NYPD officials, de Blasio fundraiser arrested on bribery charges

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NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton

NYPD officials, de Blasio fundraiser arrested on bribery charges

NYPD officials, de Blasio fundraiser arrested on bribery charges
June 20, 2016

Three active-duty NYPD officers were arrested for their role in two bribery schemes, one that provided “on call” police services for two major campaign donors to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and a second scheme to sell dozens of gun carry permits. Jeremy Reichberg, a de Blasio donor who has been in the media spotlight for weeks as details of the investigation came out, was also arrested.

According to federal prosecutors, since at least 2012 Reichberg, along with fellow de Blasio donor and associate Jona Rechnitz, “showered” top NYPD officials with $100,000 in private jet flights, overseas hotel rooms, jewelry and tens of thousands of dollars in outside security contracting. 

In exchange, according to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the two donors got what was a “private police force for themselves and their friends” that gave “assistance with settling private disputes,” police traffic escorts, and VIP access to high-profile New York City events.

In addition to the arrest of Reichberg, Bharara announced the arrest of Deputy Chief Michael Harrington, 50, of Staten Island, and Deputy Inspector James Grant, 50, also of Staten Island, for their role in the bribery conspiracy. Sergeant David Villanueva, 42, of Valley Stream, was also arrested.

Rechnitz, has only been identified publicly as a “cooperating witness,” but multiple media outlets have confirmed his identity. 

Earlier this month when the FBI arrested Norman Seabrook, then the head of the city’s correction officers union, it was disclosed that the “cooperating witness,” Rechnitz, had already pleaded guilty to charges that he facilitated a scheme to bribe Seabrook with $60,000 to secure a $20 million investment from Seabrook’s union into a troubled hedge fund. Seabrook has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Prosecutors say that Reichberg and Rechnitz were considered by “certain spheres of the NYPD” as having enough power within the police department to help officers win promotions.

In the second bribery conspiracy, prosecutors allege that from 2012 until 2016, NYPD officers took bribes at the NYPD’s Licensing Division located at One Police Plaza from Alex Lichtenstein, another figure in the alleged scheme who was arrested in April. 

Lichtenstein is alleged to have paid off Villanueva and Officer Richard Ochetal, 37, who has already pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors. Lichtenstein, a member of a Borough Park Shomrim, a civilian safety patrol, has pleaded not guilty.

Bharara told reporters that in at least two of the dozens of cases of expedited permits, individuals were able to secure the hard to obtain gun permits, despite disqualifying  arrest records and domestic violence complaints on file. 

On April 7, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton issued his first official statement that confirmed the existence of the internal criminal corruption probe that is now producing arrests. “The potential violations under investigation include violations of NYPD rules and policies, the City Conflict of Interest rules and federal criminal laws,” Bratton said. “The investigation is examining the conduct of current and former officers and several others.”

In April, Bratton said that as a result of the internal investigation, Harrington and Grant were being relieved of their current commands and they also had to surrender their badge and gun. 

“This investigation is not over and we will continue to work together with our law enforcement partners to go where the facts of these case take us,” Bratton said in a statement released following the arrests.

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Bob Hennelly
is a reporter for The Chief Leader.
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