Orthodox ‘Christmas Elf’ Arrested in Sprawling New York Bribery and Corruption Probe
On Christmas Day three years ago, two Orthodox businessmen dressed as Christmas elves knocked on the door of the Staten Island home of a high-ranking officer in the New York City police department.
The elves came bearing gifts, according to a criminal complaint unsealed this morning in federal court in Manhattan: A video game system for the officer’s children and jewelry for his wife.
All told, the officer’s alleged Christmas haul was worth $1,000.
The new details come amid a fresh wave of arrests in the federal corruption investigation connecting high-ranking members of the New York Police Department with the Christmas elves-cum-Orthodox businessmen. Federal wiretaps of the Orthodox businessmen uncovered a system of alleged bribes and payoffs, leading to a sprawling scandal that has already ended or disrupted the careers of a number of police officials and resulted in the indictment on corruption charges of the powerful head of the corrections officers union.
One of the elves, Jeremy Reichberg of Boro Park, was arrested June 20. Court papers do not name the other elf, but press reports identify him as Upper West Side real estate investor Jona Rechnitz. Rechnitz is cooperating with investigators.
In a press statement, U.S. Attorney Preet Bhararah said that in return for bribes, Reichberg had access to “a private police force for [himself and his] friends.”
Reichberg, an ultra-Orthodox businessman, is known in the Boro Park community for flaunting his ties to New York City mayor Bill de Blasio. Rechnitz is a scion of a prominent Orthodox family.
Both men were donors to de Blasio, and both served on his inauguration committee.
The police officer to whose house Reichberg and Rechnitz came dressed as Christmas elves is James Grant, an NYPD deputy inspector who served as commanding officer of an Upper East Side police precinct. Earlier in his career, Grant was stationed in the 66th Precinct in Boro Park. Grant was also arrested June 20, along with Michael Harrington, another high-ranking police official.
None of the men entered pleas on June 20, but Reuters reported that lawyers for Grant, Harrington and Reichberg all said that the defendants had not committed crimes.
According to the complaint, Reichberg and Rechnitz were so tied in to the police department that they recommended Grant for his job leading the Upper East Side precinct. When a department leader called to inform Grant of his promotion, Reichberg and Rechnitz were on the line.
The complaint lists a litany of favors performed by Grant and Harrington for Reichberg and Rechnitz, including securing them special access to events like parades, police escorts, and helping with investigations related to their businesses. Reichberg and Rechnitz also had Harrington send police cars to provide extra security at synagogues and religious sites. In March of 2015, Reichberg told Harrington that a rabbi at a Manhattan synagogue was fearful in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, and wanted police protection. Harrington told Reichberg that they were “gonna try” to send a car over, and that there would “definitely” be a car there the next day.
The Manhattan synagogue is not identified in the complaint, but Chabad Lubavitch of Midtown Manahttan is located at the intersection described. The synagogue’s rabbi did not respond to an inquiry about whether he had called Reichberg to ask for additional police presence.
According to the complaint, Rechnitz flew Reichberg and Grant to Las Vegas for a vacation in 2013. A prostitute accompanied them on their trip. “GRANT and other took advantage of her services,” the complaint asserts.
The police contacts also pulled strings to get a lane closed on the busy Lincoln Tunnel so a visiting pal of Reichberg could be whisked into Manhattan, the New York Post reported.
Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at [email protected] or on Twitter, @joshnathankazis.