4 NYPD Officers, 2 Others Charged in Corruption Probe

Four NYPD officials — including one who has pleaded guilty to bribery —have been charged along with a pair of businessmen in connection with a federal corruption investigation, according to law enforcement officials and court documents.

Deputy Chief Michael Harrington, Deputy Inspector James Grant and Sgt. David Villanueva all faced charges Monday that they accepted gifts and favors from influential businessmen in exchange for favorable treatment and official services, including one instance in which the businessmen allegedly pulled strings to get the NYPD to shut down a lane of the Lincoln Tunnel so officers could escort an entrepreneur visiting from another country.

Two of those businessmen, Jeremy Reichberg and Alex Lichtenstein, were also named in a trio of criminal complaints unsealed Monday.

A fourth officer, Richard Ochetal, has already pleaded guilty to bribery charges in connection with the probe. 

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Monday that the case marks the latest instance his office has found public corruption.

"When corruption subverts public safety that is especially tough to take, it can tear at the very fabric of society," he said. "It makes people wonder whether those entrusted to protect and serve them are actually doing that."

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, meanwhile, said that Monday's arrests show that "the system works" and that the department is not ignoring or covering up corruption.

"This case shows that whether you are a cop or a chief you will be handled the same way if you break the law," he said.

Prosecutors allege that Harrington and Grant accepted expensive meals, game systems, hotel stays and other benefits in exchange for being "on call" for Reichberg and Jona Rechnitz, another businessman who previously pleaded guilty to charges and has been cooperating with federal investigators.

Court papers also alleges that Reichberg and Rechnitz used their connections for a variety of purposes.

Villanueva and Ochetal also allegedly took bribes from Lichtenstein for help expediting gun permits, court papers state.

According to the criminal complaints, Reichberg and Rechnitz allegedly took Grant, another unnamed detective and others on a private jet to Las Vegas for Super Bowl XLVII. The two businessmen also allegedly arranged for a prostitute to join in on the trip, and the prostitute spent the weekend in Grant's hotel room.

Grant also allegedly let the businessmen pay for a hotel in Rome, several home projects and a $3,000 watch. On Christmas in 2014, the complaint alleges that Reichberg and Rechnitz showed up to Grant's home wearing elf hats and gave his children and wife gifts.

The two businessmen also allegedly recommended that Grant, then the head of the 72nd Precinct, be promoted to the head of the 19th Precinct on the Upper East Side in 2014 and were on the phone when Grant's supervisor told him about the promotion.

In exchange for the gifts, the complaint alleges that Grant regularly provided the pair police escorts and allowed the businessmen and their friends around police barricades. He also helped Reichberg get a gun license in about a third of the time it normally takes. 

Bharara said that Grant also complained when he felt he wasn't getting "lavish gifts" quickly or often enough. According to the complaint, Grant allegedly told Reichberg on one occasion "see you don't love me anymore bro."

Harrington, meanwhile, is accused of accepting one to two meals a week from Rechnitz at a cost of about $500 per meal. He also allegedly accepted Nets and Rangers tickets from Rechnitz and let the businessman book a hotel for a family trip to Chicago. Harrington later allegedly lied and said he paid the $6,500 hotel bill back to Rechnitz.

Harrington is accused of investigating an off-duty cop who worked for one of Reichberg's rivals, according to the complaint. He later took steps to discipline that cop. He also allegedly sent patrol cars to religious sites at Reichberg's request, according to the complaint.

Another criminal complaint alleges that Lichtenstein charged community members thousands of dollars to expedite gun permits, then turned to Villanueva and Ochetal to push permit applications through the system. The two officers allegedly approved permits without waiting for normal background checks and sometimes upgraded limited carry permits to full carry permits.

In all, prosecutors allege, the two officers expedited 100 applications for Lichtenstein, who allegedly boasted to another cop who later reported to the department's internal affairs bureau that he could pay $6,000 per gun permit.

Grant and Harrington were placed on modified duty after they were implicated in the investigation earlier this year. The two officers later put in retirement papers and will receive their retirement benefits. But Bratton said they will not retire in good standing, meaning they won't receive permission to carry a gun or get the so-called "good guy" letter former cops often use for getting post-retirement jobs.

Villanueva, meanwhile, has been suspended. Ochetal was placed on modified duty. 

Susan Necheles, Reichberg's attorney, said in an email that her client did not commit a crime. 

Reichberg's "only mistake," Necheles said, was befriending a government cooperator "who is desperately trying to get others in trouble in order to curry favor with prosecutors and save his own skin."

Harrington's lawyer, Andrew Weinstein, said that the charges were politically motivated. 

"Chief Harrington is a loyal and devoted family man who has an unblemished record and has spent the last three decades working tirelessly to keep New York City safe," Weinstein said. "One would be hard-pressed to find a straighter arrow in their quiver."

Harrington and Grant were each released on $250,000 bail. Reichberg was freed on $500,000 bail.

Grant's attorney didn't return calls seeking comment and the head of his union declined to comment. Attorney information for Villanueva, Ochetal and Lichtenstein wasn't immediately available. 

Villanueva and Lichtenstein pleaded not guilty at court appearances Monday afternoon. Villanueva was freed on $200,000 bail. 

The charges come amid a widening probe that focuses on whether former NYPD supervisors accepted gifts and vacations in exchange for official services like police escorts, fixing tickets or shutting down streets for private events.

Among those who have been under scrutiny is former NYPD Chief of Department Phil Banks, who allegedly took vacations with Rechnitz along with former correction union boss Norman Seabrook. An attorney for Banks said that the former top cop didn't knowingly violate the law.

Seabrook was arrested on corruption charges earlier this month and pleaded not guilty. Banks, through defense lawyer Ben Brafman, has denied any wrongdoing.

Several other officers retired or were placed on modified duty since the criminal investigation began. Former 66th Precinct community affairs officer Michael Malici was fired after the NYPD said he refused to cooperate in the investigation. Inspector Michael Ameri shot and killed himself on Long Island after being questioned in connection with the investigation.

Federal investigators continue to look into the fundraising practices of Mayor de Blasio and some of his key staffers. They want to know if favors, contracts or positions were offered in exchange for campaign donations.

Questions have swirled around the mayor's fundraising, including his efforts to try to help Democrats take over the state senate, his efforts to ban horse carriages and even a contract given to a donor who now sells the city’s so-called rat-proof garbage bags.

The mayor has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and has said all campaign activities followed the law.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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