banks, now retired from the NYPD, is referred to as “Chief-1” in court papers. The feds sent a subpoena for his financial records to his accountant last year.
“We have always maintained that former Chief Banks did not knowingly violate the law and nothing about today’s arrest of other members of the department changes that position,” Banks’ lawyer Ben Brafman said.
The complaint said Reichberg had “ready access” to the highest levels of the NYPD through Harrington. They had a “one-stop shop for assistance via Harrington.”
On behalf of a jewelry store, Reichberg used his NYPD connection in one instance to disperse people handing out brochures for a rival diamond salesman.
Reichberg also personally got a lane closed in the Lincoln Tunnel and a police escort for a businessman visiting the United States.
In January 2013, Reichberg flew Grant and an NYPD detective to Las Vegas for Super Bowl weekend. A high-end hooker came along for the flight, and spent the weekend with the group. Grant allegedly had sex with the prostitute, the complaint said.
In August 2013, Grant enjoyed a free $500-a-night hotel room during a vacation in Rome, courtesy of a witness cooperating with the feds, who sources identified as financier Jona Rechnitz.
Rechnitz, another de Blasio donor, pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit honest services fraud and has been cooperating with investigators. Correction officers union boss Norman Seabrook was busted June 8 on allegations he steered $20 million in union money to a hedge fund with ties to Rechnitz, in return for cash kickbacks and luxury trips.
Reichberg and Rechnitz also paid for new railings outside of Grant’s private home, and bought him a $3,000 watch, filings say. On Christmas Day one year, they put on elf hats and drove to Grant’s home, where they gave a video game system to his kids, and a $1,000 piece of jewelry to his wife. They then drove to Harrington’s house and gave his kids a video game system. Reichberg also used his influence to get Grant promoted, the complaint says.
In return, Grant performed a lot of special favors. He drove Rechnitz to and from the airport using lights and sirens, and ordered subordinate cops to chauffeur him, too, the complaint said. He also allegedly sent cops to check out one of Rechnitz’s buildings after a report of a trespasser.
In September 2013, Reichberg convinced Grant to order cops to review security footage after a business associate lost his $50,000 watch in a cab.
Grant escorted Rechnitz and a friend past barricades for parades, the New York City Marathon and the New York’s Eve celebration in Times Square, the filing says.
Grant was also tight with Alex (Shaya) Lichtenstein, previously indicted for bribing cops to speed up the gun license approval process. Lichtenstein paid for work on Grant’s house, the complaint says.
Grant helped him get a gun license for one of Lichtenstein’s clients in about two months, when the process usually takes at least a year.
Sgt. Villanueva, who was assigned to the gun licensing division, is accused of taking bribes from Lichtenstein to expedite gun permit applications.
Lichtenstein, a prominent member of the Borough Park Shomrim, a Jewish security patrol, allegedly bribed Villanueva and Ochetal to obtain gun licenses for his clients.
Lichtenstein’s clients paid up to $18,000 per license.
Lichtenstein also bribed him with bottles of liquor, limousine rides, and a limousine tour of a winery.
Villanueva would order the applications of Lichtenstein’s clients approved, without a full background check, including a check of criminal records.
He also upgraded gun licenses, from a limited carry permit to a full carry permit.
Many of those licenses would not have been approved if Villanueva didn’t have his thumb on the scale.
One of the licensees had a prior criminal record for bribing a public officials and assault.
In January 2015, Grant was caught on a wiretap, coaching Reichberg to lie about being a distributor of diamonds, so he could justify the gun license.
On Jan. 16, 2015, Grant conveys his annoyance that Reichberg was taking another police official to that year’s Super Bowl.
“See you don’t love me anymore,” Grant said. “You don’t even invite me to the Super Bowl, what the f—?”
In March of 2015, Reichberg invoked Grant’s name in an effort to fix a ticket for a friend. He called a deputy inspector who he knew and said Grant was a friend.
“Alright, I’ll tell them he knows him,” the deputy inspector said.
Harrington’s involvement with Reichberg spanned May 2013 to November 2014. Rechnitz allegedly took Harrington to dinner at least once or twice a week. He also gave him Nets tickets worth $400 each and Rangers tickets worth $700 each.
In 2014, Rechnitz paid for three hotel rooms in Chicago for Harrington and his family — a total cost of $6,500. Harrington allegedly lied to investigators, claiming he had paid Rechnitz back after the trip was over.
Reichberg also arranged for institutions to hire a security company owned by Harrington’s family. In return, Harrington did favors.
When a jewelry businesses affiliated with Reichberg was having trouble with a rival shop, Harrington intervened. An off-duty cop was working for the rival shop, and Harrington had him investigated and disciplined.
Harrington also made arrests of people at Reichberg’s request, the complaint said.
Harrington repeatedly sent cops to help Reichberg. In February 2015, he ordered the commanding officer of a precinct in Midtown to send a sergeant to investigate a missing $250,000 diamond.
That commanding officer told investigators he dispatched cops numerous times to settle diamond-related disputes for Reichberg. He was afraid to say no to Reichberg, because he was worried he would complain to Harrington.
Harrington also sent cops to synagogues as a favor to Reichberg, the complaint says.
Reichberg repeatedly attempted to influence promotions. At one point, in January 2015, he told Harrington he wanted the chief to get command of Patrol Borough Brooklyn South, which contains Borough Park. “You still have to get this borough … We need you to get this borough,” the complaint says.
In a subsequent conversation with another senior cop, he said, “If we could pull this through, that would be huge and hopefully we’ll have a team in place very soon,” he said.
At another point, on February 2015, Reichberg got a call from an unnamed deputy inspector who was concerned that he had fallen out of favor in the NYPD.
“Am I viewed as a nobody?” he wondered to Reichberg.
“No, a good guy,” Reichberg replied. “They like you. The last regime, they liked you a lot more.”
Reichberg’s lawyer, Susan Necheles, said her client is “not a criminal and he did nothing wrong here.”
Bharara said the investigation remains open. He declined to say whether there will be additional arrests.