Federal officials in Manhattan on Monday unsealed corruption charges against four NYPD officers, revealing allegations of a broad scandal ranging from payoffs and prostitutes in exchange for favors from high-ranking officials, to bribes for gun licenses.
In the most explosive case, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara accused James Grant, former commander of the 19th Precinct on the Upper East Side, and Michael Harrington, a deputy chief who was second in command in the chief of department’s office, of taking bribes from two Brooklyn businessmen over three years.
From 2012 to 2015, the two commanders allegedly received bribes ranging from jewelry, meals, prime sports tickets and travel benefits, to Christmas visits from the two businessmen dressed as elves to deliver gifts, and in return provided escorts, VIP treatment at events and help in business disputes on an “as-needed basis.”
One businessmen, Jeremy Reichberg, was charged with conspiracy, along with Grant and Harrington. The other, a cooperating witness who has pleaded guilty, was not named, but the allegations matched descriptions of Reichberg partner Jona Rechnitz.
Reichberg and Rechnitz have also been targeted in probes of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s fundraising.
In addition to Grant and Harrington, the government also released an indictment accusing licensing division Sgt. David Villanueva of taking bribes from Alex Lichtenstein, a previously charged member of an Orthodox private “safety patrol” in Brooklyn.
Another unsealed complaint accused Richard Ochetal, an officer in the licensing division, of taking bribes. Ochetal, sources said, was an unnamed individual identified in the other two cases as having pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate.
At a noon news conference in Manhattan, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said, “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.”
Bharara said that in the scheme by Reichberg and his associate to bribe Harrington and Grant, “They spent well over $100,000. They got in effect a private police force for their friends and themselves. They got police on call.”
NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said that Harrington, Grant and Villanueva have all been suspended, and that Harrington and Grant put in retirement papers recently to keep their benefits intact.
Bratton focused on the bright side, arguing that the charges were not comparable to the massive scandal exposed by the Knapp Commission a decade ago. “What we are not seeing here is a malaise where corruption is ignored … or covered up,” Bratton said. “We see an aggressive system that worked here.”
Reichberg, according to the allegations, resides in Borough Park and has identified himself as a “community liaison” and a “fix-it guy” with the NYPD. He introduced the cooperating witness, believed to be Rechnitz, to NYPD contacts beginning in 2009, and the two men worked together in real estate and construction projects.
Among other favors, the government complaint said, he was able to get NYPD help for a jewelry business run by a friend to disperse individuals handing out ads for a rival store, and once arranged for the closure of a lane in the Lincoln Tunnel and a police escort for a businessman visiting the United States.
Grant, the complaint said, was flown out to Las Vegas on Super Bowl weekend in 2013 by private jet for $59,000, got a complimentary room at a hotel, and arranged for a prostitute to fly out and stay with him.
The prostitute, prosecutors said, confirmed that she “was engaged to accompany the persons on the trip and that Grant and others took advantage of her services during the trip.”
Reichberg and Rechnitz allegedly also paid for a luxury hotel in Rome in 2013 for Grant and his family when they visited, paid for $6,000 of work on his house, bought him a $3,000 watch, and brought him jewelry for his wife and a video game system for his children when they visited dressed as elves on Christmas Day 2013.
In exchange, prosecutors said, Grant “regularly” provided the men with police escorts to locations such as airports with sirens wailing, got them VIP treatment at public events, gave them cards with his name to help get out of scrapes and helped facilitate efforts by Reichberg to get gun licenses.
Prosecutors said that emails, wiretaps and cooperating witnesses indicated that Harrington was treated to expensive $400 to $500 dinners twice a week in 2013 and 2014, was given pricey Rangers and Nets tickets, while Grant got a video game system on Christmas Day 2013, and free hotel rooms on a trip to Chicago.
Reichberg, the government said, also funneled money to Harrington through a family security company, and in return Harrington used his authority in the NYPD to facilitate arrests, discipline a cop who worked off-duty as a guard for a jewelry business in a dispute with a company linked to Reichberg, and intervened in other jewelry related disputes.
Susan Necheles, an attorney for Reichberg, said, “Mr. Reichberg has done nothing wrong and he’s going to plead not guilty and we’ll deal with these charges in court.”
John Meringolo, a lawyer for Grant, said, “We’re going to evaluate the evidence and make a decision. At this point we think that nothing unlawful was done.”
Andrew Weinstein, a lawyer for Harrington, said, “The charges against Chief Harrington represent the inherent danger to all of us when law enforcement makes charging decisions that are politically motivated.”
He would not elaborate on the phrase “politically motivated,” but added, “Chief Harrington is a loyal and devoted family man who has an unblemished record and has spent the past three decades working tirelessly to keep New York City safe.”
A lawyer for Rechnitz could not be reached for comment. A lawyer for Villanueva could not be identified immediately.