Shady De Blasio Donors Accused of Ripping Off Israeli Billionaire Lev Leviev

Mayor de Blasio’s campaign accepted donations from two Manhattan jewelers who were accused of scamming millions of dollars in cash and gems from an Israeli billionaire known as the King of Diamonds.

Paul “Effy” Raps and Yaron Turgeman each forked over the maximum $4,950 in donations bundled by businessman Jona Rechnitz, who is at the center of a federal probe into NYPD corruption and shady de Blasio campaign finances.

Their donations were among $41,650 that Rechnitz raised for the 2013 campaign. Raps and Turgeman also donated another $4,500 and $400, respectively, separate from the bundled money.

The bundled contributions were recorded less than a month after a Manhattan Supreme Court suit alleged that Raps had swindled millions of dollars from a jewelry company owned by Lev Leviev, a renowned diamond merchant who’s on the Forbes World’s Richest People list at 278 for 2016.

In that suit, Raps the distributor of singer Janet Jackson’s Unbreakable Diamonds jewelry line was described as someone who’s “dressed in nice clothing, but he’s the devil.”

Turgeman, meanwhile, was sued in December 2013 for allegedly ripping off Leviev through schemes that included purchasing diamonds at inflated prices from Turgeman’s father and other associates, then selling the gems for little or no profit.

Leviev’s suit against Turgeman was settled off the record in 2014, while the suit mentioning Raps is listed as “disposed” though the entire case file has been sealed.

City records also reveal that Rechnitz owns a Murray Hill apartment building where the Buildings Department last year got a complaint about prostitution inside an illegal massage parlor.

Online reviews of AV Bodywork at 238 Madison Ave. describe Russian hookers who provided everything from “happy ending” rubdowns to full-on sex.

A building inspector wrote that the complaint didn’t include an apartment or floor number — and noted that the situation “appear[ed] to be a police matter.”

Rechnitz was also slapped with a Housing Court suit for locking out Joan Haggerty, 83, from her $121-a-month studio apartment following a brief nursing-home stay in 2014.

Rechnitz was threatened with jail time before finally giving her a working refrigerator, stove and oven, according to court records.

Rechnitz didn’t respond to questions and the NYPD said no prostitution related charges had been filed in connection with the address.

Both Turgeman and Raps declined to comment, and a de Blasio campaign spokesman wouldn’t say if Hizzoner planned to return the cash he got from the men.

“This appears to be a business dispute that was settled out of court,” said spokesman Dan Levitan. “The mayor nor his campaign know anything about it.”

De Blasio’s campaign money was overseen by Ross Offinger, whose activities are part of the federal probe, sources have said.

1 reply
  1. Joe Levin
    Joe Levin says:

    Jona S. Rechnitz, the scion of a wealthy Los Angeles family, came to New York City about a decade ago to make his mark. A brash young man eager to fund philanthropic causes, he cultivated connections with the Police Department — posing with top officials, and once arranging for police bagpipes at a party — and became a fixture at fund-raising events for Mayor Bill de Blasio.

    Jeremiah Reichberg came from the more cloistered world of Borough Park, Brooklyn, an Orthodox Jewish enclave where he was a familiar presence, even if his private life and business dealings were not well known. He ran a consulting firm, and hosted Mr. de Blasio to great fanfare at his home in 2014 for a fund-raising event.

    Mr. Rechnitz and Mr. Reichberg became close, appearing together at public and private events, and serving on Mr. de Blasio’s inauguration committee — an honor bestowed on the famous, like the writer Junot Díaz and the actor Steve Buscemi, and on lavish givers. In recent weeks, they have become the fulcrum of a sprawling federal corruption investigation into the mayor’s fund-raising activities and the actions of police commanders.

    The federal inquiry, which began in 2013, has laid bare the city’s nexus of political influence and campaign donations, dormant for a decade during the administration of the billionaire Michael R. Bloomberg, as well as the world of those men, like Mr. Rechnitz and Mr. Reichberg, who sidle up to police officials as a kind of informal currency. The two men — neither of whom has been charged with a crime — appeared to take great pride in the closeness with which they spoke to senior commanders, including Philip Banks III, formerly the third-highest-ranking chief, who has come under scrutiny as part of the inquiry.

    So far, four top police officials have been censured, and the inquiry has derailed what had been a high point for the mayor after the passage of his affordable housing plan last month.

    On Monday, Mr. de Blasio faced repeated questions over his connections to Mr. Rechnitz and Mr. Reichberg and what they might have gained from funneling tens of thousands of dollars into the mayor’s advocacy efforts and campaign coffers. He said it would be the last time he answered questions about the men.

    “I know of no favorable municipal action that they got,” the mayor said on Monday, as he was peppered with questions about the men. He could not say how or why they ended up on his inaugural committee. “I don’t know the specific process of how each name was determined,” he said. “I don’t know the exact ticktock of that.”

    Mr. Rechnitz, the 33-year-old son of Robert Rechnitz, a prominent business owner who has raised money for pro-Israel causes in Washington, attended Yeshiva University in New York. After graduation, he found work at a real estate firm, Africa Israel, owned by Lev Leviev, a free-spending Israeli-Russian diamond merchant who invested heavily in New York real estate during the last boom.

    Mr. Leviev bought the landmark Apthorp building on Broadway on the Upper West Side in 2006 for $426 million, with plans to convert it to condominiums. He was the financial backer of the developer Shaya Boymelgreen, buying properties in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

    Africa Israel tangled with regulators and lenders, and became a high-profile casualty of the recession, losing control of the Upper West Side building, and paying a settlement over luxury buildings left unfinished.

    At the same time, Mr. Rechnitz was expanding his presence in the city’s Jewish community. Rabbi Steven Burg, the former eastern director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the New York Museum of Tolerance, said he had met Mr. Rechnitz about four years ago through Mr. Rechnitz’s work at the museum.

    “Anytime I needed something, he would drop whatever he was doing and help out,” Rabbi Burg said. He said that Mr. Rechnitz helped with the museum’s efforts to provide tolerance training to the Police and Correction Departments starting in 2014.

    “He was instrumental,” the rabbi said. “We did a day of training for correction officers and started a whole program working with the Department of Correction.”

    Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn, who knew Mr. Rechnitz from Los Angeles, said he was “a charitable guy,” a family man “who is just exceptionally kind and exceptionally giving” to different charities.

    It was not clear when Mr. Rechnitz met Mr. Reichberg or what brought them together from different corners of New York City’s political and religious world: Mr. Reichberg from Borough Park’s Orthodox Jewish community, Mr. Rechnitz from a less formally religious community on the Upper West Side.

    “Oh, yeah, that’s not Jona,” Rabbi Einhorn said upon learning of Mr. Reichberg and his roots in Brooklyn.

    Yet they were often seen together at police events around the city and may have bonded over their common fascination with the police and interest in cultivating connections among the top officials.

    Mr. Reichberg became a volunteer police chaplain for the Westchester County Department of Public Safety in 2013. His appointment coincided with a $15,000 donation from J.S.R. Capital, Mr. Rechnitz’s real estate company, to the re-election bid of the county executive, Rob Astorino. (Mr. Reichberg was suspended from the position last week.)

    Mr. Reichberg also found himself briefly in the media spotlight in 2013 as a representative of the Glauber family, after their son and pregnant daughter-in-law were killed in a hit-and-run in Brooklyn.

    Less is known about Mr. Reichberg, whose company has no public website; fewer public records directly connected to his business, J.R. Consulting, could be found.

    By contrast, Mr. Rechnitz seemed eager to expand his profile in New York. A sports fan who favored the Knicks, he placed large bets on the Super Bowl, twice winning substantial sums that he was said to have later donated. He ended up in the gossip pages in 2013 after a casual courtside chat at a Knicks game resulted in a $100,000 donation to several Jewish charities.

    Neither Mr. Rechnitz nor Mr. Reichberg appeared to have been well known for their political activities. “I don’t know them. If I bumped into them, I wouldn’t know them,” said Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Democrat who has represented the area of Borough Park in various capacities for more than three decades. “People want to be machers. That’s a good thing, if it’s done correctly.”

    Early in the 2013 campaign, Mr. Rechnitz told close associates he favored William C. Thompson Jr., who appeared more likely to prevail. After Mr. de Blasio won the September primary, he and his wife donated the limit, $4,950, to his general election campaign. Mr. Rechnitz also acted as a bundler, collecting $41,650 for the campaign in October 2013. Then, a few days before he was named to the inaugural committee, he bundled another contribution of $3,000.

    Three members of the inaugural committee said they were unaware if it ever held a meeting. “It was largely ceremonial,” said Janet Dewart Bell, a communications consultant who was on the committee. She said her involvement was essentially limited to a phone conversation with the committee chairwoman, Gabrielle Fialkoff, where they discussed the inauguration in general.

    “There was no sitting down, no logistical planning; they were not asking us to do that,” Ms. Bell said.

    Ms. Fialkoff, the inauguration chairwoman, had been the finance co-chairwoman of Mr. de Blasio’s campaign and is a longtime friend of the mayor. Ms. Fialkoff is now a senior adviser to the mayor, the director of the mayor’s office of strategic partnerships, and a member of the board of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City.

    By Dec. 3, 2013, weeks before Mr. de Blasio took office, Mr. Rechnitz was sitting in a conference room packed with other potential donors at the Midtown law firm Kramer Levin. There, according to a person who also attended the meeting, the mayor spoke to the group before leaving the room. Those in attendance were then asked for contributions.

    Mr. Rechnitz — whose company owns a strip mall in Borough Park, a Midtown building and several other modest properties — was at other fund-raisers, including on Dec. 10 at B. B. King’s restaurant in Times Square.

    On Jan. 28, a company controlled by Mr. Rechnitz, JSTD Madison, made a contribution of $50,000 to the Campaign for One New York, a nonprofit formed to press for Mr. de Blasio’s agenda. Mr. Rechnitz appears on real estate documents as a “managing member” of the company.

    In the middle of 2014, Mr. Rechnitz was again at a fund-raiser to help Mr. de Blasio’s efforts on behalf of Democrats in the State Senate. In October 2014, JSTD Madison made a $102,300 contribution to the state’s Democratic Senate campaign committee, at a time that Mr. de Blasio was pushing to shift control of the State Senate to his party.

    Earlier, on May 21, 2014, Mr. Reichberg hosted the mayor at his million-dollar brick home on 56th Street in Borough Park. Before Mr. de Blasio arrived, crowds had already gathered outside to welcome him. It was not clear if Mr. Rechnitz had attended.

    By that time, however, the federal investigation was already well underway.

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