Three New York City police commanders and a business consultant were arrested on Monday as part of a wide-ranging federal corruption probe that has also been examining Mayor Bill de Blasio’s fundraising.
The latest arrests mark an escalation of an investigation that has led to discipline for nearly a dozen police officers and forced de Blasio to answer questions about whether he engaged in inappropriate fundraising.
A criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court accused businessman Jeremy Reichberg, 42, of plying Deputy Chief Michael Harrington, 50, Deputy Inspector James Grant, 43, and others with gifts including prostitutes, sports tickets and expensive trips.
As a result, Reichberg was able to secure official favors, including assistance with gun license applications, police escorts, special access to parades and the ability to get out of tickets, the complaint said.
David Villanueva, a sergeant, was also arrested and charged with accepting bribes to expedite gun license applications for Alex Lichtenstein, a member of a volunteer safety patrol in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood who was charged in April.
A fifth officer, Richard Ochetal, secretly pleaded guilty on June 14 to his role in that fraud and has assisted prosecutors in the cases against Grant, Harrington and Villanueva, 42, according to prosecutors and court records.
The officers arrested on Monday and Reichberg are expected to appear in court later in the day.
John Meringolo, Grant’s lawyer, said he believed no unlawful conduct occurred, while Andrew Weinstein, Harrington’s attorney, called the case “politically motivated.”
“One would be hard pressed to find a straighter arrow,” Weinstein said of Harrington.
Susan Necheles, defense lawyer for Reichberg, said her client “did not commit a crime. His only mistake was his friendship with Jonah Rechnitz, a criminal who has admitted bribing a union official and who is desperately trying to get others in trouble in order to curry favor with prosecutors and save his own skin.”
Lawyers for Villanueva and Ochetal could not be immediately be identified.
The arrests came two weeks after federal prosecutors charged Norman Seabrook, president of the city’s correction officers union, and Murray Huberfeld, a hedge fund financier, as part of the same investigation.
Reichberg and a real estate investor, Jona Rechnitz, have been at the center of the probe. Both men were de Blasio fundraisers.
Rechnitz, who prosecutors said also provided gifts to police in exchange for favors, has pleaded guilty and is cooperating, people familiar with the matter have said. A lawyer for Rechnitz has previously declined to comment.
De Blasio has repeatedly said he and his administration have acted legally in all respects. He has not been accused of wrongdoing, and the charges thus far are unrelated to his fundraising efforts.
The probe is one of several overlapping investigations by state and federal agencies that extend from City Hall to the police department.
Approximately a dozen police officers, including high-ranking commanders, have faced departmental discipline stemming from the corruption investigations.
Monday’s criminal complaint suggests prosecutors are not yet finished, with references to other officers who accepted gifts.
Philip Banks, formerly the department’s highest-ranking uniformed officer, regularly dined at expensive restaurants with Grant, Reichberg and Rechnitz and promoted Grant after the businessmen recommended it, the complaint said.
Banks earned between $250,000 and $500,000 from unspecified investments in Rechnitz’s firm, JSR Capital, according to his financial disclosure records.
Banks was not charged. His lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, declined to comment on Monday but has previously said Banks is innocent of any wrongdoing.
The complaint detailed a litany of favors that Reichberg and Rechnitz enjoyed as a result of their connections.
In one instance, Reichberg was able to get a lane closed in the busy Lincoln Tunnel, which connects New Jersey and Manhattan, for a visiting businessman who also received a police escort, according to prosecutors.
All told, the businessmen spent more than $100,000 on gifts, including a 2013 trip to Las Vegas on a private jet that included Grant, an unidentified detective and a prostitute, the complaint said.