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Banking on Banks

April 11, 2016

Not since the darkest days of the Knapp corruption scandal in the early 1970s, when reform Police Commissioner Patrick V. Murphy fired his entire executive staff, has the department experienced such a week as last week.

Three chiefs and a deputy inspector were transferred, two had their guns and badges taken, and a Harlem restaurant owner linked to one of the chiefs was indicted by the feds in a corruption scandal that is now veering toward City Hall.

The media has focused on former Chief of Department Phil Banks. Once considered police Commissioner Bill Bratton's heir apparent, Banks has a relationship with Norman Seabrook, the president of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association and the investigation's alleged initial target. The Post and the Daily News have also questioned Banks' relationship with Jona Rechnitz, an Orthodox Jewish realtor, with whom Banks traveled to Israel in 2014, and his wheeler-dealer Hasidic buddy, Jeremy Reichberg. Both have been donors to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Both the Post and the News have cited a private trip Banks took with Rechnitz to Israel in 2014, where Banks held a news conference and appeared in a photograph in uniform at the Wailing Wall. Police sources say Banks, who paid for his airplane ticket and stayed at Rechnitz's home there, had been briefed by an Intelligence Division analyst before the trip. He met with the mayors of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and at least one West Bank town, as well as with the former head of the Mossad, Israel's equivalent of the CIA.

Department spokesman Steve Davis did not return a phone call from NYPD Confidential, asking whether these meetings were NYPD-sanctioned.

Bratton -- who has spent the past two years immersed in racial turmoil and anti-terrorism measures -- appears to have been blindsided by all this. He said last week the FBI had briefed him on its investigation in late 2013 before he returned as commissioner. But exactly what he was told is unclear. Police sources say that under Ray Kelly, who was commissioner in 2013, the FBI never brought Banks' name nor the names of any of the transferred officers to the attention of top police officials. Why Bratton would retain Banks as Chief of Department and then promote him to First Deputy if he was known to be under investigation is also unclear.

The NYPD is second to none with its history of corruption. Scandals appear every 20 or so years and this one seems right on time. Two decades ago, the Mollen corruption commission found that 1/3 of the night shift of the 30th precinct in West Harlem -- which the News dubbed "The Dirty Thirty" -- engaged in drug dealing. Twenty years before that, the Knapp Commission found that systemic corruption ran through the department all the way up to the commissioner's office. Twenty years before that, it was police-protected gambling. And on and on back into the 19th century.

The NYPD is also second to none in holding its top brass to a different standard than its rank and file. One of the Mollen Commission's discoveries was that the department's Internal Affairs Bureau deep-sixed cases against top brass, who were memorialized in what was known as a "tickler" file.

In 1999, former police commissioner Howard Safir ducked a City Council hearing following the fatal police shooting of Amadou Diallo in the Bronx by taking a weekend junket to Hollywood, paid for by the cosmetics giant Revlon, owned by New York financier Ronald Perelman. When Safir was seen on television at the Oscar awards, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani made him fly back to New York on the red-eye to attend the hearing.

Giuliani should have fired him. Instead he was merely fined by the Conflicts of Interest for the cost of the junket.

Kelly himself pulled off something no cop could. While cops are not supposed to accept even a free cup of coffee, Kelly convinced the non-profit Police Foundation to pay for his meals and expenses of the Harvard Club, which during his 12-year tenure as commissioner, amounted to approximately $30,000.

Kelly also looked away when then Deputy Commissioner Garry McCarthy was arrested by the Palisades Parkway Police in 2005. McCarthy had argued with an officer after his daughter was issued a ticket for parking in a handicapped space, resulting in the officer's taking McCarthy's gun, which his wife tried to grab back. No departmental misconduct charges were filed against him.

As for Banks and the transferred brass, there is no indication as yet that any of them committed a crime. To do that, you need to show a quid pro quo, which means the officers had to offer something in return, a la former Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik, who accepted freebies from a construction company in return for helping the company obtain a city contract. He ultimately spent three years in federal prison.

Still, as their names keep appearing negatively in the news, these officers are toast as far as remaining as police officers.

Bratton knows this firsthand. In March, 1996, when Giuliani wanted to dump him but had no credible justification for doing so, he leaked the details of two free trips Bratton had taken to the Dominican Republic and to Colorado on the private jet of Wall Street financer Henry Kravis. Although Bratton had paid back the cost of the trip -- about $8,000 -- the media swallowed it.

On March 26, the NY Times headlined an editorial about Bratton: "Time to Move on."

Bratton retired the day it appeared.

STEPPING DOWN. Joe D'Amico, the head of the state police also resigned last week, though according to his friends, this had nothing to do with the scandal now roiling the NYPD. Rather, they say his resignation resulted from differences with Governor Andrew Cuomo over a personnel change and D'Amico's resistance to Cuomo's plan to place a state police troop in the city.

Not true, says NYS police spokesman Beau Duffy, who forwarded statements by both D'Amico and the Governor that shed no light on D'Amico's reasons.

ETHICS TRAINING? Following the transfers of four of the department's top brass, Bratton announced the department was conducting ethics training for its top officers. Maybe they should start with a warning about the dangers of getting too close to the powerful and insular Hasidic community. Instructors might include Chief Joe Fox, former Chief of Department Joe Esposito and retired Chief Mike Scagnelli.

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