NEW YORK – An Jewish-American Orthodox businessman was convicted in Manhattan on Wednesday on several counts of bribery, in a case that cast a shadow over City Hall and the New York Police Department in recent months.
The jury in Manhattan Federal District Court found Jeremy Reichberg guilty on four counts of bribery and conspiracy to commit honest services fraud involving police officials. His case had threatened to stain the reputation of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had previously received donations from Reichberg, who also acted as a fundraiser for the mayor.
The New York Post reported that Reichberg, 44, faces up to 65 years in prison at his April 4 sentencing.
Although the Brooklyn-based Reichberg has been described as a businessman, his professional activities remain largely unclear. The New York Times reported that prosecutors called the former Borough Park police liaison a “fix-it” guy, who leveraged his relations with police officials to provide services to others. He was accused of showering police officers with gifts in exchange for favors, such as illegally obtained gun permits, ticket-fixing, parking privileges and police escorts around city traffic, including a ride to a barbecue via a police boat.
The corruption trial, which unfolded over nearly eight weeks, attracted greater media attention due to Reichberg’s co-defendant: NYPD Deputy Inspector James Grant. He was acquitted of illegally receiving gifts on Wednesday when the jury decided the evidence against him was not strong enough to convict. The defense had said the gifts were just a case of a friend helping a friend.
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Reichberg’s conviction relied mainly on testimony from his former business associate, Jona Rechnitz. He had cooperated with investigators and said he was “the money man” in bribing the officers, local media reported.
During the trial, Rechnitz recounted how, at Reichberg’s behest, he had spent nearly $60,000 on a private jet to fly Grant and other police officers to Las Vegas during Super Bowl weekend in January 2013. He also said he hired a prostitute to dress as a flight attendant and sleep with the officers during the flight.
Rechnitz also told the court how he and Reichberg had dressed as Santa Claus to deliver gifts to high-ranking police officials on Christmas Day in 2013.
He also recounted how Reichberg had showered another NYPD chief, Philip Banks III, with gifts, including an alleged trip to Israel. Banks, who resigned from the force in 2014, has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing.
The son of a real estate developer, Los Angeles-based Rechnitz has been a star witness in several corruption cases, including a 2016-2017 federal investigation into De Blasio’s fundraising practices.
It was while cooperating as a witness in that investigation that Rechnitz revealed how Reichberg once used his police connections to get part of the Lincoln Tunnel shut for Lev Leviev, the “diamond king” who heads international real estate firm Africa Israel.
De Blasio was forced to defend himself after Rechnitz claimed he had managed to buy his way into City Hall, and rejected any allegations of wrongdoing.
The mayor was quoted on CBS Wednesday as saying he did not pay any attention to the trial “because it had nothing to do with me.” In regard to his relations with Rechnitz, he added: “I’ve said very clearly that this was someone I came to know for a very limited period of time, did not know that well.”
Reichberg’s lawyer, Susan Necheles, said her client intended to appeal Wednesday’s verdict. “Part of the problem was that so much irrelevant garbage came into evidence, it made it difficult for the jury to see what is the issue here,” she said, according to the New York Post.
In an editorial Wednesday, the New York Post blasted the decision to find Grant not guilty. “Congress needs to close the ridiculous ‘friends helping friends’ loophole so that prosecutors don’t have to surmount impossibly high legal hurdles to hold crooked public officials accountable.
“Otherwise, you’ll never see an end to New York’s culture of corruption. Indeed, seamy insider dealing is all too likely to become business as usual all across the nation,” it wrote.
Danielle Ziri is Haaretz's New York correspondent