By LOUIS FLORES
Four New York Police Department officers, including two who were formerly assigned to the gun Licensing Bureau, were arrested Monday morning, along with Jeremy Reichberg, a campaign contributor of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City).
The Licensing Bureau was previously implicated in the arrest of Brooklyn businessman Shaya (Alex) Lichtenstein. Two of the officers arrested or charged Monday were identified as NYPD Sgt. David Villanueva and NYPD Officer Richard Ochetal, both of whom were formerly assigned to the gun licensing bureau. During a Monday press conference, it was announced by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara that NYPD Officer Ochetal had pleaded guilty and was coöperating with the Government.
Mr. Lichtenstein and NYPD Sgt. Villanueva 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. 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. Demands were made in the superseding indictment that each of Mr. Lichtenstein and NYPD Sgt. Villanueva forfeit the proceeds of their crimes.
NYPD Officer Ochetal was accused of soliciting, demanding, and accepting bribes in exchange for allegedly having expedited the processing of gun permits, and a demand was made that NYPD Officer Ochetal forfeit the proceeds of those alleged bribes, according to a charging document signed by U.S. Attorney Bharara, one of the nation's top Federal prosecutors.
Two other officers arrested on Monday were identified as Deputy Chief Michael Harrington and Deputy Inspector James Grant. Deputy Chief Harrington and Deputy Inspector Grant were alleged to have received bribes from Mr. Reichberg in exchange for Mr. Reichberg and members of Mr. Reichberg's community in Borough Park, Brooklyn, having received official police benefits, according to some of the allegations in the sealed complaint signed by U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Barbara Moses. The charges of the alleged crimes filed against Deputy Chief Harrington, Deputy Inspector Grant, and Mr. Reichberg, which allegedly date back to 2012, were made in the same complaint.
Revelations about the arrests were previously noted in a report filed by Rocco Parascandola for The New York Daily News and a report filed by Jonathan Dienst and Joe Valiquette for WNBC Channel 4 News.
Early, disparate information about the arrests were first reported by selected news outlets prior to the public release of the charging documents, which were later received by Progress Queens from the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's southern district. The charging documents were published online by Progress Queens.
Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau reportedly conducted the arrests.
Prior to Monday's arrests, numerous NYPD officers had been reassigned or disciplined as a consequence of a reported wide-ranging, Federal corruption investigation examining whether NYPD officers were bestowing official acts in exchange for having received gifts. As reported by Progress Queens, the conduct of the Federal corruption investigation into the activities of NYPD officers has contrasted with past investigations of the troubled police department. In recent decades past, whenever corruption at the NYPD has been investigated, the mayor of New York City had formed a public commission to conduct public hearings, so that the proceedings could be transparent to the public. That precedent for transparency contrasts sharply with the conduct of private investigations being led by Federal prosecutors and other law enforcement agents.
The spectre of wide-ranging corruption allegedly running rampant at the NYPD has yet to lead to the removal of NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, despite calls for his resignation, made at various times by grass roots activists and police union officials. Commissioner Bratton's on-going command of the NYPD is unique amongst other big-city police forces, where changes in leadership have been effected as a result of gross mismanagement or reports of wide-spread misconduct. Leadership changes have taken place at the Oakland Police Department, the San Francisco Police Department, and the Chicago Police Department, but not at the NYPD. This peculiarity is all the more inexplicable, because Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) invoked the language of police reform and accountability, in part, to win the Democratic Party primary in the 2013 mayoral race.
The arrests are reportedly part of a massive Federal corruption investigation being conducted by the U.S. Attorney's Office, led by U.S. Attorney Bharara. Agents with the public corruption unit of the FBI are also reportedly involved in conducting aspects of the wide-ranging, Federal corruption investigation.
Harlem restaurant owner Hamlet Peralta was arrested in April in connection with an alleged $12 million Ponzi scheme. That scheme reportedly had ties to NYPD officers.
Following Mr. Peralta's arrest, Mr. Lichtenstein was arrested in an alleged $1 million cash bribe scheme to expedite the processing of gun permits by the License Bureau. That scheme reportedly depended on the coöperation of NYPD officers in the License Bureau.
In a separate aspect of the wide-ranging, Federal corruption investigation of City of New York government, correction officers' union president Norman Seabrook and hedge fund manager Murray Huberfeld were arrested earlier this month in an alleged $20 million hedge fund investment scheme. As a consequence of the investigation and those arrests, Mr. Huberfeld's hedge fund management company, Platinum Partners, L.P., is reportedly considering unwinding one of its hedge funds.
Mr. Reichberg, who was arrested Monday morning, is a friend of Jona Rechnitz, a fundraiser for Mayor de Blasio. Mr. Rechnitz has reportedly pleaded guilty to charges related to the Platinum Partners scheme and is coöperating with Federal prosecutors, according to news reports.
The escalating arrests indicate that Federal law enforcement officials are viewed as encircling City Hall. Another aspect of the wide-ranging, Federal corruption investigation is examining whether the administration of Mayor de Blasio has bestowed official acts to his campaign contributors or political supporters, particularly those from the real estate industry or their lobbyists.
Like a seedy Hollywood film noir, news reports have alleged that police officers have accepted diamonds as gifts in exchange for providing official acts, that police officers have flown by private jet to places like Las Vegas with a sex worker dressed up as a flight attendant, that large amounts of cash have been paid as a bribe to a significant government official, and that an AIDS nursing home was emptied out of patients in order for it to be converted into luxury condominiums.