NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Four NYPD officers and two others have been charged in connection with an ongoing city corruption investigation.
On Monday, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the alleged conduct “violates the basic principle that public servants are to serve the public, not help themselves to cash and benefits just for doing their jobs.”
“It is heartbreaking to see police officers who have taken the oath to serve and protect allegedly bring dishonor to an institution and profession deserving of the greatest honor,” he said.
NYPD Deputy Chief Michael Harrington and Deputy Inspector James Grant were each charged with conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, authorities said.
Sgt. David Villanueva, who was assigned to the gun license bureau, was charged with conspiracy to commit bribery, authorities said.
A fourth officer who worked in the licensing department, Richard Ochethal, previously pleaded guilty to one count of bribery and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and is cooperating with the investigation, authorities said.
A Brooklyn businessman, Jeremy Reichberg, was also charged with conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud for allegedly bribing NYPD officials.
Bharara said Reichberg exchanged bribes for “cops on call.”
“They got in effect a private police force for themselves and their friends,” Bharara said, as reported by WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb.
In an email to The Associated Press, Susan Necheles, Reichberg’s lawyer, said “Mr. Reichberg did not commit a crime.”
She said her client’s “only mistake” was befriending a government cooperator “who is desperately trying to get others in trouble in order to curry favor with prosecutors and save his own skin.”
Authorities said Reichberg offered gifts and trips to Grant and Harrington in exchange for various favors.
The gifts to Grant allegedly included hotels rooms for a vacation in Rome, a luxury watch and home repairs, a video game system for his kids and jewelry for his wife, according to the complaint, CBS2’s Christine Sloan reported.
The complaint also alleges that Grant was given tickets to the Super Bowl in 2013 during an all-expense paid trip to Las Vegas where a prostitute was arranged to stay in Grant’s hotel room, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported.
Harrington allegedly received lavish dinners, tickets to basketball and hockey games, hotel rooms for a family trip to Chicago and $75,000 in payments to a security company run by Harrington’s family, CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported.
The gifts were all allegedly paid for by Reichberg and another businessman, identified in the complaint as “cooperating witness 1,” who has been previously identified as businessman Jona Rechnitz, CBS2’s Marcia Kramer reported.
Bharara said Reichberg and Rechnitz “invested” over $100,000 in exchange for all kinds of demands from their friends at the top of the NYPD food chain.
In exchange for the gifts, the two received favors like police escorts, assistance with private disputes, security at religious sites, VIP access to parades and other events, the ability to get out of tickets and other favors, the complaint alleges.
According to the complaint, the alleged bribery also gave Reichberg “considerable influence over internal NYPD affairs, including personnel decisions such as the promotion of certain favored NYPD officers.”
“They got, in effect, a private police force for themselves and their friends effectively got cops on call,” Bharara said.
The feds claim Reichberg got help getting a gun permit and even used NYPD resources to investigate civil matters. When his jewelry business had problems with customers and competitors, he allegedly asked for and got help from Harrington.
The feds added that Reichberg thought of himself as so powerful, he called police brass to make promotion recommendations. In Grant’s case, he asked a certain chief to make him the commanding officer of the 19th Precinct. According to the complaint, the chief put Reichberg and Rechnitz “on the phone with Grants … to be able to tell Grant he was being promoted.”
“Reichberg didn’t allegedly provide these gifts just to get his friends out of tickets, he was grooming Grant and Harrington to be his pawns, attempting to insure his ability to assert undue influence over high-ranking officials in the NYPD and officers to come,” Diego Rodriguez, head of the New York FBI Field Office, said.
The feds also have testimony that Reichberg even got the cops to close down one lane of the Lincoln Tunnel and provide an escort to a businessman visiting the U.S.
CBS2’s Kramer reported Reichberg and Rechnitz gave generously to Mayor Bill de Blasio and served on his inauguration committee. Reichberg raised $35,000 for the New York City mayor during a fundraiser at his home.
Rechnitz and his wife donated to $9,900 to de Blasio’s 2013 election campaign. He also reportedly collected another $41,600 from others; gave $50,000 to de Blasio’s non-profit campaign for One New York; and anted up over $100,000 for de Blasio’s 2014 effort to defeat Senate Republicans.
The mayor’s office said in a statement, “The Mayor and Commissioner Bratton are both committed to ensuring that the NYPD maintains the integrity and trust that the public expects from its Police Department, and the NYPD is conducting a joint investigation with the FBI to discover all the facts. The Mayor is fully supportive of these investigations.”
Harrington’s lawyer, Andrew Weinstein, told the AP his client “is a loyal and devoted family man who has an unblemished record and has spent the last three decades working tirelessly to keep New York City safe.”
“One would be hard-pressed to find a straighter arrow in their quiver,” he said.
Both Reichberg and Rechnitz gave generously to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign and were on his inauguration committee. De Blasio has not been implicated in any wrongdoing.
Rechnitz was also a cooperating witness in the recent charges brought against Correction Officers’ Union President Norman Seabrook and hedge fund operator Murray Huberfeld.
Reichberg’s lawyer defended her client.
“My client did nothing wrong,” lawyer Susan Necheles said.
A second set of complaints charges Villanueva and Ochetal in connection with bribes for gun permits without doing background checks or providing justification for owning a gun, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.
It also charges Alex “Shaya” Lichtenstein of Brooklyn, who allegedly claimed he paid bribes up to $6,000 for as many as 150 permits.
In addition to cash bribes, the complaint says Villanueva also received bottles of liquor and free limo rides, among other things.
Authorities said Villaneuva and Ochetal were able to secure licenses for Lichtenstein’s clients “often within weeks, whereas the process normally takes months to, in some instances, over a year.”
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said Harrington, Grant and Villaneuva are being suspended.
“Chief Harrington and Inspector Grant had previously filed notices of retirement, which are effective this week,” he said. “Although the department cannot prevent their retirement, they will do so under suspension and therefore, not in good standing.”
While the four cops named Monday are the first to face federal charges, nearly a dozen have been disciplined in some way by the NYPD in the last few months.