In the hours after 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky disappeared in Borough Park, Brooklyn, a key figure in the heavily Jewish neighborhood’s security patrol coordinated the effort to find him.
Shaya Lichtenstein, 44, wrangled some 2,000 civilian volunteers as a member of the Borough Park Shomrim in a desperate attempt to locate Leiby, who was kidnapped as he walked home from a day camp on July 11, 2011.
He was found dismembered two days later, and Levi Aron was charged with his murder.
After Leiby’s family reported him missing, the Shomrim did not notify the NYPD for three hours. Despite the tensions stemming from that delay, the long-cozy relationship between members of the Orthodox community, including the Shomrim, and the NYPD remained intact.
Lichtenstein was indicted in April on allegations that he bribed police officers to obtain gun permits for clients who paid as much as $18,000 for his services.
He was able to get permits within a few weeks, when it usually takes more than a year.
In some instances, Lichtenstein paid off the cops in the very offices of the gun licensing division with thousands of dollars hidden in copies of the newspaper, a source familiar with the case said.
“That’s partly how it was done, right in their faces,” the source said.
The NYPD declined to comment.
Lichtenstein’s ties with ranking police officials extended well beyond his close relationship with cops in the gun licensing unit, sources said. He parlayed that access into the ability to do favors for members of the Jewish community.
“He was always around,” said a former Brooklyn South precinct commander. “He was very visible. He was actively involved in keeping in touch with all the executives.”
A lot of that cachet came from his involvement with Shomrim, which has secured $1.108 million in grants from the city since 2007, including $136,624 in 2011 for special vehicles. The city froze those grants in April after Lichtenstein’s arrest.
“(Lichtenstein) controlled the 66th Precinct fully,” said a source in the Jewish community. “He was far more powerful than the media is reporting.”
A number of the police commanders caught up in the wide-ranging NYPD and FBI probe into whether police exchanged favors for gifts came through the precinct. Many of those went on to rise in the NYPD.
Joseph Esposito, who rose to chief of department, was a 66th Precinct commander who knew Lichtenstein.
“Yes, I was close with him,” Lichtenstein told the Daily News, referring to Esposito, who retired from the NYPD and is now the de Blasio administration’s $214,413-a-year director of the Office of Emergency Management.
Sources said Lichtenstein even had dinner at Esposito’s house on the edge of Borough Park.
When asked whether that was true, Lichtenstein said, “Please, you are going into so many details. Please speak with my lawyer.”
Asked whether he had a close relationship with Lichtenstein, Esposito, through a spokeswoman, said, “That’s not true.”
“My relationship with Shaya Lichtenstein is minimal at best, and it’s been through local community events, where there have been many, many people there, not through a personal one-on-one sort of thing,” Esposito said through the spokeswoman.
He denied that Lichtenstein ever had dinner at his home.
Esposito said he has not been contacted by investigators to date.
Lichtenstein told The News that he tried to help people in the community, but he declined to give any details.
“I have so many good things that I can tell you, but the media, it’s not going to tell things in a good way,” he said.
His lawyer Richard Finkel declined to comment. “It’s not appropriate to make any comment at this time,” he said.