Another $5,000 contribution has emerged linking County Executive Rob Astorino’s re-election campaign to a chaplain for Westchester County police who is embroiled in a federal corruption probe of the NYPD.
But after the chaplain, Jeremy Reichberg, was suspended last week, county officials have refused to discuss how the Brooklyn man got the post and what qualified him for it.
The federal investigation is looking into gifts Reichberg and a Manhattan businessman pal, Jona Rechnitz, may have lavished on New York City Police Department bigwigs.
Reichberg, 42, a well-known figure in Borough Park, was named a chaplain three years ago, the same month that Astorino’s campaign received $25,000 in campaign contributions from Rechnitz’s company and two other businesses with which it shared an office suite.
County officials dismiss suggestions that Reichberg’s appointment was political. William O’Reilly, a political spokesman for Astorino, denied the chaplaincy was linked to the donations.
“There’s no connection at all. Mr. Rechnitz donates to a lot of campaigns; the county executive race was one of many,” O’Reilly said in an email.
“Rabbi Reichberg, who didn’t donate, was appointed as a volunteer chaplain by the county police, and received no compensation for the work he did.”
The county police would have expected a Jewish chaplain to be a rabbi — but they are at a loss even to confirm that he was one.
“The (personal information) form (Reichberg submitted) notes he is a graduate of a rabbinical college,” county police spokesman Kieran O’Leary wrote in an email last week. “I cannot read his handwriting and have reached out to try to determine the name of the school.”
County officials would not show The Journal News/lohud.com any part of the personnel form or answer questions about how Reichberg came to be a police chaplain and what made him qualified.
The position is unpaid and involves delivering invocations and benedictions at police ceremonies and being available as needed for officers seeking support. There is no requirement of certification, unlike chaplaincies for health care and correctional facilities.
Westchester County officials have chalked up the appointment of Brooklyn rabbis to limited interest in the mostly ceremonial position among local rabbis. They also cite Reichberg being a “police buff,” someone who gets their kicks hobnobbing with police brass.
That close association with police has drawn the attention of federal investigators.
NYPD Commissioner William Bratton announced Thursday that two high-ranking police officials had been placed on modified duty — stripped of their guns and badges — and two others transferred as a result of the ongoing probe.
One of the those put on modified duty was Deputy Inspector James Grant, who reportedly is suspected of receiving gifts from Reichberg, a close friend since his days running the 72nd Precinct in Brooklyn.
Reichberg was also close with Detective Michael Milici, a community affairs detective in Borough Park’s 66th Precinct, who was placed on modified duty after pleading the fifth before a federal grand jury convened in the case.
On Friday, the former owner of a Harlem restaurant, Hamlet Peralta, was arrested on federal charges linking him to a $12 million Ponzi scheme in which investors were promised high returns from a wholesale liquor operation. None of the investors were named in the criminal complaint but it was believed that Rechnitz and Reichberg were among them.
The FBI was investigating that fraud when they learned through wiretaps of the extensive ties between Reichberg, Rechnitz and NYPD honchos.
Reichberg is not the only county police chaplain from Brooklyn.
Rabbi Michael Melnicke, a nursing home magnate and ambassador-at-large for Grenada, got the post in October 2012, a few days after contributing $2,000 to Astorino’s campaign. He is also among several chaplains for the Rockland County Sheriff’s Department.
The other Weschester police chaplains, Sister Connie Koch and the Rev. Carl Maiello, a retired Mount Vernon police detective, have no record of making political contributions in New York.
Even though Westchester already had a Jewish chaplain, Reichberg was added on June 10, 2013.
Donations from the same address
Three days later, Rechnitz’ company, JSR Capital, donated $10,000 to Astorino’s re-election campaign. On June 24, 2013, Friends of Rob Astorino got another $5,000 from JSR Capital, $5,000 from LTR Trading and $5,000 from jewelry retailer Stephnat LLC. The address for all three companies was the same suite at 580 Fifth Ave. in Manhattan’s Diamond District.
That was also the address from which a company linked to Rechnitz, JSTD Madison, contributed $102,300 to state Senate Democrats shortly before the 2014 election, when now-New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio was making a push for the Democrats to regain control of the state Senate.
Rechnitz and his wife each gave the maximum contributions allowed to De Blasio’s mayoral campaign, $4,950, that year, and he reportedly helped raise over $40,000 for De Blasio.
Despite O’Reilly’s contention that Rechnitz has contributed to many campaigns, he has donated to four others in New York and JSR Capital has made only two other political contributions besides the ones to Astorino. Neither LTR nor Stephnat has made any other contributions to New York politicians, according to online records of the state Board of Elections.
Last week, a spokesman for Astorino said he knew of no connection between JSR Capital’s contributions to the county executive and Reichberg’s start as a chaplain that same month.
Rechnitz used to work for the U.S. arm of Africa Israel Investments, a company owned by Israeli billionaire and diamond mogul Lev Leviev.
His company manages 23 Wall St., a building across the street from the New York Stock Exchange that Leviev previously owned.
Leviev’s daughter, CEO of Africa Israel USA Chagit Leviev Sofiev, was a part owner of Taly Diamonds who was embroiled in a legal battle over its liquidation.
Taly Diamonds is based in the same suite as the other companies, and calls to those other companies were answered by a Taly employee.
The owner of Stephnat could not be reached for comment. A woman who said she worked for LTR refused to answer questions last week about the political contribution.
Jonathan Bandler – lohud.com