NYPD Brass Arrested for Taking Bribes From 'Elves'
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announcing arrests in an NYPD corruption investigation
"You don't even invite me to the Super Bowl, what the fuck," NYPD Deputy Inspector James Grant complained into the telephone on January 16, 2015. "The two elves didn't come for fucking Christmas." The elves Grant was referring to on the wiretapped call were Jeremy Reichberg and Jona Rechnitz, two Brooklyn businessmen and de Blasio donors at the center of a growing corruption scandal that federal prosecutors say reaches into the highest levels of the New York Police Department.
According to a criminal complaint filed today by the office of U.S. District Attorney Preet Bharara, the two had driven to Grant's house in Staten Island wearing elf hats on Christmas Day in 2013 to deliver a video game system for Grant's children and jewelry for his wife.
Earlier that year, Reichberg and Rechnitz had flown Grant and an NYPD detective to Las Vegas for Super Bowl weekend, along with someone identified in the complaint only as "Prostitute 1." They also helped underwrite Grant's family vacation to Rome that summer, paid for repairs to Grant's house, and bought him a new $3,000 watch.
In exchange, the complaint alleges, Grant, the commanding officer of the 72nd Precinct in Brooklyn at the time, put himself and the NYPD at Reichberg and Rechnitz's beck and call.
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When the businessmen asked for police escorts, prosecutors say Grant provided them. At their request, he sent officers to investigate trespassing and suspected thefts at properties they owned. At parades and other events, he shuttled them past police barricades to get a better view. Grant also helped them get gun licenses.
But Grant isn't even the most senior NYPD officer arrested today on corruption charges.
That would be Michael Harrington, a deputy chief. Harrington and his boss at the time, then Chief of Department Philip Banks, the top uniformed cop in the NYPD, were treated to $400 and $500 dinners once or twice a week by Rechnitz, according to the complaint.
Authorities say Rechnitz and Reichberg plied Harrington with sports tickets, bankrolled a trip to Chicago, and funneled cash into a security company run by Harrington's family. They also dressed up as elves to deliver gifts to his children. In return, it is alleged, Harrington dispatched police officers and arranged surveillance at Reichberg's direction. According to the complaint, Reichberg's NYPD connections even arranged to shut down a lane in the Lincoln Tunnel and provide a police escort down that lane for a visiting foreign businessman.
Reichberg, Harrington, and Grant were all arrested early this morning. Rechnitz has already pled guilty and is cooperating with the investigators.
At least as disturbing is the other criminal conspiracy allegedly perpetrated by New York's finest unveiled today by Bharara, one in which David Villanueva, then an NYPD Sergeant in the licensing division, took thousands of dollars in bribes from Alex Lichtenstein, a self-described "expediter," in exchange for speeding along gun licenses for Lichtenstein's clients.
Among those who received gun licenses under the scheme was one with previous convictions for assault and bribing a public official. A gun license also went out to someone named in at least four domestic violence complaints who is alleged to have threatened to kill someone.
Villanueva and Lichtenstein were also arrested today, and Villanueva has been suspended. Richard Ochetal, another NYPD officer, has already pled guilty to bribery in the matter.
"What I see here is, the system works," NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said at a press conference announcing the charges this afternoon. Noting that the charges announced today are the fruit of an investigation born partially from tips from NYPD officers, the commissioner took pains to argue that the current corruption scandal is different and not as bad as NYPD corruption scandals of past eras.
"What we are not seeing here is a malaise where corruption is ignored or slow-rolled or passively covered up," Bratton said. "What this case is not is the systemic corruption of the Knapp commission of the 1970s or even of the Moreland Commission of the 1990s." Rather, Bratton said, "What this is, is a number of people, some high-ranking, who gave favors and...received things of high value in return."
Former Chief of Department Banks has not been charged yet, and neither Bharara nor Bratton would comment today on whether he will be. Harrington and Grant have filed notices of retirement. Commissioner Bratton said they'll receive full pensions, but won't receive the customary "good guy letter," generally given to NYPD officers who have retired in good standing.
Both Rechnitz and Reichberg were substantial fund-raisers for Mayor Bill de Blasio and served on his inauguration committee — Rechnitz alone gave more than $150,000 to de Blasio and his causes — but Bharara wouldn't talk today about any connection to City Hall. "There's no allegation that has anything to the mayor in these complaints, so I'm not going to comment on it," he said.