When Mayor Adams quietly named his brother Bernard a Deputy Police Commissioner Jan. 7, the thought occurred that this was an attempt to keep his equally new Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, Philip Banks III, out of trouble.
One of the peculiar highlights of the corruption trial three years ago of former NYPD Deputy Inspector James Grant and businessman Jeremy Reichberg was a video in which the latter gentleman and his then-partner Jona Rechnitz—who was testifying for the prosecution to shorten his own prison sentence—drove into the Police Department's private garage and parked in a spot reserved for Mr. Banks, who was then the Chief of Department.
Narrated by Mr. Rechnitz, the video illustrated one of the perks the two businessmen had gotten in return for lavishing trips, expensive meals and financial benefits on Mr. Banks, Mr. Grant, and a former Chief, Michael Harrington, who Mr. Rechnitz referred to as Chief Banks's right-hand man.
It had been something of a shock when the Mayor, despite several negative newspaper stories when he was on the verge of giving Mr. Banks a job in which Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell would have to report to him rather than the Mayor, pulled the trigger on the appointment, saying his old friend had neither been charged nor convicted of any wrongdoing.
And so the leaking of Bernard Adams's appointment just hours after Mr. Banks heralded his own arrival in an article in The Daily News provoked the thought that, since the younger Adams most recently served as assistant director for parking at Virginia Commonwealth University, the Mayor regarded him as ideally suited to spare Mr. Banks from having to arrange a spot if Mr. Rechnitz or Mr. Reichberg—presumably traveling separately at this point—needed to use the Police Plaza garage.
A Slight Retreat on Job, Salary
But tapping his brother as a Deputy Police Commissioner—a job that reportedly paid $240,000—despite his having retired as a Sergeant 16 years earlier, produced a media outcry, and by Jan. 12, the Mayor had backed down—somewhat. He announced that Bernard Adams would instead become Executive Director for Mayoral Security, presiding over his police detail, at a discounted salary of $210,000, and that his administration had begun the process of seeking a waiver from the city's Conflicts of Interest Board.
There have been mayoral relatives on the city job rolls before, including during the tenures of Bill de Blasio and Michael Bloomberg, but typically in unpaid positions. And Mr. de Blasio's wife, Chirlane McCray, did so poorly in overseeing the ThriveNYC program meant to help people with mental illness that while there had been talk several years ago that she might run to succeed Mr. Adams as Borough President last year, that notion quietly slipped away.
Mr. Adams's insistence that his brother, better than anyone in the Intelligence Bureau, could protect him was a strained rationalization. It seemed more likely he wanted people he had long known and trusted in key positions in the upper levels of the NYPD as he sought to transform its culture.
But the only good thing about the appearance of his looking to snare his brother—who will reportedly forgo his NYPD pension payments while working—a job with a big salary was that the nepotism controversy continued to focus the media's attention away from the man who brought a lot more baggage with him in his return to the department.
Mr. Banks had been identified by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan as an unindicted co-conspirator in the attempts by Mr. Rechnitz and Mr. Reichberg to have the NYPD do their bidding, on matters including arranging a police escort through the Lincoln Tunnel for Mr. Rechnitz's former boss and mediating in business disputes on behalf of them and their allies.
In his article in The News essentially announcing his own appointment, Mr. Banks took a decidedly checked swing at fessing up to his association with the corrupt businessmen, writing, "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."
But that barely scratched the surface of the problems that relationship created in terms of perception within the department. During the two trials of former Correction Officers' Benevolent Association President Norman Seabrook in 2017 and 2018, Mr. Rechnitz—who had joined Mr. Reichberg in lobbying Chief Banks to give Inspector Grant a promotion to command the 19th Precinct on Manhattan's Upper East Side—testified that when the Chief of Department called Mr. Grant with the good news, he then handed the phone to the two businessmen, underscoring the role they had played on his behalf.
Mr. Rechnitz told jurors that he and Mr. Reichberg, after making $250,000 in contributions to Mayor-Elect de Blasio's campaign and his Committee for One New York, in late 2013 lobbied him to appoint Mr. Banks as his Police Commissioner.
During the subsequent trial of Mr. Grant and Mr. Reichberg in late 2018, Mr. Rechnitz said under cross-examination that for an email he sent to the Mayor-Elect on that matter, "Chief Banks had given me the points he wanted included." The email also advised Mr. de Blasio that in choosing the Detectives who would be assigned to his security detail, "Our advice to choosing the right team is to reach out to Chief Banks...as he will make sure you are surrounded by the right people."
(Mr. Seabrook shortly after the 2013 Democratic primary that got Mr. de Blasio the party's mayoral nomination also made the case for his close friend Mr. Banks to succeed then-Police Commissioner Ray Kelly in a new administration, telling this newspaper, "Who's better to do the job than a man with four stars who worked his way up the ranks?")
Mr. de Blasio ultimately decided to leave Chief Banks where he was and hire the brand-name, ex-Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, to run the NYPD, but less than two months into his first term, he emailed Mr. Rechnitz that the Chief of Department's "future is bright."
The first Seabrook trial had ended in a hung jury largely because Mr. Rechnitz came off as obnoxious and disingenuous, and the union leader's lawyer put major gashes in his credibility. After that, Federal prosecutors apparently re-emphasized that any recommendation for leniency in return for his cooperation when he was sentenced after the trials were concluded would depend on not just telling the truth but being effective as a witness, and Mr. Rechnitz became more disciplined on the stand, avoiding pointless digressions that wound up turning off jurors, as convictions of Mr. Seabrook and Mr. Reichberg were convicted, although Mr. Grant was acquitted.
'Deal With the Highest'
While he and Mr. Reichberg courted numerous cops, usually in the ranks of Captain and above, they paid particular attention to Chief Banks, according to Mr. Rechnitz, because, "Just like in any company, we wanted to deal with the highest people in the organization...We were all over him. We had provided him with gifts, expensive meals, trips."
Those included two to the Dominican Republic during which Mr. Seabrook was also their guest, and the foursome also went to Israel together. Late in the Grant/Reichberg trial, Chief Banks defended the Israel trip to veteran police columnist Len Levitt in a statement for his "NYPD Confidential" blog stating that he conducted several pieces of department-related business while overseas, including "a two-hour meeting with the former head of the Mossad (their CIA)...Not the typical actions for someone receiving a bribe."
But the trip was paid for not by the NYPD but the two businessmen, with Mr. Rechnitz testifying that they spent $50,000 on the junket, which included a helicopter ride.
At one point, he testified during the Seabrook trials, he persuaded Chief Banks to give him $250,000 to invest, but did nothing with the money yet returned it to him with a $25,000 profit. He explained that he knew it would further ingratiate him with the NYPD's highest-ranking uniformed officer.
Mr. Banks did not ask for particulars as to how Mr. Rechnitz had produced this "profit." In that respect, he was much like those who invested with Bernie Madoff, including Mets' owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon, except that the veteran cop had good reason not to worry that his lack of curiosity would eventually make him a patsy in a Ponzi scheme.
Scamlet on the Hudson
Mr. Rechnitz actually was a partner in a Ponzi scheme involving multi-million-dollar investments in tickets to sporting events in which other "friends" of his, as well as his father-in-law, were among those duped.
He wasn't even the only Ponzi artist who entertained Mr. Banks. Hamlet Peralta, the owner of the Hudson River Cafe, also traveled with Chief Banks to the Dominican Republic before being charged with a $12-million scam in which investors in what they were told was a liquor business were actually financing Mr. Peralta's high living. He was eventually criminally convicted and sentenced to five years in Federal prison.
Allegations were made by Federal prosecutors that an unnamed high-ranking police commander had ordered that cops serve as a kind of security force at the popular restaurant.
While Mr. Banks had given Mr. Rechnitz an NYPD "gold card" to use if he ever ran into trouble with cops on the street, the access he offered the two businessmen had a far-greater value in the upper ranks of the force. It gave the pair, Mr. Rechnitz testified during the Grant/Reichberg trial "prestige within the department," and sent a message to other ranking officers that "we could have influence at promotion time."
And this offered them a sense of entitlement that went beyond tying up traffic at the inbound Lincoln Tunnel to impress a former boss of Mr. Rechnitz's.
The original 2016 indictment brought against Chief Harrington, who took a plea deal under which he was sentenced to two years' probation, Inspector Grant and Mr. Reichberg stated that a Captain who was the commanding officer at Midtown South—later identified as Timothy Beaudette—had told an FBI Special Agent that on several occasions he sent officers to intervene in disputes Mr. Reichberg had involving the diamond business, one concerning a $250,000 stone he had lent another man who stalled on returning it.
Sometimes, the indictment stated, the commanding officer acted on requests from Chief Harrington, other times simply because Mr. Reichberg asked him directly, "with the expectation that if the CO declined to do so, Reichberg would complain to Chief-1 or Harrington." Chief-1 was identified by law-enforcement sources as Mr. Banks.
Nothing That Could Stick
Mr. de Blasio avoided indictment and possible jail time for seeking to give favorable treatment to a restaurateur because large political contributions he received from him did not go into his pocket—in contrast with Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, who was convicted of bribery involving that same man's cash payoffs. Mr. Banks escaped charges because there was no concrete evidence that he did anything to directly benefit Mr. Rechnitz and Mr. Reichberg as a quid pro quo for all their spending on him.
The FBI investigated him for $300,000 in financial transactions over a seven-year period that a Special Agent stated in a court affidavit seemed intended to "hide the true source of the proceeds of illegal activity." That led to a court-approved wiretap Oct. 30, 2014, a day before Chief Banks announced he was retiring because Commissioner Bratton wanted him to accept a lateral transfer to First Deputy Commissioner.
Mr. Banks was said to have conditioned his acceptance of the transfer on having the new Chief of Department report directly to him, and being handed control over the Internal Affairs Bureau. Mr. Bratton refused those requests; more than seven years later, Mr. Banks personally delivered the news to Deputy Commissioner for Internal Affairs Joe Reznick, who had coordinated the NYPD's efforts in the Federal probe of Mr. Banks's possible involvement in corrupt schemes, that he would not be retained by the Adams administration.
There was no evidence that Mr. Banks was aware that the $25,000 "profit" on his investment that Mr. Rechnitz gave him amounted to a bribe. In the News article, he wrote regarding questions as to why he had invested such a large sum with the crooked young hustler, "The answer to that is simple: At the time I believed he was a legitimate businessman."
Four years ago, when asked by a New York Post reporter about a source's claim that he turned down the lateral transfer offered by Mr. Bratton because the move to First Deputy Commissioner would have forced him to submit to a Department of Investigation background check, Mr. Banks replied, "I beat the IRS investigation, the U.S. Attorney investigation and the FBI investigation. They found nothing. Why would I be concerned about a DOI investigation?"
Didn't Sound Like a Cop
In that context, the word "beat" sounded like an admission that he had evaded the law, rather than abided by it. It might be written off as Mr. Banks slipping into street vernacular because of anger at being subjected to probes that damaged his reputation even though no charges resulted. But it was impossible to deny that, just as Mr. Rechnitz testified, his giving so much access to him and Mr. Reichberg—symbolized by both their cruise into his reserved parking spot in the Police Plaza garage and being photographed in his office smoking cigars with the then-Chief—had a corrosive effect on subordinates who were criminally charged and, in one case, convicted.
Mr. Banks acknowledged the personal damage done toward the end of his article in The News, writing, "It is an odd thing to watch and listen to your name get dragged through the mud. And I would probably just stay out of public life if it was not just my name being dragged through the mud. But it is not just my name. It is my father's name."
His dad, Philip Banks Jr., is a retired cop and president of One Hundred Black Men, the civic organization that founded Eagle Academy, the boys-only school that propelled the education career of another son, David Banks, who is now Mr. Adams's Schools Chancellor.
Philip III concluded his article by writing, "So I will serve. From here on, I promise all New Yorkers that I will let my hard work be the evidence of my commitment. But more importantly, it will be how I live up to my dad's name and fulfill my promise to the people of New York City."
Mr. Adams, a co-founder of 100 Black Men in Law Enforcement Who Serve, an offshoot of 100 Black Men, has spoken with conviction of his confidence that whatever mistakes his Deputy Mayor for Public Safety made in the past, he was worthy of a fresh start and had the ability to make the most of the position.
The corruption trials in which the younger Banks couldn't keep his name out of the courtroom included testimony from Mr. Rechnitz that he had placed football bets with illegal bookies on behalf of the then-Chief of Department, and the high-powered criminal lawyer Benjamin Brafman, whom Mr. Rechnitz had introduced to Mr. Banks for help in his tax case, has said that some of the financial transactions the FBI had examined involved money he'd won in poker games.
In giving Philip Banks a new career in city government, Mayor Adams is gambling with far-higher stakes on the table.
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