Against a national backdrop of mass gun-shooting attacks, the NYPD were corruptly approving gun applications for people with violent criminal histories.
The appearance of the bestowing of special favors by NYPD officers has led to public cynicism that the NYPD have been partial about who benefits from official police acts, critics for police reform have charged.
At a Monday press conference, U.S. Attorney Bharara addressed such criticism by saying that such misconduct are being prosecuted now.
Despite U.S. Attonrey Bharara's best efforts to demonstrate unity against law enforcement corruption, Mayor de Blasio skipped the press conference.
By LOUIS FLORES
At a packed press conference at the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's southern district, one of the nation's top prosecutors, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, announced the first wave of arrests of top New York Police Department officers stemming from a reported wide-ranging, Federal corruption investigation of the Government of the City of New York.
U.S. Attorney Bharara was joined, as always when there are announcements of major political or campaign corruption arrests, by Federal Bureau of Investigation Assistant Director-in-Charge Diego Rodriquez. They were joined by NYPD Commissioner William Bratton and by officials from the NYPD's troubled Internal Affairs Bureau.
The unity of top law enforcement officials was meant to signal to the public that Federal prosecutors would not tolerate corruption that would appear to signal that the provision of police services would depend on "who you know and who you pay," according to a question from a reporter.
"Well, a good place to start is by arresting the people, who we arrested, and by showing not only that it's important to hold people accountable, criminally -- every individual, no matter how high-ranking you are within the department -- you're not above the law," said U.S. Attorney Bharara, in response to the question about public cynicism to whom the NYPD provide justice.
U.S. Attorney Bharara added that it was important to him to demonstrate unity in an anti-corruption message by assembling the top law enforcement officers at his press conference, saying, in relevant part, "I think it's important for the police commissioner himself to be here and the head of IAB to be here," referring to the Internal Affairs Bureau, adding that, "to all, with the FBI, to stand up here jointly and and say, as we've been saying for a long time, that corruption cannot stand, and no one is beyond and above the law, and, over time, you hope swift action is taken. You hope decisive action is taken in case after case, administratively, criminally, civilly -- whatever tools are available to you -- that people understand that that kind of of favouritism will not be tolerated, whether it's at the NYPD or any other institution."
Despite the unified message against police corruption that U.S. Attorney Bharara said that he intended to send to the public, Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) did not attend the press conference.
A request sent by Progress Queens to the City Hall press office for an explanation of Mayor de Blasio's absence was not answered.
During his remarks, U.S. Attorney Bharara thanked NYPD Deputy Commissioner Joseph Reznick, who heads IAB. That unit of the NYPD is in charge of internal investigations of police misconduct and corruption, and Deputy Commissioner Reznick sparked controversy when an NYPD whistleblower alleged he suffered retaliation after Deputy Commissioner Reznick accused the whistleblower of being a "rat" for having reportedly exposed alleged police misconduct, according to a 2014 report published by The New York Daily News.
Alleged corruption of the NYPD's gun licensing process had rendered it "dangerously compromised"
As reported by Progress Queens, three individuals facing charges on Monday were Brooklyn businessman Shaya (Alex) Lichtenstein, NYPD Sgt. David Villanueva, and NYPD Officer Richard Ochetal. Mr. Lichtenstein and NYPD Sgt. Villaneuva were charged in a superseding grand jury indictment with crimes stemming from alleged bribes made by Mr. Lichtenstein to, amongst others, NYPD Sgt. Villanueva that related to the expedited processing of gun permits. Mr. Lichtenstein allegedly offered an unidentified undercover officer $6,000 in bribe money to process each gun permit that Mr. Lichtenstein was allegedly seeking on behalf of others.
A separate, unnamed NYPD officer was identified in the superseding indictment as a coöperating witness in the Government's case against Mr. Lichtenstein and NYPD Sgt. Villanueva, and that coöperating witness has pleaded guilty to bribery charges related to the charged conspiracy, according to the superseding indictment. Separately, NYPD Officer Ochetal was identified in a different court filing as facing charges for soliciting, demanding, and accepting bribes in exchange for allegedly having expedited the processing of gun permits.
In discussing the charges related to the License Bureau, which processed gun permit application, U.S. Attorney Bharara said during the press conference that the alleged corruption at the License Bureau had threatened public safety.
"Gun licenses were issued to people, who had no business having them," U.S. Attorney Bharara said, adding that, "The over 100 Lichtenstein clients, who ultimately got gun licenses, allegedly included, and this is in the indictment, one person, who had previously been arrested for bribing a public official and for assault ; and another, who had been arrested for forgery, had ten moving violations and three vehicle-related summonses, and had been the subject of at least four domestic violence complaints, including one in which he allegedly threatened to kill someone. Since our investigation began, the NYPD has taken steps to revoke the licenses for those, who should not have gotten them. But during the allegedly corrupt scheme, the gun licensing process meant to safeguard the public was, of course, dangerously compromised."
Advocates for police reform have charged that the NYPD have been exploiting their recent deployment to protect LGBT establishments in New York City in the fallout of the terrorism-hate crime-motivated Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando, Florida, as a way to distract the public from revelations that corruption had compromised gun permit applications and public safety and that the NYPD continue to violate the rights of peaceful and lawful political activities of activists.
During Monday's press conference, U.S. Attorney Bharara also discussed the aspect of the reported wide-ranging, Federal corruption investigation into the Government of the City of New York by addressing the criminal charges against NYPD Deputy Chief Michael Harrington and NYPD Deputy Inspector James Grant, who were alleged to have received bribes from Jeremy Reichberg, a campaign contribution bundler of Mayor de Blasio's, in exchange for Mr. Reichberg and members of Mr. Reichberg's community in Borough Park, Brooklyn, having received official police services.