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Split verdict in NYPD corruption trial: Businessman convicted, former NYPD chief cleared

A Manhattan federal court jury on Wednesday delivered a split verdict in a closely watched  NYPD corruption case, acquitting former Deputy Inspector James Grant on bribe-taking charges, but convicting businessman Jeremy Reichberg of two conspiracies and obstruction of justice.

Reichberg and wealthy partner Jona Rechnitz, who became a star federal witness, were portrayed by prosecutors as fountainheads of political and police graft, buying favors from City Hall and from top cops including Grant, ex-chief Phil Banks and Floral Park police Chief Stephen McAllister.

After a trial that began Nov. 5 and three days of deliberations interrupted by the holidays, jurors leaving court said they sympathized with Grant as a “flunky” caught up in the scheme who gave no real benefits in return for minor perks that included a Christmas present for his daughter.

“Grant was guilty of getting an American Girl doll,” said juror Ives Bonilla, who returned to the courtroom to shake Grant’s hand after the verdict. “That’s it. ... He was a dupe. He got razzle dazzled by the immense wealth of Rechnitz. He was a good cop.”

Another juror, who gave only her first name, Joann, said she was “surprised” federal prosecutors went after a ranking police officer with such thin evidence of actual corruption. “We needed evidence,” she said. “There wasn’t enough. … It looked like they were just rushing their case.”

Prosecutors alleged Reichberg and Rechnitz provided diamond jewelry, meals, travel — including a chartered jet to Las Vegas with a prostitute — and home repairs to police contacts, and in return got favors such as help with tickets and gun licenses, as well as access to public events, police escorts and parking placards.

Grant was accused of taking the Las Vegas trip and staying with the prostitute, who testified, as well as getting a hotel room in Rome, a free home repair, gifts and meals. He allegedly emailed other cops about a gun license, inquired about an arrest and provided police escorts.

After the verdict, an emotional Grant, 45, of Staten Island, hugged friends who had attended the trial daily in a show of support, but declined to comment on the advice of his lawyer, who said that what prosecutors put Grant through was “not nice.”
“I’m very happy that Jimmy gets this opportunity to try to rebuild his life,” said defense lawyer John Meringolo, who got into a physical altercation with a prosecutor midway through the emotional trial.

Reichberg, 44, a self-styled community liaison for members of his Boro Park neighborhood who had problems with the city, also declined comment. But his lawyer Susan Necheles said a planned appeal would focus on “irrelevant garbage” about multiple cops allowed into evidence that confused jurors.

She said Reichberg was “happy for his friend Jimmy Grant, but disappointed.”

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said prosecutors “respect” the acquittal of Grant, who was indicted under predecessor Preet Bharara, but insisted the conviction of Reichberg struck an important blow against police corruption.

“Reichberg orchestrated a yearslong bribery scheme that led to tens of thousands of dollars in benefits being provided to a select group of NYPD officers to provide Reichberg with a private, paid police force,” Berman said. “These illegal acts clearly undermine the mission of the NYPD and leave the citizens of New York City poorer.”

The trial marked the third appearance on the witness stand of Rechnitz, whose claims that he paid Mayor Bill de Blasio for favors were the linchpin of a 2016 investigation that led to no charges. Rechnitz previously testified at two trials that ended in the bribery conviction of former city jail-union president Norman Seabrook.
Defense lawyers said Rechnitz portrayed the cultivation of cops as something sinister to win leniency on crimes he had been involved in. They argued Reichberg was just a police buff who became close to Grant and other cops, and gave gifts, meals and other perks out of friendship, not as part of any corrupt scheme to receive official favors.

That tactic didn’t work for Reichberg, but it was cited by jurors discussing why they let Grant off. “They were friends for a very long time,” said the female juror who only gave her first name. 

Former NYPD Deputy Chief Michael Harrington previously pleaded guilty in the case and was sentenced to probation. Other cops whose names came up at trial — including Banks and McAllister, an NYPD inspector before joining Floral Park's police force — were never charged, but some jurors wondered why.

Rechnitz testified McAllister received a free plane trip, meals, jewelry and a donation to the NYPD football team, and in return helped clear protesters from outside a jewelry store and provided Floral Park parking placards. In text messages with Reichberg, McAllister discussed getting concert tickets, hotel stays, jewelry, carpeting and an arrest intervention.

Instead of just having Grant on trial, Bonilla said, McAllister and ex-chief Banks, who vacationed in Israel with Reichberg and Rechnitz, both "should have been here."

Reichberg was convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to pay bribes and gratuities, wire fraud and obstruction of justice for trying to hide evidence. He was acquitted of paying bribes and gratuities to Gran, and faces a maximum possible sentence of 65 years in prison.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Woods set Reichberg’s sentencing for April 4.

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