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The Feds' Cooperating Witness

June 27, 2016

The feds say NYPD Deputy Chief Mike Harrington was a cop “on call” to Jona Rechnitz and Jeremy Reichberg, the two Orthodox Jewish hustlers at the heart of the NYPD corruption scandal.

But if the story rattling around Police Plaza is correct — and more than one top NYPD official assured NYPD Confidential it is — Harrington never complied with the demands of Rechnitz, who is now a cooperating witness in a federal case about pay-for-favors inside the NYPD.

Consider the incident that occurred in the diamond district in 2014, when a beat cop issued Rechnitz’s chauffeur a summons for a moving violation. Rechnitz complained to Harrington that the cop was anti-Semitic and demanded that the officer be transferred.

According to those police officials, when Harrington asked why Rechnitz believed the cop was anti-Semitic, Jona, referring to himself and his chauffeur, said, “The way he looked at us.”

After Harrington refused to transfer the officer, Rechnitz complained so vehemently that Harrington warned him that if he didn’t stop complaining, he would keep the cop there on overtime.

Harrington and Deputy Inspector James Grant were arrested recently, accused of using their positions to do favors for Jona and his Hasidic buddy, Jeremy, a self-described police fixer, in return for expensive meals, plane trips and hotel accommodations, including a $59,000 trip to Las Vegas on a private jet with a prostitute that Rechnitz paid for.

[A short aside to put this freebie issue in some perspective: Top police officials are notorious schnorrers. While accepting gifts over $50 is a violation of the Patrol Guide, they in themselves are not crimes.

Can anyone recall the last time Ray Kelly picked up a tab or even paid for himself when dining with a civilian at a restaurant? Instead, during his 12-year tenure as police commissioner, he pressured the non-profit Police Foundation to pay nearly $40,000 for his membership and meal expenses at the Harvard Club, a trick that current commissioner Bill Bratton is attempting to emulate.

As for free plane trips and accommodations, Bratton himself, in his first term as NYPD commissioner, flew on the private jet of Wall Street financier Henry Kravis to the Dominican Republic and Colorado. What he offered Kravis in return, if anything, remains unknown. Then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was feuding with Bratton, used those trips as an excuse to force Bratton’s resignation.]

The arrests of Grant and Harrington are part of a larger probe of the police department and its relationship with the city’s Hasidic community. This includes the Pistol License Division, where cops allegedly accepted bribes from Alex Lichtenstein, another Hasidic wheeler-dealer, to facilitate the obtaining of pistol permits. So far, nearly a dozen top cops have been arrested, transferred, placed on modified assignment and/or retired. While the scale of corruption does not approach that of the Knapp Commission scandal of the early 1970s, the number of top cops implicated then does not approach the number implicated in this one.

Harrington and Grant were arrested on evidence apparently supplied by Rechnitz. That is what prosecutors do. They take the guy they catch first and offer him a choice: a long prison stretch or a deal to reveal everything he knows.

That’s what the feds appear to have done with Rechnitz. They also say he offered a $60,000 cash kickback to then-corrections union head Norman Seabrook, allegedly in return for Seabrook’s investment of $20 million in union funds with Murray Huberfeld, a hedge fund friend of Rechnitz’s.

In a secret deal, Rechnitz has pleaded guilty. He then ratted out his friend Jeremy, apparently informing the feds that, among other things, Jeremy had arranged the prostitute on the Las Vegas trip. Jeremy was also arrested last week.

His lawyer, Susan Necheles, told The New York Times that Jeremy’s “only mistake was his friendship with Jona Rechnitz, a criminal who admitted bribing a union official and who is desperately trying to get others in trouble in order to curry favor with prosecutors and save his own skin.”

Well, sometimes it works out for a cooperating witness, sometimes it doesn’t. The Knapp Commission secured the cooperation of the scandal’s most blatant offender, veteran NYPD Officer Bill Phillips. A young cop named Edward Droge, who admitted taking money just weeks after becoming a cop, also became a cooperating witness and testified before the commission.

Droge made out pretty well. He went on to Yale and became a teacher and motivational speaker. Phillips, however, was subsequently accused of murder and spent most of his adult life in prison.

As for Rechnitz, police sources say, there is more about him than the feds may know. Stay tuned.

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