During an investigation into New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign donors, federal investigators stumbled upon multiple bribery schemes involving at least three NYPD commanders and several other officers. On Monday, a deputy chief, a deputy inspector, and a sergeant were arrested for allegedly accepting bribes, including private jet flights, jewelry, and prostitutes.
“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,” stated U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. “Jeremy Reichberg allegedly showered senior police officials, Commanding Officers Michael Harrington and James Grant, with bribes, and in exchange, got ‘cops on call,’ a private police force for themselves and their friends. As alleged, Sergeant David Villanueva and Officer Richard Ochetal in the NYPD’s gun licensing division were also on the take, issuing gun licenses in exchange for cash, liquor, and limo rides. 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.”
Between 2012 and 2015, de Blasio campaign contributors Jeremiah Reichberg and Jona Rechnitz allegedly bribed NYPD officials in exchange for official police services, including closing a traffic lane in the Lincoln Tunnel to provide a police escort for a businessman visiting the U.S. According to the criminal complaint, Deputy Chief Michael Harrington and Deputy Inspector James Grant had dispatched officers to disperse protesters in front of the business owned by an associate of Reichberg, used cops to intimidate employees from a rival business, assisted in pistol license applications, and provided cards that enabled them to avoid tickets when pulled over by police.
In exchange for possessing “cops on call,” Reichberg and Rechnitz reportedly gave Grant numerous bribes, including a private jet trip to Las Vegas for the Super Bowl, costing $57,000 for the plane alone; a two-night stay in a hotel in Rome, worth more than $1,000; contracting work on his home worth approximately $12,000; and jewelry for his wife valued at $1,000. According to the complaint, Reichberg and Rechnitz also arranged for a prostitute to join the Las Vegas trip and that Grant and others “took advantage of her services” during the trip.
In exchange for Harrington’s services, Reichberg and Rechnitz allegedly provided him with private security work worth tens of thousands of dollars for a company he unofficially helped manage; hotel rooms for a trip to Chicago for his family worth in excess of $6,000; and thousands of dollars in dinners.
Despite the fact that Reichberg and Rechnitz are Orthodox Jews, they apparently appeared at both officers’ homes wearing elf hats and delivering video game systems to their children on Christmas Day in 2013. When they did not appear bearing gifts again the following year, Grant complained to Reichberg in a recorded phone conversation about the elves failing to return and how another police official had been invited to the Super Bowl instead of him.
“See, you don’t love me anymore, bro,” Grant complained.
Another wiretapped phone call recorded Reichberg advising Harrington on which NYPD officers he should promote. According to the complaint, Grant helped Reichberg obtain a gun license from the NYPD and attempted to help Rechnitz acquire one as well.
In a separate indictment filed on Monday, NYPD Sergeant David Villanueva and Officer Richard Ochetal were accused of accepting bribes in exchange for approving and expediting more than 100 gun licenses between 2012 and 2016. In addition to expediting licenses, Villanueva and Ochetal reportedly failed to conduct criminal background checks and approved applications despite red flags while receiving cash payments, limousine rides, bottles of liquor, and a wine tour from Brooklyn-based gun license “expeditor” Alex Lichtenstein.
Facing up to 20 years in prison, Grant, Harrington, and Reichberg have been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud. Villanueva was charged with one count of bribery, which carries a maximum term of 10 years, and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, which carries a maximum term of five years in prison. Lichtenstein was charged with two counts of bribery, each of which carries a maximum term of 10 years, and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, which carries a maximum term of five years in prison.
Ochetal previously pled guilty to one count of bribery, which carries a maximum term of 10 years, and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, which carries a maximum term of five years in prison. Both Ochetal and Rechnitz are reportedly cooperating with prosecutors in the investigations.
Although Reichberg and Rechnitz are generous de Blasio supporters, the New York mayor has not been indicted on any charges. According to The New York Times, nearly a dozen mostly senior NYPD officials have been disciplined by the Department in some way as a result of the inquiry into de Blasio’s campaign fundraising.
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