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The NYPD: How Bad is Bad?

June 21, 2016

Stop and Frisk. Over-the-top spying on Muslims. The still unresolved deaths of Eric Garner and Akai Gurley. Add to that the arrest of two high-ranking NYPD officers on bribery charges and we have the lurid details of a widening corruption scandal.

The two officers, Deputy Chief Michael Harrington and Deputy Inspector James Grant, were arrested yesterday and charged with, among other things, accepting free plane trips and hotel stays to Rome, Chicago and Las Vegas from Jona Rechnitz, a 32-year-old West Side realtor at the heart of the scandal.

For the trip to Vegas — whose cost according to the government complaint totaled $59,000 — Rechnitz paid for a private jet, and he and his Hasidic buddy from Borough Park, Jeremy Reichberg, arranged for a prostitute, who spent the night in Grant’s room. The complaint stated that Grant and the others, who included a detective friend of Grant and an associate of Rechnitz, “took advantage of her services.”

Rechnitz has pleaded guilty and is now a singing like a jaybird, even, it appears, giving up Reichberg who was also arrested yesterday on bribery charges.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said the scandal does not rise to the level that was investigated by the Knapp Commission of the early 1970s, which exposed systemic corruption up to the commissioner’s office. Nor, he said, does it rise to the level of the Mollen Commission scandal of the early 1990s, which exposed widespread drug-related corruption in the 30th Precinct.

However, in neither of those scandals were high-ranking officials such as a chief and an inspector arrested. To say nothing of 10 chiefs and inspectors transferred or modified.

Bratton also rejected the idea that his and former police commissioner Ray Kelly’s membership and expenses at the Harvard Club, paid for by the non-profit Police Foundation, might have set a tone that led to Grant’s and Harrington’s alleged acceptance of freebies. “That’s your issue, Lenny,” he said, referring to Your Humble Servant.

The complaint spells out how, in return for those free trips, Grant did favors for Rechnitz, as well as for Reichberg and his friends, which included helping them obtain pistol permits. Sgt. David Villanueva, who supervised the Pistol License Bureau, was also arrested yesterday and charged with bribery for expediting pistol licenses while Officer Richard Ochetal, who formerly worked in the Pistol Licensing Division, pleaded guilty to similar charges. In a superseding indictment, Alex Lichtenstein, another Hasidic man from Brooklyn, also pleaded guilty to bribery charges.

But, unlike Grant, the complaint does not make clear, at least to this reporter, what crimes Harrington committed. Rather, the complaint says that Harrington accepted “personal and financial benefits” that “constituted clear violations of NYPD rules.” But are those crimes?

 According to the complaint, Rechnitz, who came to New York from Los Angeles, met Reichberg in 2009 or 2010 when Rechnitz’s company made a donation to an NYPD football team. The two met at a dinner for the team where other NYPD officials were present, the complaint states. Reichberg provided Rechnitz with a business card stating he was an “NYPD liaison” and told Rechnitz that he could help with traffic and moving violations and was a “fix it guy.”

According to the complaint, Reichberg then introduced Rechnitz to Grant and Harrington and through Harrington to Chief of Department Phil Banks, who is identified in the complaint as Chief-1. From May 2013 to Nov. 14, when Banks retired, Harrington served as his executive officer.

At a news conference yesterday that Bratton chose not to attend, Deputy Commissioner Larry Byrne also peddled the idea that the corruption investigation had begun with an anonymous call to the Internal Affairs Bureau in 2012 that later dovetailed with the federal investigation. That call was apparently regarded as of such little import at the time that the head of Internal Affairs never briefed Bratton, Byrne said.

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