By LOUIS FLORES
Updated : 08 April 2016 15:05 ⎪ New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton announced on Thursday that he had reassigned four ranking police officers in connection with an ongoing Federal corruption investigation of the police department.
Although none of the officers have been charged with crimes, the disciplinary actions were announced in advance of Federal prosecutors unsealing a criminal complaint signed on Wednesday against a former restaurant owner implicated in the investigation.
Information about the disciplinary actions was announced during a press conference on Thursday, and news about the disciplinary actions appeared in a report published by The Wall Street Journal.
“This is not a particularly good day for the department,” Commissioner Bratton said, during the announcement.
The four officers, who were received some form of disciplinary action, were :
- Deputy Chief Michael Harringon, who was placed on modified duty that included the removal of his badge and gun, and he has been transferred ;
- Deputy Inspector James Grant, who was placed on modified duty that included the removal of his badge and gun, and he has been transferred ;
- Deputy Chief David Colon, who was transferred ; and
- Deputy Chief Eric Rodriguez, who was transferred.
“The potential violations under investigation include violations of NYPD rules and policies, the City conflicts of interest rules and the federal criminal laws. The investigation is examining the conduct of current and former NYPD Officers and several others,” Commissioner Bratton said, in a written statement shared with the media.
The disciplinary action against the four officers follows action previously taken against two other officers :
- Detective Michael Milici, who was placed on modified duty that included the removal of his badge and gun ; and
- Former Chief of Department Philip Banks III, who had agreed in 2014 to a promotion as First Deputy Commissioner, a move that was an effort to strip Former Chief Banks of his authorities and was revealed to be a consequence of the investigation, according to a report published by The New York Daily News.
Days after former Chief Banks’ expected reassignment, he resigned from the police force under a cloud of mystery that sparked rumours of a clash with Commissioner Bratton. Despite his officers’ salary, investigators reportedly discovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in bank accounts belonging to former Chief Banks, according to a report published by The New York Post.
The investigations reportedly were initiated by the Internal Affairs Bureau of the NYPD in 2013, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Justice initiated their own investigations in early 2014, according to Commissioner Bratton’s statement.
The investigations of the police officers are reportedly related to the Federal corruption investigations of a union official and two politically-connected businessmen with ties to Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) ; a third business man, with a reported connection with Deputy Chief Colon, was arrested in Macon, George, by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Friday for having run a $12 million Ponzi scheme :
- Norman Seabrook, the president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association ;
- Jona Rechnitz, a real estate developer and principal at JRS Capital LLC, who is also a campaign contributor of Mayor de Blasio ;
- Jeremy Reichberg, a Brooklyn businessman ; and
- Hamlet Peralta, a former restaurant owner, who reportedly received police services at Hudson River Cafe, a restaurant he ran in Harlem.
Mayor de Blasio has said that he has not accepted any gifts from either of Mr. Rechnitz or Mr. Reichberg, although Mr. Rechnitz and his wife have been campaign contributors to one of his campaign committees.
Prosecutors alleged that Mr. Peralta solicited $12 million in investments for a liquor business that turned out to be a Ponzi scheme. One of the investors was reportedly Mr. Rechnitz.
Former Chief Banks is being investigated for having possibly accepted improper gifts from Mr. Reichberg, such as a trip to Israel, according to a report published by The New York Daily News.
Former Chief Banks and Mr. Seabrook reportedly joined Mr. Rechnitz and Mr. Reichberg on a vacation trip to the Caribbean in 2014, according to the same report in The New York Daily News.
In exchange for having received gifts, which also included free meals, police officers reportedly provided policing services, including providing security and police escorts, according to various press reports.
New York City employees are banned from accepting gifts, according to rules under the City Charter that are enforced by the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board.
The size and scope of the investigations, which have been being conducted for approximately three years, in some instances, were largely kept secret from the public, although the investigation into Mr. Seabrook had been noted in a report published in 2015 by The New York Daily News.
A lack of structural reforms at NYPD to address pattern of corruption and misconduct
Following increased reports of corruption and misconduct at the NYPD, advocates for police reform have noted that the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau, the offices of the City’s district attorneys, and the New York City Council, which has oversight powers in respect of the NYPD, have not addressed systemic problems at the police force. Notably, activists for police reform, including those associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, have asked for police to be held accountable for misuse of force, including excessive and deadly force. A minor reform enacted by executive order in 2015 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-New York) to appoint State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D-New York) as a special prosecutor in cases of officer-involved homicides deliberately stopped short of addressing larger, systemic problems at the NYPD, like the ticket-fixing scandal and the manufacturing of evidence to secure convictions.
The on-going investigations were unbeknownst to Progress Queens when a report asked U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in January 2015 following a speech on public corruption if his office would empanel a committee of prosecutors to examine issues of police brutality and police officer-involved fatalities at the NYPD and issue a report recommending reforms, as his office has successfully done to address much-needed structural reform at Rikers Island.
“As I’ve said on other occasions, we have -- you hate to do it, and it breaks your heart -- but since I’ve been the U.S. Attorney, 20 police officers have gone to prison for various crimes,” U.S. Attorney Bharara said at that time then, adding, “We have sent F.B.I. agents to prison for committing crimes. And so those are forms of public corruption, which is part of what we are talking about today. So, there’s nothing more important than that.”
U.S. Attorney Bharara noted that he thought that there was sufficient supervision over the NYPD, saying that, “With respect to the New York City Police Department, I think -- my sense is, is that there are a lot of people looking at that. There’s now, you know, an inspector general. There are court decrees. There’s a continuing court case,” U.S. Attorney Bharara said, adding that, “There have been times when the Southern District of New York and some other U.S. Attorney’s Offices, in the Eastern District of New York some years ago, thought it made sense to take a deeper look, because of things that were going on, and, if that ever happens, we don’t hesitate to do so.”
Because of the size and scale of the present, reported corruption investigation into the NYPD, it is not known if U.S. Attorney Bharara would revisit his decision not to empanel a committee of prosecutors to review the NYPD for systemic reforms. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to answer questions posed by Progress Queens about the possibility of empaneling such a committee.
For several years, some police reform activists have been requesting that Mayor de Blasio appoint an independent commission to investigate the NYPD, including its Internal Affairs Bureau, over its troubling pattern of corruption and misconduct. Such panels had been formed by then Mayor John Lindsay, who formed the Knapp Commission, and by then Mayor David Dinkins, who formed the Mollen Commission. However, each of those commissions lacked prosecutorial powers.
After tensions between Mayor de Blasio and police unions and rank and file members of the NYPD reached a peak late in 2014 and early 2015, Mayor de Blasio summarily abandoned all efforts at police reform out of political expediency. City Hall has not answered activists’ calls for a new commission.
Given the past reticence of Commissioner Bratton and District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. (D-Manhattan) about dealing with systemic NYPD corruption or misconduct, expecting any one of them to empanel a similar commission under their own powers and authorities would be fruitless. Indeed, during the time of the Mollen Commission investigation, Commissioner Bratton reportedly ditched an internal NYPD memorandum, recommending further investigations.
Alternatively, some activists have pressed the director of the New York Filed Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who has powers and authorities to form a similar commission or task force. A request for an interview made today to the press office of the New York Field Office was not answered, so it is not known if Assistant Director Diego Rodriguez would support the creation of such a commission or task force.
Past efforts to ask Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) to lend political support for the creation of such a panel have also failed, due to his strict avoidance of reform issues.
The swiftness of Commissioner Bratton’s decision to reassign or transfer officers currently under reported investigation are in sharp contrast to his handling of NYPD Officer Richard Haste, who was under Federal investigation for the shooting death of an unarmed man, Ramarley Graham. During the Federal investigation of Officer Haste, Commissioner Bratton rejected requests made by the Graham family, demanding that the NYPD and the Internal Affairs Bureau investigate Officer Haste and for there to be disciplinary determinations made and carried out. In rejecting those calls, Commissioner Bratton claimed that he was ordered by Federal justice officials to delay any action against Officer Haste until the conclusion of the Federal investigation, an assertion that turned out to be false.
A request made by Progress Queens to the NYPD office of the Deputy Commissioner for Public Information seeking comment for this report about Commissioner Bratton's authority for and apparent duplicity in disciplining officers was neither acknowledged nor answered.