Lawyers for two men charged in an NYPD perks-for-favors bribery case said Tuesday in opening arguments in Manhattan federal court that prosecutors were mistaking a generous friendship between an Irish cop and a Jewish businessman for a corrupt arrangement.
Jeremy Reichberg, a businessman at the center of alleged scandals involving City Hall as well as the NYPD, is charged with wining and dining ex-police deputy inspector James Grant and other cops in return for access to public events, help on gun licenses and traffic stops and escorts.
But Reichberg’s defense lawyer, Susan Necheles, told jurors the two men had been genuine friends for years, celebrating holidays together, and just did things for each other because they liked each other, not because of an illegal quid-pro-quo arrangement.
“Jeremy Reichberg is charged with trying to help his friends,” she argued. “Well, he pleads guilty to that. He tried to help his friends whenever he could. . . .That is not a crime, and it is not a crime to be friends with a police officer.”
“Jimmy Grant and Jeremy Reichberg can’t be friends,” said John Meringolo, Grant’s defense lawyer, echoing the argument. “That’s what the government is saying. An Irish Catholic guy from Coney Island and a Jewish guy from Boro Park can’t be friends.”
Prosecutors said Reichberg and ex-partner Jona Rechnitz, who became an informant and is expected to be the government’s star witness, were behind a wave of corruption, including pay-to-play contributions to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was never charged, as well as payoffs to cops.
They contend the two were out to become big men with clout in their communities and focused on police officials with influence like Grant, a precinct commander. Reichberg allegedly treated Grant to meals, holiday gifts, a Las Vegas trip with a prostitute and home repairs
“Reichberg wanted things from the NYPD and he didn’t want to go through normal channels,” said prosecutor Jessica Lonergan. “So how did he go about getting the things he wanted? By lining the pockets of police officers with thousands of dollars.”
She saved special scorn for Grant, saying he “exploited” his public position for “personal gain” and “abused the trust” of New Yorkers. “He betrayed the oath he swore to faithfully discharge his duties,” she said.
The trial could be explosive. Defense lawyers want to call top officials like Police Commissioner James O’Neill to show that favors from benefactors are routine, and subpoena de Blasio to discredit Rechnitz by denying his claims that he got favors from City Hall for donating to the mayor.
Other cops named as getting perks from Reichberg who haven’t been charged could also be drawn in, including ex-NYPD officer Steven McAllister, now the chief in Floral Park, who was mentioned twice by Necheles as a member of Reichberg’s circle of friends along with Grant.
“Jeremy sometimes did favors for them, and they would sometimes do favors for him,” she said.
In opening arguments, the defense lawyers signaled they would launch fierce attacks on Rechnitz — Necheles called him a serial liar with a rich father who paid for everything and then blamed Reichberg, and Meringolo argued Rechnitz used the prostitute he claimed was paid for Grant.
And Necheles also offered jurors a cultural defense, arguing that her client was a police buff for good reason, looked to as a liaison by his Hasidic community with deep historical reasons to worry about attacks and crave protection.
“Part of the reason Jeremy started hanging out with police grew out of a community need,” she said.
The trial resumes on Wednesday.