BY Rocco Parascandola Dan Good Victoria Bekiempis Graham Rayman
Deputy Chief Michael Harrington, Deputy Inspector James Grant and Sgt. David Villanueva were arrested Monday, the latest development in a far-reaching bribery scandal that has also snared longtime correction officers union leader Norman Seabrook.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who is coordinating several overlapping city, state and federal probes into NYPD top brass and several well-heeled businessmen, said the cops acted as a “private police force” in exchange for gifts, bribes and perks worth more than $100,000.
Harrington, a senior chief in the NYPD’s Housing Bureau, and Grant, the commanding officer of the 19th Precinct on the Upper East Side, were charged with conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud.
Those same charges were levied against Brooklyn diamond merchant and businessman Jeremy Reichberg, who was also arrested.
Villanueva, assigned to the gun license bureau, allegedly helped push through weapons permits in exchange for gifts and was arrested on charges of conspiring to commit bribery.
“They [Reichberg and friends] got, in effect … cops on call,” said Bharara.
The four arrests were another black eye for the NYPD, which has suffered months of embarrassing revelations while also putting Mayor de Blasio on the spot for his campaign financing.
Both Reichberg and another businessman who has already pleaded guilty in the case and is cooperating with authorities — identified by sources as financier Jona Rechnitz — contributed heavily to de Blasio’s campaign.
Reichberg and Rechnitz even dressed up as elves on Christmas Day 2013 and drove to Grant’s home, where they gave a video game system to his kids, and a $1,000 piece of jewelry to his wife, filings said. Then they drove to Harrington’s house and gave his kids a video game system. Reichberg also used his influence to get Grant promoted, the complaint says.
Grant complained when they didn’t return the following year. The “two elves didn’t come for f—ing Christmas,” he griped on a taped call, the complaint says.
Grant was also caught on a wiretap in January 2015 coaching Reichberg to tell a friend seeking a gun license to falsely claim to be a diamond distributor to speed up the process.
The complaint said` Reichberg had “ready access” to the highest levels of the NYPD through Harrington. They had a “one-stop shop for assistance via Harrington.”
On behalf of a jewelry store, Reichberg used his NYPD connection in one instance to disperse people handing out brochures for a rival diamond salesman.
When Reichberg was having a dispute with another businessman over a $250,000 diamond, Harrington got another police big, who sources identified as Timothy Beaudette, the then commanding officer of the Midtown North Precinct stationhouse, to try to settle the dispute.
Beaudette, an inspector now assigned to the Training Division, “conducted himself lawfully and directed appropriate police resources to merchants requesting assistance in his command,” said Roy Richter, head of the captains’ union.
In January 2013, Reichberg flew Grant and an NYPD detective to Las Vegas for Super Bowl weekend. A high-end hooker came along for the flight, and spent the weekend with the group. She told investigators “Grant and others took advantage of her services,” the complaint says.
In August 2013, Grant enjoyed a free $500-a-night hotel room during a vacation in Rome, courtesy of a witness sources said was Rechnitz.
The cops came to expect the high life. On Jan. 16, 2015, Grant was heard on a wiretap expressing his annoyance that Reichberg was taking another police official to that year’s Super Bowl.
“See you don’t love me anymore,” Grant said. “You don’t even invite me to the Super Bowl, what the f—?”
In March of 2015, Reichberg invoked Grant’s name in an effort to fix a ticket for a friend. He called a deputy inspector who he knew and said Grant was a friend.
“Alright, I’ll tell them he knows him,” the deputy inspector said.
In return, Reichberg and friends in the Hasidic Jewish community in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn got favors, like police escorts, assistance with private disputes, free security at religious sites, fixed tickets, and special access to parades and other cultural events, the complaint said.
Grant and Harrington were released on $250,000 bond. Villanueva pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Monday afternoon, and was slated to be released on a $200,000 personal bond. Reichberg was slated to be released with a $500,000 bond.
“James is one of the most upstanding men you will ever meet,” said a relative of Grant, who declined to give her name. “The man that he was he is never going to be again.”
Another relative became irate at the media, and told a reporter who asked about the charges, “May your wife be raped by many people.”
In addition, authorities said Monday that Police Officer Richard Ochetal, a second former member of the gun licensing unit, pleaded guilty before he was indicted. He is cooperating with the feds.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said Monday the investigation began when two police officers came forward on the same day about three-and-a-half years ago, which was during the Bloomberg administration when Raymond Kelly was still commissioner. Harrington, Grant and Villanueva were all suspended following their arrests, Bratton said.
“This case shows, whether you’re a cop or a chief, if you break the law you’ll be handled the same way,” Bratton said.
Mayor de Blasio did not talk with the press Monday, but his office issued a brief written statement.
“The Mayor and Commissioner Bratton are both committed to ensuring that the NYPD maintains the integrity and trust that the public expects from its Police Department,” the statement said.
Rechnitz had already pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit honest services fraud.
Seabrook, longtime president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, was arrested June 8 on allegations he steered $20 million in union money to a hedge fund with ties to Rechnitz, in return for cash kickbacks and luxury trips.
The new filings say Reichberg and Rechnitz paid for new railings outside of Grant’s private home, and bought him a $3,000 watch.
Grant was also tight with Alex (Shaya) Lichtenstein, previously indicted for bribing cops to speed up the gun license approval process. Lichtenstein paid for work on Grant’s house, the complaint says.
Grant helped him get a gun license for one of Lichtenstein’s clients in about two months, when it usually takes at least a year.
Villanueva, who was assigned to the gun licensing division, is accused of taking bribes from Lichtenstein to expedite gun permit applications.