NYC Mayor Banks

WILL 'POWERHOUSE' OUTRANK POLICE COMMISSIONER?: Besides the ethical baggage that Philip Banks (right) brings to his position as Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, one critic of his appointment argued that it could undercut the authority of Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell, who came to the job from the Nassau County Police Department. John Jay College Professor Eugene O'Donnell said, 'Banks has been a powerhouse before in the [NYPD]. Who are people going to listen to: her or him?' 

Mayor Adams Jan. 7 rolled out a controversial choice for Deputy Mayor in a strikingly unorthodox way: he let Philip Banks announce his own appointment in The Daily News.

In a first-person article posted on the paper's website early that morning, Mr. Banks wrote, "Now, nearly 40 years after I left home, and after nearly 30 years as a member of the NYPD, I still want to serve. But as I take on a new role as deputy mayor for public safety, I owe it to New Yorkers, and to our new Mayor Eric Adams, to answer some questions that have been raised about me."

Unindicted Co-Conspirator

He had been named by Federal prosecutors as an unindicted co-conspirator in a public-corruption case six years ago in which those charged included then-Correction Officers' Benevolent Association President Norman Seabrook, two high-ranking NYPD officials, and two men charged with bribing them in return for favorable treatment, Jona Rechnitz and Jeremy Reichberg.

Mr. Banks, who had been involved with Mr. Rechnitz and Mr. Reichberg while serving in the NYPD's top uniformed position, Chief of Department, was not charged with any crimes because the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan concluded there was insufficient evidence that he had granted any substantive favors to the two men while they were lavishing him with trips to the Dominican Republic, Israel and Los Angeles, numerous expensive meals, and courtside tickets to Nets games. 

(It was during one of those trips to the Dominican Republic in December 2013 that Mr. Seabrook, who had been drinking heavily, told Mr. Rechnitz that it was time he "got paid" for everything he'd done for his union's members, setting in motion the scheme that in 2018 led to his conviction for taking a $60,000 bribe to invest $20 million in COBA monies with a hedge fund that subsequently filed for bankruptcy.)

Counted on His Influence

But Mr. Rechnitz, who had filmed a video of himself and Mr. Reichberg driving into the NYPD's private garage and parking in a spot marked reserved for the Chief of Department, while testifying as a prosecution witness in trials involving his former business partner, Mr. Seabrook and ex-Deputy Inspector James Grant, said that he knew that his closeness with Mr. Banks would influence other police commanders to treat him with deference. 

(Mr. Grant was acquitted three years ago during the same trial in which Mr. Reichberg was convicted on bribery charges. Another top commander who was described as Mr. Banks's right-hand man, Deputy Chief Michael Harrington, pleaded guilty in 2018 without going to trial to a lesser charge of misuse of police resources and received a sentence of two years' probation.) 

Mr. Rechnitzwho in return for his cooperation with prosecutors received a 10-month sentence, half of it under home confinementalso testified that after Chief Banks gave him $250,000 to invest for him, he just held onto the money before returning it with an additional $25,000 he claimed to be profits as a way of further ingratiating himself.

'Thought He Was Legit'

In the News article, Mr. Banks noted "there was a question of why I invested my money with Rechnitz. The answer to that is simple: At the time I believed he was a legitimate businessman."

He continued, "Despite the fact that I never broke the law, nor did I ever betray the public trust by abusing my authority as an NYPD official, I also want to offer an apology to the people of New York. My interaction with Rechnitz and Reichberg was a mistake. These two men were attempting to corrupt public officials—and I now regret the time I spent with them. I realize now that even the appearance of our friendship was damaging to my profession. I hope that from here on, I can serve the people of New York excellently to prove my commitment to them."

Not quite eight hours after the article was posted (it also appeared in that morning's print edition of The News), the Mayor's Press Office issued a release formally announcing Mr. Banks's appointment, which made no mention of the cloud under which he left the NYPD more than seven years earlier. It quoted Mr. Adams saying, "I need a partner in government who understands what it takes to keep New Yorkers safe." 

A subsequent Daily News column by Harry Siegel--who for several weeks prior to Mr. Banks's appointment had written about Mr. Banks's tainted associates as the possibility of his getting the job was floated--quoting an unnamed NYPD leader as crediting the former Chief of Department for using his role overseeing CompStat to emphasize the need to "take the boots off the backs of our communities so they start coming to us...that there's a reason to be smart about your power and not just knock heads."

Elevated by Kelly

Mr. Banks, the brother of Schools Chancellor David Banks and the son of a police officer, had been given the unusual elevation from Chief of Community Affairs to Chief of Department in early 2013 by Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly. The move came just before the civil trial of a Federal lawsuit contending that the NYPD had abused its stop-and-frisk tactic at the expense of people of color. That August, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the department was guilty of using stopswhich soared from 97,000 in 2002, Michael Bloomberg's first year as Mayor, to 685,000 in 2011in a racially discriminatory manner and in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

In the spring of 2012, after Mr. Kelly issued a departmental memo telling officers to focus on "quality" stops rather than quantity--a tacit admission that a quota for them had existed--the number of stops began to drop dramatically, and continued to do so once Bill de Blasio became Mayor after campaigning on a pledge to end them. Mr. Adams, who testified for the plaintiffs in that lawsuit nine years ago, said during last year's campaign that the policy of stop-question-and-frisk, when exercised according to the Supreme Court standard that they be conducted based on reasonable suspicion that a person had either just committed a crime or was about to do so, was a useful tactic.

At the time that he left the NYPD in the fall of 2014, Mr. Banks said it was because then-Commissioner William J. Bratton wanted him to accept a lateral transfer to First Deputy Police Commissioner, and he balked when his demand that the new Chief of Department report to him rather than the Commissioner was rebuffed.

Aversion to Disclosure?

But at the time he stepped down, Mr. Banks's dealings with Mr. Rechnitz and Reichberg were already under Federal scrutiny. It was also later noted that as First Deputy Commissioner, he would have been required for the first time in his NYPD career to file a financial-disclosure form. 

Besides the transaction in which Mr. Rechnitz gifted him with a $25,000 profit without actually investing his money, issues were later raised about rental income which he and his wife did not report on their tax returns. Addressing that issue in his article in The News, Mr. Banks said the payments came from a longtime family friend who had been his tenant, and that the income was "offset by the cost of repairs and other expenses incurred by the properties, which I never deducted."       

During the period in which Mr. Adams prepared to take office following the November election, Mr. Banks was a regular presence in the NYPD's executive offices on the 14th floor of Police Plaza, overseeing changes there and in other city criminal-justice agencies, according to the New York Times. The News reported that he personally told Joseph Reznick, the longtime Deputy Commissioner for Internal Affairs who led the NYPD's probe of possible wrongdoing by Mr. Banks in tandem with Federal investigators, that he would be among those leaving their jobs.

Eugene O'Donnell, a Professor of Law and Police Studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who's an ex-cop and former prosecutor, said in a Jan. 7 phone interview that the ethical cloud over Mr. Banks was not the only reason to question his appointment, which he said could undermine the authority of Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell.

'Diminishes Her Role'

"The last thing we need is more bureaucracy in the law-enforcement establishment," he said. "It's also a bad reflection on the Police Commissioner that she's willing to accept an intermediary between her and the Mayor. It diminishes her role, and it's going to be a source of friction and turf-warring."

Alluding to Ms. Sewell's having come to the job from the Nassau County Police Department, where she served as Chief of Detectives, Professor O'Donnell said, "Banks has been a powerhouse before in the agency. Who are people going to listen to: her or him?"

Noting that Mr. Adams years earlier had been a student of his at John Jay, he added, "It's a rookie error for Eric. He should be exercising a go-slow approach, and he should be mindful that his own ethics have already been called into question. You've created a job that shouldn't be necessary, and you're giving it to someone who was implicated in a very bad way. This is a sort of in-your-face decision."

A couple of hours after Professor O'Donnell made those remarks, The News reported that the Mayor had named his brother Bernard, a retired NYPD Sergeant, as a Deputy Police Commissioner. No press release was issued regarding that appointment. 

The Times reported that the younger Adams, who left the force in 2006—the same year Eric Adams retired and was elected a State Senatorsince 2008 has been working for Virginia Commonwealth University, most recently as a parking administrator.

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