PARTNERS TURNED ADVERSARIES

PARTNERS TURNED ADVERSARIES: Jona Rechnitz (right) began testifying against his former business partner Jeremy Reichberg (second from left) Nov. 20 in a police-corruption trial in which ex-Deputy Inspector James Grant (not pictured) is Mr. Reichberg’s co-defendant. The two businessmen also donated generously to Mayor de Blasio’s 2013 campaign and to his pet causes in hope of getting special treatment from City Hall, although the Mayor has denied claims by Mr. Rechnitz that they were close and said he wished he never met his former benefactors.

The key witness in the corruption trial of former NYPD Inspector James Grant and Brooklyn businessman Jeremy Reichberg testified Nov. 20 that he and Mr. Reichberg had bestowed expensive gifts, meals and trips upon police commanders they believed were in a position to offer them favors in return, and that the one who received their greatest attention was former Chief of Department Philip Banks III.

“Just like in any company, we wanted to deal with the highest people in the organization,” Jona Rechnitz, appearing as a prosecution witness in hope of escaping any jail time for crimes that could earn him a sentence of up to 20 years in Federal prison, stated in the Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Courthouse in lower Manhattan.

‘Chief’s Right-Hand Man’

The three commanders who received particular attention from him and Mr. Reichberg were Mr. Banks, Mr. Grant, and Deputy Chief Michael Harrington, whose value to the two businessmen, Mr. Rechnitz said, grew significantly after he became “the right-hand man to the Chief of Department, Philip Banks.”

Chief Harrington in March pleaded guilty to the charge of misappropriation of property belonging to an organization receiving Federal funds—the NYPD. While he could have received as much as 10 years behind bars, in June he was sentenced to two years of probation and 180 hours of community service.

Chief Banks, who resigned in late 2014 rather than give up his position as the NYPD’s highest-ranking uniformed officer to accept the position of First Deputy Police Commissioner offered by then-Commissioner William J. Bratton, has not been accused of any crimes. (It is not clear that Mr. Bratton was aware of any questionable dealings at the time he sought the change in status for Mr. Banks, who had been appointed Chief of Department by ex-Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.)

Mr. Banks has been in close proximity to several individuals who were indicted by Federal prosecutors in Manhattan. Besides Mr. Grant and Mr. Harrington, he was friends with then-Correction Officers Benevolent Association President Norman Seabrook, and was with him on a trip to the Dominican Republic five years ago during which a conversation between Mr. Seabrook and Mr. Rechnitz set in motion the investment of $20 million by that union in a hedge fund that later went bankrupt. Mr. Seabrook was convicted in August of having made those investments—sometimes without informing members of the COBA board as he was required to—in return for a $60,000 bribe that Mr. Rechnitz testified he delivered from the hedge fund’s managing partner.

Obtuse But Not Corrupt?

Prosecutors have not indicated why no charges were brought against Chief Banks. Testimony by Mr. Rechnitz indicated that on one occasion he took $250,000 from the Chief to invest but did nothing with the money, merely returning it to him at a later date with an additional $25,000 that he told him was a profit.

The witness described a fierce competition he and Mr. Reichberg were engaged in with another businessman who was prominent in New York’s Orthodox Jewish community, Abe Friedman, for special treatment from top NYPD officials. Mr. Reichberg, he told jurors, “didn’t get along with” Mr. Friedman, and so he and Mr. Rechnitz were determined to offer an alternative when they learned that Chief Banks planned to invest his money in a home with their rival. Giving him the extra $25,000 when he returned the “invested” money was meant to make Mr. Banks “feel good” and trust him and Mr. Reichberg, Mr. Rechnitz testified.

“We were all over him,” he said of Chief Banks. “We had provided him with gifts, expensive meals, trips.”

In addition to taking him to the Dominican Republic twice with Mr. Seabrook, he said in U.S. District Judge Gregory H. Woods’s courtroom, he and Mr. Reichberg spent $50,000 on a trip they took with the two men to Israel, where they hired a tour guide, took helicopter trips across the country, and chartered a boat.

Parked in Chief’s Spots

Ingratiating themselves in this fashion gave them frequent access to Mr. Banks and his permission to park in spaces in the NYPD’s underground garage allocated to the Chief, with Mr. Rechnitz making a video in which Mr. Reichberg posed in front of a sign stating “Reserved Chief of Department.”

The video showed them being waved through to the garage, with Mr. Rechnitz murmuring after they passed uniformed officers, “Please salute us if you want to keep your jobs.”

Asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Bell what he meant by that remark, he responded that it was just “an obnoxious comment I made.”

But he earlier had acknowledged that the access he and Mr. Reichberg were given because of all the money they spent on Mr. Banks gave them “prestige within the department.” Their obvious connection to the Chief of Department, he explained, sent a message to other ranking officers that “we could have influence at promotion time.”

He said that he met Inspector Grant through Mr. Reichberg, who he testified had originally befriended him when he was a Captain.

Free Room in Rome

At his business partner’s direction, he testified, “I paid for [Mr. Grant’s] hotel stay in a luxury hotel in Rome…We gave gifts to his wife and children. And I also paid for a watch for Jimmy.”

Asked why by Mr. Bell, Mr. Rechnitz replied, “He had been doing favors for us…he was a good guy. And Jeremy said that from time to time he would ask for things” in return.

Among the favors they received by cultivating Inspector Grant, he said, “He [offered] special access at certain parades. He helped Jeremy and I with certain private disputes.”

Asked by Mr. Bell to explain how, Mr. Rechnitz said, “He would send officers over to the scene to help sort out the situation.”

They had a similar reciprocity with Mr. Harrington going back to when he was an Inspector, he told jurors. He and Mr. Reichberg paid his hotel bill for a trip to Chicago and frequently took him out for meals, as well as buying gifts on Christmas for his family, Mr. Grant’s, and another Brooklyn-based commander, Inspector Eric Rodriguez. Five years ago, they dressed up in Christmas hats and drove to Staten Island—where Mr. Grant, Mr. Harrington and Mr. Rodriguez all lived—in an Aston-Martin convertible to drop off presents that included Nintendo games and dolls and a pair of earrings for Inspector Grant’s wife that Mr. Rechnitz described “as something special that Jeremy wanted to do for Jimmy Grant.”

Great Expectations

Earlier in the video, as they entered the NYPD garage during a visit to Mr. Grant, Mr. Rechnitz could be heard saying, “I’m expecting the Chief to send a representative to greet us and send us up in a P.C. {Police Commissioner] elevator—I expect nothing less.”

That kind of arrogance undermined his credibility under blistering cross-examination by defense lawyers during Mr. Seabrook’s first trial a year ago, which ended in a hung jury for the former union leader and his co-defendant, who subsequently pleaded guilty to a reduced charge. Prosecutors prepared Mr. Rechnitz for a similar grilling prior to the second Seabrook trial and he avoided some of the blunders he made the first time, which helped persuade a new jury to convict the former COBA President, who will be sentenced early next year.

Mr. Bell ended his direct examination of Mr. Rechnitz shortly after 3 p.m. Tuesday afternoon to allow Judge Woods to send jurors home for the Thanksgiving holiday, with testimony to resume Nov. 26. It was not clear how much longer the prosecutor would be questioning the witness, but Mr. Reichberg’s lead attorney, Susan Necheles, told the Judge after the jurors had been dismissed that she expected the cross-examination of the witness would continue through the end of this week.

Plenty of Witnesses Waiting

The case is expected to continue at least through the first week of December. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Lonergan told Judge Woods that prosecutors might be ready to rest their case by Dec. 4, but Ms. Necheles was skeptical about that estimate, noting that if the previous week was consumed entirely by Mr. Rechnitz on the witness stand, that would require prosecutors to move through their 28 remaining witnesses in just two days.

In their opening statements, Ms. Necheles and Inspector Grant’s lead attorney, John Meringolo, contended that the favor-trading between Mr. Reichberg and Mr. Grant was the noncriminal product of a friendship that developed between the two men. Mr. Meringolo claimed charges had been brought because the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not believe that kind of bond could be formed between “an Irish-Catholic guy from Coney Island and a Jewish guy from Borough Park.”


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