The NYPD Scandal: What Did Bratton Know? And When Did He Know It?
April 25, 2016
Is Police Commissioner Bill Bratton leveling with the public over the corruption scandal engulfing the NYPD?
He says he was briefed in 2013 — before he was sworn in as commissioner — about a federal probe into whether police officers accepted gifts from two Orthodox Jewish businessmen with ties to Mayor Bill de Blasio. But Bratton has not said what exactly federal authorities told him.
That was also the year that Alex “Shaya” Lichtenstein — the man at the center of the latest corruption charges — began a scheme to bribe Pistol Licensing Division officers to score hard-to-get permits, according to a criminal complaint filed against him last week.
So far, the corruption claims involve nine chiefs and inspectors accused of accepting diamonds; free trips; and other freebies, including a trip on a private plane with a prostitute on board. Since Bratton did not become police commissioner until 2014, this suggests the corruption began under Bratton’s predecessor, Ray Kelly, if not before.
But the 2013 claims also indicate that, in the two years since Bratton says he learned of it, the corruption went unchecked.
Lichtenstein’s dealings with the Pistol Licensing Division continued at least through the end of 2015, according to the criminal complaint. Between June and December of that year, he says he visited police headquarters twice a week to meet with division officials. From those officials, Lichtenstein allegedly obtained 150 gun permits for, among others, the Boro Park Shomrim, a controversial Hasidic patrol unit. One of the permits went to someone who had been the subject of four domestic-violence complaints, including one in which he threatened to kill someone.
While holding his monthly, sometimes weekly, news conferences to tout crime reductions, was the top brass corruption going on under his nose? Where was the supervision? Where was the Chief of Department Jim O’Neill? Where was the Chief of Patrol Carlos Gomez?
And what of Bratton, himself? What exactly did the feds tell him? The old Watergate question directed at President Richard Nixon must now be directed at him: What did he know? And when did he know it?
TWO LONG AND FATEFUL HISTORIES. The Pistol Licensing Division has long been a trouble spot for the NYPD. Bratton knows this firsthand.
In January 1997, Internal Affairs officers swooped down on Room 110 of Police Plaza, where the division is located. As civilian employees huddled in tears outside, cops sealed off the office and carted out boxes of documents.
Returning from a luncheon celebrating his retirement, the division’s then commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Henry Krantz, was hit with administrative charges, accusing him of granting favors to people applying for pistol permits. A favored connection was the Israeli consulate, where 200 to 300 permits were said to be issued to Israelis. “We don’t really know who they are,” a police source said at the time.
Meanwhile, the feds were running a parallel investigation of Krantz’s friend and retired fellow deputy inspector, Charles Luisi, who had allegedly accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of freebies from professional gun dealer Michael Zerin. Zerin had ties to the highest levels of the NYPD: i..e. Bill Bratton.
When Bratton, then in his first tour under Rudy Giuliani, retired in April 1996, he sought a lightweight .38-cal pistol. Zerin provided it, along with a holster and ammo.
That fall, as Bratton considered a mayoral run against Giuliani, someone realized he hadn’t paid Zerin. An aide maintained to this reporter that Bratton had paid for the gun with an American Express card but that Zerin had never processed it. Early in 1997, nearly a year after he received the gun, Bratton sent Zerin a check for $600.
The Hasidic community has also been a trouble spot for the NYPD. Because Hasidics vote as a block, many politicians seek their support and often provide preferential treatment. Invariably, such treatment involves the police.
Twenty-five years later, two Orthodox Jewish wheeler-dealers — Rechnitz and Reichberg [plus characters like Lichtenstein] — are part of a federal investigation into whether NYPD officers accepted gifts from them. Besides allegedly providing freebies to the cops, the two are donors to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who like the NYPD, is now in the feds’ crosshairs.
Copyright © 2016 Leonard Levitt