On the Jewish holiday of Purim, ultra-Orthodox big shots in Brooklyn invite police officials over for holiday meals. Then, they share the pictures on social media in an implicit contest over who drew the highest-ranking officer.
Now, those cozy relationships are drawing scrutiny amid a reported federal corruption investigation involving Orthodox businessmen and a raft of New York Police Department officials.
One informed source, a private security consultant who works in the Orthodox community, told the Forward that one of the businessmen named in press reports about the investigation, Hasidic activist Jeremy Reichberg, flaunted his ties to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to exert influence in the NYPD’s 66th Precinct, which encompasses Boro Park and other heavily Orthodox Brooklyn neighborhoods.
“He’s working with the Mayor’s office, so he had a little bit more connection than any other schmuck on the street,” said Joe Levin, founder of T.O.T. Private Consulting, a security consulting firm specializing in the Orthodox community.
The New York Post reported on April 5 that the FBI is in the midst of a “massive corruption probe” examining trips taken by high-ranking police officers allegedly paid for by Orthodox businessmen. According to the Daily News, a community affairs detective who has served in the 66th Precinct for many years, Michael Milici, has been temporarily stripped of his badge.
Reichberg, one of the three Orthodox men named by the Post, hosted a 2014 dinner attended by de Blasio. The Mayor’s office did not respond to a question about de Blasio’s relationship with Reichberg. Reichberg could not be reached for comment.
According to Levin, Reichberg is just one of many Hasidic activists with outsize pull at the 66th Precinct. “This [precinct] is owned by the Hasidic community,” Levin said. “This is no joke.”
The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment about the reported investigation. At a press conference April 5, police commissioner Bill Bratton said that the department would cooperate with the federal probe.
The political intricacies of the 66th Precinct, which includes within it the heavily Jewish neighborhoods of Boro Park, Midwood and Kensington, have a long history of causing trouble for the police. The precinct house on 16th Avenue bears the departmental nickname “Fort Surrender,” in memory of a bloody night in 1978, when an angry ultra-Orthodox mob broke into the building, injuring dozens of police officers.
In 2006, the NYPD Chief of Department Joseph Esposito, a former commanding officer of the 66th Precinct who is now commissioner of the city’s Office of Emergency Management, was forced to apologize after being accused of using derogatory language about Jews amid an intense clash with ultra-Orthodox community members outside the same 66th Precinct station house.
Despite those and other blowups, ultra-Orthodox advocates have worked hard to keep relations warm between the community and the precinct. Cultivating close ties to the police is seen by some as a defense mechanism. “Historically [in pre-World War II Europe], police were viewed as part of the oppressors,” said Ezra Friedlander, founder and CEO of The Friedlander Group, a political consultancy focusing on ultra-Orthodox clients. “It’s in the DNA of Jews…to show appreciation to the police, so if the community ever needs police protection there’s that camaraderie.”
In Boro Park, that instinct is mixed with the practical needs of the ultra-Orthodox community’s own parallel security and safety forces. These include the Brooklyn South Safety Patrol, better known as the Shomrim, a volunteer security group with its own police-style cruisers; the Hatzolah, an ultra-Orthodox ambulance service; and Misaskim, which aids in disaster relief. Those groups require police cooperation, and build close ties to the precinct.
None of the three men named in news reports about the FBI investigation appear to be linked to the Shomrim. Jacob Daskal, a Shomrim leader, did not respond to requests for comment.
Milici, the community affairs detective stripped of his badge, is a longtime Boro Park fixture. While commanding officers of the 66th Precinct are rotated in and out, Milici has been working in the neighborhood for decades. According to the Daily News report, Milici was asked to turn in his badge and gun after pleading the Fifth at a grand jury hearing. His attorney, Patrick Parrotta, told the News that Milici had never accepted any gifts.
An earlier version of this story stated that the May 2014 dinner at Reichberg’s house attended by de Blasio was a fundraiser for the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, relying on a contemporary press account. In fact, the dinner was not a fundraiser, according a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Fund, who reached out after the story was first published.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.