Star federal witness Jona Rechnitz.

Star federal witness Jona Rechnitz. Credit: Court document

Talk about being wrong.

Near the end of a 17-minute 2015 conversation with his father and a lawyer giving some free advice, a panicked Jona Rechnitz — who eventually became a star federal witness in New York City corruption scandals — worried about probes of two Ponzi schemes for which he raised money.

“And last thing for you please, sorry,” Rechnitz asked on a tape introduced Monday during his cross-examination at a Manhattan federal court corruption trial. "…If they're on my bank, does that mean they're reading my emails or reading my texts — they're tapping my phone?"

“No,” answered the lawyer, a friend of Rechnitz’s wealthy real-estate-investor father, on the bugged conversation.

“Are you sure?” Rechnitz asked.

“Yeah, I’m not positive, but that is extremely unlikely,” said the lawyer, who nonetheless advised Rechnitz to be careful.

The wiretapped exchange produced smiles among jurors and laughter from spectators during grueling daylong questioning Monday by a lawyer for Jeremy Reichberg, the former Rechnitz partner accused of paying off cops for favors, including co-defendant James Grant, an ex-NYPD deputy inspector.

Former Deputy Chief Michael Harrington has pleaded guilty. Rechnitz has also accused several uncharged NYPD officers — including former Inspector Stephen McAllister, now the police chief in Floral Park — of helping with tickets, gun permits, escorts and private disputes in return for perks including meals, gifts, plane rides and access to prostitutes.

McAllister’s lawyer, Joel Weiss, has called Rechnitz's accusations “replete with falsehoods.”

Reichberg lawyer Susan Necheles, on her third day of cross-examination, used the phone recording as part of an effort to show that Rechnitz lied about her client and the cops because he was frightened about his role in the Ponzi scheme.

Rechnitz, a real estate investor, raised money for both Hamlet Peralta, a restaurateur with police contacts who was promoting a liquor wholesaling business, and Jason Nissen, a former teacher from Long Island who needed money for his ticket-resale business.

Both men eventually pleaded guilty to fraud charges. Rechnitz, who says he was seeking influence in circles of power, pleaded guilty to bribery and corruption scandals involving the NYPD, City Hall and former prison union leader Norman Seabrook, but was never charged in either of the Ponzi scheme cases.

The trial began last month. Testimony is scheduled to resume on Tuesday.

Latest video