Four ranking NYPD cops have sued the city, contending that they were cast as straw men to conceal corruption at high levels when they were forced out of the department nearly two years ago.
The action, filed in Federal court, resuscitates allegations and suspicions resulting from a wide-ranging Federal bribery investigation that sent the former head of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association to prison and for a time reached to Mayor de Blasio's office and the NYPD's top uniformed officer.
Want Their Jobs Back
The four, former Deputy Chiefs Andrew Capul, David Colon and Eric Rodriguez, and ex-Inspector Peter DeBlasio, allege in part that, because of news coverage, they were tried in the court of public opinion without being given a fair chance to defend themselves.
In addition to financial compensation, the four want their jobs back.
Former NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton and the department’s former Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters, Lawrence Byrne, were also named as defendants.
The suit alleges that their due-process rights were violated since they were forced out without being given an opportunity to defend themselves at a department hearing, as the city’s contract with the Captains Endowment Association requires.
According to the suit, the president of the CEA, Roy Richter, called Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Colon alerting them that Commissioner Bratton intended to transfer them after negative news coverage of NYPD in connection with the corruption probe. Mr. Rodriguez was to be transferred because one of the prime subjects of the Federal probe, Jeremy Reichberg, lived in the Brooklyn south area where Mr. Rodriguez worked.
The two were told the transfers were to be temporary, and “being done for appearances only, and not because of any wrongdoing,” the suit says.
Mr. Colon and Mr. Rodriguez, however, were put on desk duty on April 7, 2016, by
Commissioner Bratton, the same day he told the press that “actions must be taken” if the public expressed doubt that city officials, including within the NYPD, could meet “expectations.” Neither man was ever charged with wrongdoing.
Mr. Capul, who agreed to meet with officials from the FBI and the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau in April 2016, was reassured by investigators that he was not a target and that they only wanted information from him.
Shortly after the meeting, Mr. Capul, who had been Executive Officer of Manhattan North, was demoted to an administrative position within the School Safety Division.
“Accordingly, the NYPD implicated ‘expendable’ deputy chiefs and inspectors—career police officials with impeccable records—while protecting politically tied officers from implication in the Corruption,” the suit says.
Lawyers for the four men said the NYPD’s actions betrayed a need to find scapegoats to conceal “vast ongoing corruption” at the department.
“The City’s actions constitute a manifest injustice and outright violation of these officers’ constitutional due process rights,” the lawyers, Matthew Weinick and Brett Pollack, said in a statement. “The lawsuit will show that the City defendants intentionally coerced our clients’ resignations without advising them of any alleged wrongdoing. These facts constitute obvious violations of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantees of due process for which punitive damages are appropriate.”
Split $1M Settlement
The four officers, along with another former Deputy Inspector, John Sprague, last month settled a lawsuit with the city for upward of $1 million.
The five were ensnared in a Federal investigation into the then-president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, Norman Seabrook, who ultimately was convicted of investing $20 million in union money into a hedge fund in a deal brokered by Jona Rechnitz, an acquaintance of Mayor de Blasio and major contributor to his first mayoral campaign. That spurred questions about Mr. de Blasio’s fundraising efforts and expanded to implicate members of the NYPD when investigators found that Mr. Reichberg and his close business associate, Jonah Rechnitz, had numerous associations with high-level NYPD officials.
Although the five NYPD officers were never charged, they were said to have accepted free dinners, trips and tickets to sporting events, in violation of the department guidelines, from Mr. Reichberg and Mr. Rechnitz.
Mr. Richter, CEA president, said he was “surprised” to hear about the suit, but declined further comment.
An arbitrator last year found that Mr. Byrne had coerced the five into stepping down by first withdrawing an agreement to let them retire and collect their unused vacation and overtime, then telling them they would lose those benefits and also face disciplinary action, including demotion, if they did not leave the department immediately.
About the same time, Commissioner Bratton transferred then-Deputy Chief Michael Harrington and then-Deputy Inspector James Grant and stripped them of their guns and badges. Both were indicted in June 2016 in connection with the probe, accused of providing Mr. Rechnitz and Mr. Reichberg a variety of favors in return for lavish meals and trips abroad.
Mr. Harrington pleaded guilty in March 2018 to a reduced offense and was sentenced to probation.
Mr. Grant was acquitted of bribery charges early this year. He also filed suit last week, also alleging that his due-process rights had been violated when he was forced out of the department.
On the same day he filed suit, May 13, Mr. Reichberg was sentenced to four years in prison following his conviction on bribery, corruption and other charges for paying off or attempting to pay off several high-ranking members of the NYPD.
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