A trio of NYPD officers and a Brooklyn business consultant found themselves in handcuffs Monday morning after federal investigators accused them of a string of alleged public corruption offenses including accepting bribes in return for special police treatment.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced that NYPD Deputy Chief Michael Harrington, 50; Deputy Inspector James Grant, 43; Sgt. David Villanueva, 42; and businessman Jeremy Reichberg, 42 — who has connections to Mayor Bill de Blasio — had been arrested on bribery charges.
Harrington, Grant and Reichberg were charged in Manhattan federal court for exchanging tens of thousands of dollars worth of meals, trips, home renovations, prostitutes and other benefits for police favors such as police escorts, ticket fixing and help in settling private disputes.
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Villanueva — who was a former supervisor in the NYPD’s gun licensing division — was charged with bribery for allegedly receiving money to expedite and approve gun license applications for individuals, including some with questionable backgrounds.
“It is heartbreaking to see police officers who have taken the oath to serve and protect allegedly bring dishonor to an institution and profession deserving of the greatest honor,” Bharara said.
According to the complaint, Reichberg and another individual — who has since pleaded guilty and is cooperating with investigators — came up with the plan to provide “lavish benefits” to high-ranking NYPD officials in return for police-related assistance.
From 2012-2015, Grant was a commanding officer at a Brooklyn precinct and later became deputy inspector and commanding officer of the 19th Precinct on the Upper East Side. Harrington went from executive officer at Brooklyn North to executive officer at the NYPD Chief of Department’s Office.
According to prosecutors, some of the “benefits” accepted by Grant included a private jet trip to Las Vegas for the Super Bowl; a two-night stay at a Rome hotel which was worth more than $1,000; contracting work at his home worth about $12,000; and jewelry. Harrington allegedly accepted thousands of dollars in dinners; hotel rooms for a family trip to Chicago worth more than $6,000; and private security work worth tens of thousands of dollars for a company he “unofficially helped manage.”
In return, both NYPD officials helped Reichberg and the second individual with police-related requests such as police escorts; resources to investigate private or civil matters; VIP access to parades and other city events; and Grant gave cards to the two men and their associates that would let them avoid traffic tickets.
Grant allegedly also helped Reichberg obtain an NYPD gun license and also tried to get the other man a license as well.
“The abuses of power alleged in this case are not victimless crimes,” said Diego Rodriguez, FBI assistant director-in-charge. “The victims are the citizens of New York, who rely on officers to fulfill their sworn duty.”
Under the complaint against Villanueva, it is alleged that from at least 2012 through 2016 the Long Island resident was given cash bribes and other benefits such as limousine rides and bottles of liquor by Alex Lichtenstein, who ran a Brooklyn-based business charging clients thousands of dollars to expedite their gun license applications.
During that time, Police Officer Richard Ochetal — who previously pleaded guilty and is now cooperating with investigators — worked under Villanueva and made first-level reviews of applications and was told to approve them. The officer was then given some of the cash Lichtenstein would give Villanueva.
When Villanueva and Ochetal reviewed and approved applications, they allegedly overlooked some required checks such as criminal histories. In some cases, they even approved applications for individuals with prior arrests and, in one case, an allegation of domestic violence.
Licenses were allegedly secured within weeks, when normally it can take more than a year to obtain a license to be allowed to have a gun in New York.
“These are never good days, these are never easy days, but what I see here is that the system works,” Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said. “Police officers have to know better, need to know better and have to set examples for others and have to follow the law.”
Bratton also added that the NYPD plans to educate personnel on duties and responsibilities and how they relate to the law. He said at the end of the month, captains from across the city will attend a day-long event that will extensively cover conflicts of interest, department policies and what's permitted and what's not.
According to Reuters, Monday’s arrests come two weeks after Norman Seabrook, president of the city’s correction officers union, and Murray Huberfeld, a hedge fund financier, were charged as part of the same federal investigation.
Reichberg, affiliated with JR Consultants, and a real estate investor, Jona Rechnitz, have been at the center of the corruption probe, Reuters reported. Both men were fundraisers for de Blasio and served as members of his 2013 inaugural committee.
When questioned about de Blasio on Monday afternoon, Bharara said there are no allegations involving the mayor in the complaints and declined to comment further.
Grant, Harrington, and Reichberg have been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, a charge that carries a maximum 20 years in prison. Villanueva was charged with one count of bribery, which carries a maximum of 10 years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, with a maximum term of five years in prison.