NEW YORK CITY — Four NYPD officials were arrested Monday morning for accepting trips, lavish gifts and prostitutes from two Brooklyn businessmen in exchange for police escorts, access and gun licenses, federal prosecutors said.
Deputy Inspector James Grant, the former commanding officer of the 19th and 66th precincts, Deputy Chief Michael Harrington, the former second-in-command in the housing bureau, and Sgt. David Villanueva, who worked in the department's licensing division, were arrested at their homes on public corruption conspiracy and bribery charges, sources and prosecutors said.
Jeremy Reichberg, who hosted a 2014 fundraiser for the mayor's Campaign for One New York nonprofit, was also arrested at his Brooklyn home on fraud and conspiracy charges, law-enforcement officials said. Alex Lichtenstein, who goes by Shaya, was also arrested and charged with bribing officers to fast-track gun permits, feds said.
"They got, in effect, a police force for themselves and their friends," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said. "Effectively, they got cops on call."
Officer Richard Ochetal was also arrested on charges he accepted bribes from Lichtenstein in exchange for gun licenses. He has already pleaded guilty and is cooperating with investigators, prosecutors said.
"Gun licenses were issued to people who had no business having them," Bharara said.
In a federal criminal complaint, FBI Special Agent Blaire Toleman detailed a four-year relationship between Grant and Reichberg in which the deputy inspector accepted gifts including trips to Rome and Las Vegas, where he received "services" from a prostitute.
Investigators believe Grant, who filed for retirement last month, provided Reichberg police escorts through traffic from the airport when the businessman returned from overseas trips.
According to prosecutors, Grant, who is married with children, flew to Las Vegas in February 2013 on a private jet with a group that included a prostitute, who then stayed in his hotel room.
"I have spoken to law enforcement agents who have debriefed [the prostitute], who confirmed, among other things, that [she] was engaged to accompany the persons on the trip and that Grant and others took advantage of her services during the trip," Toleman said in the federal complaint.
Months later, Grant took a vacation to Rome with his family and others, prosecutors said.
On Christmas Day 2013, Reichberg showed up at Grant's Staten Island home wearing an elf hat and gave him a video game system for his children and a $1,000 piece of jewelry for his wife, prosecutors said.
"These are never good days, never easy days," NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said. "Police officers, especially high-ranking members of the department, have to know better."
Harrington, who also filed for retirement last month, previously served as the right-hand man to former Chief of Department Philip Banks, law-enforcement sources said.
Banks received $500,000 from developer Jona Rechnitz, who pleaded guilty recently to federal charges connected to the sweeping corruption probe, but has not been arrested, law-enforcement sources said.
The investigation into police corruption overlaps with a probe into de Blasio's campaign fundraising also involving Rechnitz and Reichberg.
Rechnitz donated nearly $5,000 for the mayor's inauguration committee. He also donated $102,000 to the mayor's failed campaign to unseat Republicans in the state Senate.
Reichberg raised $35,000 for Campaign for One New York, a nonprofit used to advance de Blasio's political agenda. Federal investigators are looking into violations of campaign finance and election law related to the donations.
The mayor has denied any wrongdoing.
"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, and the NYPD is conducting a joint investigation with the FBI to discover all the facts. The Mayor is fully supportive of these investigations," de Blasio said in a statement.
According to prosecutors, Harrington also received kickbacks from Reichberg, including tickets to Brooklyn Nets and New York Rangers games, a video game system for his kids on Christmas Day and a free trip to Chicago with his family.
Harrington, in return, kept tabs on Reichberg’s jewelry business and intervened on his behalf in disputes.
When a rival jewelry shop of Reichberg’s hired an off-duty NYPD officer as a security guard, Harrington had the off-duty officer investigated, then took steps to have him disciplined within the department, according to prosecutors.
On a separate occasion, Harrington's private security company kept tabs on a man Reichberg believed had ripped off the businessman and arranged to have the NYPD arrest him, according to the complaint.
Harrington also dispatched police personnel to religious sites after the Paris terror attacks, as requested by Reichberg.
"It is not easy to see police officers bring dishonor to an institution deserving of the highest honor," Bharara said. "An officer who betrays his badge betrays every honorable officer as well as every member of the public."
Harrington even had a lane of the Lincoln tunnel shutdown to traffic to allow a businessman visiting from overseas to travel into the city, prosecutors said.
Federal prosecutors charge that officers assigned to the NYPD's gun licensing division took cash and gifts in exchange for rubber-stamping gun applications for clients for Lichtenstein.
Villanueva is suspected of giving out up to 150 gun licenses in exchange for bribes, sources said.
Ochetal, who also worked in the NYPD gun licensing division, was charged with accepting $3,371 Lichtenstein, for approving a gun permit for hundreds of clients, according to the criminal complaint.
Ochetal has admitted to taking "lunch money" from Lichtenstein, who has been charged with attempting to bribe NYPD officers with nearly $1 million in exchange for permits for clients who would otherwise be "unlikely to obtain gun licenses because of their criminal or personal history," according to sources and prosecutors.
Lichtenstein was also charged with bribing public officials.
All of the police officer were stripped of their guns and badges by Bratton in April.
The arrests were made by FBI agents and members of the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau, sources said.
Villanueva, Grant, Harrington, Reichberg and Lichtenstein were arraigned Monday afternoon. All of the men pleaded not guilty.
Reichberg's lawyer Susan Necheles defended her client and placed the blame squarely on Rechnitz.
"Mr. Reichberg did not commit a crime," she said. "His only mistake was his friendship with Jona Rechnitz, a criminal who has admitted bribing a union official and who is desperately trying to get others in trouble in order to curry favor with prosecutors and save his own skin."
Harrington's lawyer, Andrew Weinstein, added that the charges were "politically motivated" and tarnish a deputy chief with an "unblemished record and has spent the past three decades working tirelessly to make New York City."
"The case against Chief Harrington represents the inherent danger to all of us when law enforcement agencies make charging decisions that are politically motivated," Weinstein declared, adding that Harrington is a "straight arrow" and "loyal and devoted family man."
Correction union boss Norman Seabrook was arrested earlier this month on fraud charges and pleaded not guilty.
Last month, NYPD Community Affairs Officer Michael Milici, who worked in the 66th precinct, was fired for refusing to cooperate with investigators. Highway supervisor Michael Ameri, who was also questioned by investigators in March, committed suicide last month.
Additional reporting by Jeff Mays.