A former NYPD Deputy Inspector who was accused of selling his badge to accommodate two Brooklyn businessmen in return for lavish meals and trips and hotel accommodations was acquitted of all charges by a jury in Federal Court in Manhattan Jan. 2, even as one of the businessmen was convicted on a series of bribe-related charges, the one exception being a count of paying off the ex-commander.
While ex-Deputy Inspector James Grant emerged from the courtroom in tears and declined to talk to reporters, saying he wanted to “collect my thoughts,” the head of his former union said in a subsequent phone interview, “It’s truly a Happy New Year for Jimmy Grant.”
‘Incredibly Happy for Him’
Captains Endowment Association President Roy Richter continued, “I’m incredibly happy for him. The jury sat through a very lengthy trial and they reached an appropriate verdict.”
Prior to Inspector Grant’s retirement, he had been the union’s sergeant-at-arms.
The seven-woman, five-man jury reached the verdict just a couple of hours into its ninth week of deliberations after a five-day break that began the Friday before New Year’s. Their split verdict appeared to reflect extensive testimony by key prosecution witness Jona Rechnitz against his former business partner, Jeremy Reichberg, regarding their attempts to bribe ranking cops in return for favorable treatment, and the relatively small amount of incriminating testimony he offered regarding Inspector Grant.
The disparity was reflected in the amount of time the two main lawyers for the defendants spent cross-examining him last month. Mr. Reichberg’s lead attorney, Susan Necheles, devoted roughly five days to trying to undermine Mr. Rechnitz’s credibility by pointing to several other improper schemes in which he had been involved, while also trying to establish that for all the money he lavished on top police officials, as well as Mayor de Blasio, he got relatively little in return, contrary to his boasts. He and Mr. Reichberg contributed more than $250,000 to Mr. de Blasio during his 2013 mayoral campaign and, following his election, to causes he favored.
Not Part of ‘Inner Circle’
Mr. Grant’s prime lawyer, John Meringolo, devoted less than two hours to grilling Mr. Rechnitz, chipping away at his credibility but also getting him to admit that he spent considerably less on entertaining Mr. Grant than he had higher-ranking officials including then-Chief of Department Philip Banks III and those whom he described as part of “Banks’s inner circle.” Mr. Rechnitz admitted under questioning that Mr. Grant was not part of that group.
That didn’t mean he escaped embarrassment during the key witness’s testimony. Mr. Rechnitz said he had paid for a two-night stay at an upscale hotel in Rome where Inspector Grant took his wife in August 2013 to celebrate their having been together for 20 years. Far more painful to the veteran cop was testimony by both Mr. Rechnitz and a prostitute, Gabriella Curtis, that six months before that trip, the two of them and two other cops had flown with Mr. Grant and Mr. Reichberg to Las Vegas to watch the Super Bowl, and that the Deputy Inspector had sex with Ms. Curtis both during the flight and at their hotel.
But Mr. Meringolo, who at the start of the trial asserted that his client had been charged because Federal prosecutors didn’t believe that a deep friendship had blossomed involving “an Irish-Catholic guy from Coney Island and a Jewish guy from Borough Park,” apparently convinced jurors their relationship was not rooted in quid pro quos.
At the heart of the government’s case was that when Mr. Reichberg and Mr. Rechnitz became viewed as men who could get favors done for members of the Orthodox-Jewish community in Borough Park involving the police, it enhanced their status in that community while at the same time leading some ranking officers to defer to them.
Influence in Promotions?
Mr. Rechnitz claimed that it was their lobbying that led to Inspector Grant being made the commander of the 19th Precinct on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, a job that because it placed its occupant in contact with many wealthy and powerful individuals, could be a springboard to higher assignments in the NYPD. He also testified that he and Mr. Reichberg particularly cultivated Chief Banks, then the department’s highest-ranking uniformed officer, and increased their spending on Deputy Chief Michael Harrington when he was promoted to a position that made him “Banks’s right-hand man.”
Chief Harrington was indicted along with Inspector Grant in June 2016, with then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara saying at the time that two had become “cops on call” for Mr. Reichberg and Mr. Rechnitz. He alleged that the commanders accommodated the business partners’ personal requests while mobilizing “a private police force for themselves and their friends.” The two top cops were accused of arranging police escorts on numerous occasions and having subordinates provide favors that included a crackdown on protests outside a Midtown jeweler’s business and mediating disputes within the Orthodox-Jewish community.
Chief Harrington last March pleaded guilty to a reduced offense that led to a sentence of probation three months later. Chief Banks, who allowed Mr. Rechnitz and Mr. Reichberg to park in a spot in the NYPD garage marked “Reserved Chief of Department,” was not charged in the case, apparently because Federal prosecutors became convinced it would be difficult to prove a quid pro quo existed between him and the two businessmen.
Two days before the verdict, Mr. Banks, who retired from the NYPD in the fall of 2014 rather than accept then-Commissioner William J. Bratton’s transfer of him to First Deputy Commissioner—a civilian position within the NYPD that would have required him to undergo a background check—contended he had been unjustly maligned in a statement that veteran police columnist Leonard Levitt featured on his “NYPD Confidential” blog.
‘Cleared Trip With NYPD’
He said there was nothing improper about his having taken a trip to Israel paid for by Mr. Rechnitz and Mr. Reichberg. Referring to himself in the third person, the former Chief wrote that “Banks received a briefing from the NYPD’s intelligence division prior to going, that he conferred with the NYPD detective stationed in Israel upon arrival, that he met with the head of the Israeli Army, a ranking member of their Air Force, and had a two-hour meeting with the former head of the Mossad (their CIA) as well as speaking with Palestinian and Jewish settlers in the West Bank…Not the typical actions for someone receiving a bribe.”
Mr. Banks did not, however, look to defend two trips he made to the Dominican Republic with the two businessmen, or one he took with Mr. Rechnitz to Los Angeles.
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said following the verdict, “As a unanimous jury found, Jeremy Reichberg orchestrated a years-long bribery scheme that led to tens of thousands of dollars being provided to a select group of NYPD officers to provide Reichberg with a private, paid police force. These illegal acts clearly undermine the mission of the NYPD and leave the citizens of New York City poorer, and Reichberg’s subsequent attempt to hide evidence of his scheme from law enforcement cannot be tolerated.”
Regarding the prosecution’s loss in the case, he added, “We respect the jury’s verdict as to James Grant, and we thank the jurors for their service during this lengthy trial.”
Financial Hit for Grant
Even with his acquittal, Mr. Grant suffered a financial loss because of the investigation that eventually produced criminal charges against him. A month before he was indicted 2 ½ years ago, the NYPD, which cooperated with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the probe, placed him and Chief Harrington on modified assignment, and both men retired shortly before their indictments.
At the time, Inspector Grant was slightly short of having 20 years on the job, which would have entitled him to both a full pension and the Variable Supplements Fund payment of $12,000 a year received by all cops who stay with the NYPD long enough to meet a 20-year-service requirement. His premature exit left him with a somewhat-reduced pension and no VSF money.
Mr. Richter, asked about the larger effect the scandal—which also included Mr. Reichberg being one of those making payoffs to other uniformed officers to expedite gun permits that ordinarily would have been delayed or not granted at all—had on the NYPD, said, “The last couple of years, it was traumatic for some good, really solid police officers of all ranks. The damage to reputations and careers is permanent.”
O'Neill: 'A Terrible Chapter'
While the Mayor declined both following the verdict and the next day to address Mr. Reichberg's conviction, saying he "tuned out" the case involving a former major campaign donor, Police Commissioner James P. O'Neill addressed the issue of corruption within the upper ranks of the department in response to a question during a Jan. 3 press conference on crime statistics.
Referring to his Chief of Internal Affairs, he said, "Joe Reznick has spoken to all of our executives—all of our Captains and above—to make them aware of this. To be quite frank, I respect the trial process of course...but what a terrible chapter in NYPD history over the last four or five years. I'm glad we can look at it in the rear-view mirror. But moving forward, we have to make sure that everybody knows, not just Captains and above, but everybody in the Police Department knows that this has to be a corruption-free agency. We have to make sure that that's the case, because everything we do we're looking to build trust...we are held to a higher standard and will continue to be held to a higher standard."
Asked whether he had, in light of some of Mr. Rechnitz's testimony about assiduously cultivating department Chiefs in order to gain special treatment, warned those promoted to that rank about the enhanced risks of being corrupted, Mr. O'Neill replied, "Yeah. I mean it's, take a look at your friends before you become a Chief and see who your friends are after you become a Chief. And hopefully there's not too many new ones, because they might not be your friends for the right reason."
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