Shomrim, Hookers and Guns Take Spotlight As NYPD Corruption Probe Widens

Three New York City police commanders and a business consultant were arrested on Monday as part of a wide-ranging federal corruption probe that has also been examining Mayor Bill de Blasio’s fundraising.

The latest arrests mark an escalation of an investigation that has led to discipline for nearly a dozen police officers and forced de Blasio to answer questions about whether he engaged in inappropriate fundraising.

A criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court accused businessman Jeremy Reichberg, 42, of plying Deputy Chief Michael Harrington, 50, Deputy Inspector James Grant, 43, and others with gifts including prostitutes, sports tickets and expensive trips.

As a result, Reichberg was able to secure official favors, including assistance with gun license applications, police escorts, special access to parades and the ability to get out of tickets, the complaint said.

David Villanueva, a sergeant, was also arrested and charged with accepting bribes to expedite gun license applications for Alex Lichtenstein, a member of a volunteer safety patrol in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood who was charged in April.

A fifth officer, Richard Ochetal, secretly pleaded guilty on June 14 to his role in that fraud and has assisted prosecutors in the cases against Grant, Harrington and Villanueva, 42, according to prosecutors and court records.

The officers arrested on Monday and Reichberg are expected to appear in court later in the day.

John Meringolo, Grant’s lawyer, said he believed no unlawful conduct occurred, while Andrew Weinstein, Harrington’s attorney, called the case “politically motivated.”

“One would be hard pressed to find a straighter arrow,” Weinstein said of Harrington.

Susan Necheles, defense lawyer for Reichberg, said her client “did not commit a crime.

His only mistake was his friendship with Jonah Rechnitz, a criminal who has admitted bribing a union official and who is desperately trying to get others in trouble in order to curry favor with prosecutors and save his own skin.”

Lawyers for Villanueva and Ochetal could not be immediately be identified.

The arrests came two weeks after federal prosecutors charged Norman Seabrook, president of the city’s correction officers union, and Murray Huberfeld, a hedge fund financier, as part of the same investigation.

Reichberg and a real estate investor, Jona Rechnitz, have been at the center of the probe. Both men were de Blasio fundraisers.

Rechnitz, who prosecutors said also provided gifts to police in exchange for favors, has pleaded guilty and is cooperating, people familiar with the matter have said. A lawyer for Rechnitz has previously declined to comment.

De Blasio has repeatedly said he and his administration have acted legally in all respects. He has not been accused of wrongdoing, and the charges thus far are unrelated to his fundraising efforts.

The probe is one of several overlapping investigations by state and federal agencies that extend from City Hall to the police department.

Approximately a dozen police officers, including high-ranking commanders, have faced departmental discipline stemming from the corruption investigations.

Monday’s criminal complaint suggests prosecutors are not yet finished, with references to other officers who accepted gifts.

Philip Banks, formerly the department’s highest-ranking uniformed officer, regularly dined at expensive restaurants with Grant, Reichberg and Rechnitz and promoted Grant after the businessmen recommended it, the complaint said.

Banks earned between $250,000 and $500,000 from unspecified investments in Rechnitz’s firm, JSR Capital, according to his financial disclosure records.

Banks was not charged. His lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, declined to comment on Monday but has previously said Banks is innocent of any wrongdoing.

The complaint detailed a litany of favors that Reichberg and Rechnitz enjoyed as a result of their connections.

In one instance, Reichberg was able to get a lane closed in the busy Lincoln Tunnel, which connects New Jersey and Manhattan, for a visiting businessman who also received a police escort, according to prosecutors.

All told, the businessmen spent more than $100,000 on gifts, including a 2013 trip to Las Vegas on a private jet that included Grant, an unidentified detective and a prostitute, the complaint said.

1 reply
  1. Joe Levin
    Joe Levin says:

    Cops shut down a lane in the Lincoln Tunnel so a visiting businessman could be escorted through it at the behest of a major de Blasio fund-raiser, federal prosecutors charged Monday.

    The outrageous move was revealed as part of damning criminal indictments unveiled Monday against four NYPD officers and the shady “fixer’’ who allegedly arranged it.

    The stunning arrests marked the first time cops have been charged in the sweeping 3¹/₂-year corruption investigation rocking the department and Mayor de Blasio’s office, which is being probed for its fund-raising.

    Federal prosecutors allege that the civilian behind the closure, Borough Park businessman Jeremy Reichberg, and his real-estate-investor pal Jona Rechnitz, spent more than $100,000 on police bribes between 2012 and 2015.

    “They got, in effect, a private police force for themselves and their friends — effectively they got cops on call,” Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said.

    The criminal indictments alleged that in one instance, “Reichberg, using his connections in local law-enforcement agencies, was able to arrange for the closure of a lane in the Lincoln Tunnel and a police escort down that lane for a businessman visiting the United States.”

    It was unclear when the shutdown occurred, but law-enforcement sources said the request did not go through official channels and there was no documentation of it, suggesting it could have been orchestrated in the middle of the night.

    Bharara said the busted NYPD officials accepted bribes that included costly trips and romps with a prostitute.

    Deputy Chief Michael Harrington, Deputy Inspector James Grant and Sgt. David Villanueva were all arrested at their homes at 6 a.m., prosecutors said.

    A fourth cop, Officer Richard Ochetal, had already pleaded guilty to accepting bribes in exchange for expediting gun-permit applications, according to court papers.

    “It is a heartbreaking thing,’’ Bharara said at a press conference announcing the charges. “An officer who betrays his badge betrays every honorable officer.’’

    The damning criminal indictments reveal just how influential Reichberg and Rechnitz became through their department connections.

    With Rechnitz’s help, Reichberg arranged free “flights, hotel rooms, prostitutes, expensive meals, home improvements, and prime seats to sporting events, among other things,” for the cops, court documents say.

    In exchange, Grant and Harrington arranged police escorts for the businessmen, handled their personal business disputes, gave them VIP access to events such as New Year’s Eve and the Marathon and provided them with NYPD cards that got them out of traffic tickets, prosecutors allege.

    Reichberg was even caught on an early 2015 wiretap indicating that his NYPD connections were so tight that he “was dispensing advice on promotions to members of the NYPD and taking steps to facilitate promotions.’’

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