By LOUIS FLORES
At a press conference on Monday in which arrests and charges were announced of senior New York Police Department officers and of a politically-connected businessman, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara sought to assure the public about the integrity of the NYPD as new details emerged about the reported, wide-ranging Federal corruption investigation of the troubled police department.
"It's important to to hold people accountable criminally," U.S. Attorney Bharara said, in relevant part, of the police officers facing charges for having engaged in corruption, adding that, "Every individual, no matter how how-ranking you are within the department, you're not above the law."
U.S. Bharara also made a show of including NYPD Commissioner William Bratton on stage with him to announce charges that were filed against senior NYPD officers for having allegedly accepted bribes in exchange for having provided official police services to politically-connected businessmen.
The joint presence of the U.S. Attorney, the NYPD commissioner, the agent-in-charge of the New York Field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other high-ranking law enforcement officials was meant to telegraph a message against police corruption, the U.S. Attorney said, referring to the unified presence as a way "to stand up here jointly and say, as we've been saying for a long time, that corruption cannot stand."
As reported by Progress Queens, despite the intention to demonstrate unity against corruption, Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) skipped that press conference, undermining, in part, the efforts of the U.S. Attorney to put up a united front against police corruption.
Political donor claimed to have influence to select the NYPD commissioner
Two days after that press conference, esteemed police reporter Murray Weiss filed a report for the news Web site DNAinfo New York in which a source indicated that one of the men arrested on Monday, Jeremy Reichberg, a notable campaign contribution bundler to Mayor de Blasio, had made claims that Mr. Reichberg possessed sufficient political influence to determine who could be selected to serve as commissioner of the NYPD.
Because the corruption-fighting prosecutions being waged by the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's southern district have bestowed upon U.S. Attorney Bharara goodwill from the public, it was clear on Monday that U.S. Attorney Bharara was using some of that goodwill to prop up the reputation of the NYPD, as the first true picture of the extent of allegations of corruption against several senior NYPD officers began to finally become public information with the filing of criminal charges on Monday.
However, there appeared to be limits to what lengths U.S. Attorney Bharara was willing to go to provide political cover to the NYPD's top leader, Commissioner Bratton. When U.S. Attorney Bharara's press office was asked by Progress Queens whether U.S. Attorney Bharara was willing to assure the public that, despite Mr. Reichberg's claims to the contrary, no undue influence went into the process that selected Commissioner Bratton as the police force's top official, U.S. Attorney Bharara's press office declined to comment.
Lack of transparency to the Federal corruption investigation
Despite the goodwill earned by U.S. Attorney Bharara, he still has critics. Because the U.S. Attorney General can sway the U.S. Department of Justice and the career Federal prosecutors serving in the various U.S. Attorneys' Offices as a result of political pressure from the White House, some of the action or inaction by some of the nation's top Federal prosecutors can be described by that political influence. Furthermore, the bureaucratic nature of the U.S. Department of Justice can sometimes leave the nation's Federal prosecutors' offices waiting until leadership in Washington, DC, decide to take a course of action, even when there are no political considerations to be weighed. Against this backdrop, and despite assertions made by U.S. Attorney Bharara that he is sufficiently independent from the political fray in Washington, some critics have still accused U.S. Attorney Bharara of being a functionary, with a law and order man's bias in favor of the heavy-handed actions of a police state.
Amongst advocates for police reform, suspicion about U.S. Attorney Bharara's true independence from political consideration, as well as questions about U.S. Attorney Bharara's decision to keep the NYPD involved in investigations of police corruption that U.S. Attorney Bharara goes to great lengths to describe as independent, cloud the integrity of the current, reported Federal corruption investigation of the NYPD. This criticism is further compounded by the lack of transparency to the investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office into allegations of corruption against senior NYPD officers.
As noted in a prior report published by Progress Queens, because the reported Federal corruption investigation of the NYPD is operating under the cloak of policies applicable to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which prevent the commenting about ongoing investigations, there is no transparency for the public to know the full spectrum of misconduct by the NYPD officers reportedly implicated in the current controversies. This contrasts sharply with the significant transparency of prior investigations of systemic police corruption, such as that conducted by the Knapp Commission, a panel of investigators formed in 1970 which televised its public hearings and issued a final report of its findings, for the public to bear witness to the administration of justice, as promised by the Knapp commissioners and by then Mayor John Lindsay (R-New York City).
Despite a precedent set by the U.S. Attorney's Office in issuing a comprehensive report to elected officials at the conclusion of an investigation of systemic controversies at Rikers Island, the U.S. Attorney's Office refused to commit to issuing a similar report at the conclusion of its investigation of the NYPD. On Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to answer a specific request (made once before by Progress Queens during the question and answer period of a 2015 speech by U.S. Attorney Bharara) for the U.S. Attorney's Office to appoint a committee of prosecutors to investigate the NYPD and to issue a report of its findings as a way to answer critics' demands for greater transparency.
Even City Hall won't assure the public that the selection of Commissioner Bratton to lead the NYPD was free of undue influence
Despite one of Mayor de Blasio's prominent campaign contribution bundler having made the assertion that the bundler possessed the political influence to select the commissioner of the NYPD, Mayor de Blasio has declined to issue a public assurance that the selection process that determined Commissioner Bratton's 2014 return to resume his leadership over the NYPD was free of any undue influence. A request made by Progress Queens to the City Hall press office for an interview for this report was not answered, and that request included a specific question about whether City Hall was willing to clear up any questions about the integrity of Commissioner Bratton's selection process.
Already facing sagging job approval ratings over relentless media scrutiny stemming from allegations of real estate-related corruption in the de Blasio administration, Mayor de Blasio may not want to draw anymore attention to the role that his campaign contributors may have played in the selection of senior administration officials. Mayor de Blasio has faced accusations that he awarded senior appointments within his administration to key political supporters, who had been identified on an internal spreadsheet reportedly put together by the mayor himself and by senior political advisors, particularly by Gabrielle Fialkoff, who is embroiled in her own scandal about the Panama Papers.
That neither U.S. Attorney Bharara or Mayor de Blasio wish to vouch for the process that selected Commissioner Bratton's leadership of the NYPD follow persistent questions about Commissioner Bratton's responsibility in creating the culture of the NYPD that turned a blind eye to the allegations of corruption that has allegedly been taking place for years, according to criminal complaints unsealed on Monday.
Criticism of Commissioner Bratton's commitment to integrity
In an article police reform activist Josmar Trujillo published in The Huffington Post, Mr. Trujillo wrote that Commissioner Bratton has “dragged his feet” to deal with reports of corruption taking place at the NYPD. Writing of the litany of controversies at the NYPD, Mr. Trujillo wrote, in relevant part, “The key point here is that this isn’t just a few bad apples or a lapse in judgement. It’s systemic.” In his article, Mr. Trujillo noted that, “If the NYPD has nothing to hide then a deeper and more transparent gaze into what makes the department tick shouldn’t be a problem,” adding that “another Mollen-like investigation is warranted,” referring to the Mollen Commission, a panel of investigators appointed in 1992 by former Mayor David Dinkins (D-New York City) and patterned after the Knapp Commission to similarly investigate systemic corruption at the NYPD.
Mr. Trujillo is a member of the police reform group, New Yorkers Against Bratton, which on Monday issued a joint statement with other police reform groups drawing attention to the role that real estate developers, who are known to be significant campaign contributors in New York, of using the NYPD as "hired muscle" in corrupt efforts to displace New Yorkers, rendering the NYPD "untrustworthy." In demanding that the officers arrested on Monday face justice, the joint statement renewed calls for deeper investigation of the NYPD, where "corruption is systemic and not just the product of a few bad apples."
Commissioner Bratton, who has a history of trying to downplay the size of corruption within the NYPD (In 1996, he resisted efforts to examine reports of corruption left unexamined by the Mollen Commission, according to a report published at that time then by The New York Times.), has in recent years also sought to limit the perception of any problem with corruption or misconduct at the NYPD to "a few bad apples."
In the wake of the revelations about the current problem of corruption at the NYPD, the normally police-friendly Editorial Board of The New York Post raised serious questions about Commissioner Bratton's self-professed "zero tolerance" for police corruption. In addition to Commissioner Bratton facing calls for his resignation by advocates for police reform, he has also faced calls for his resignation by a leading police union leader and by candidates running to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Harlem) in Congress.
To advocates of police reform, that such a compromised official remains at the helm of the NYPD during a corruption scandal of opaque proportions with an active role in the investigations itself is troubling.
"The involvement of the NYPD in the investigation compromises the independent of the federal probe," police reform groups indicated in their joint statement, in part.
Also troubling to some advocates for police reform is the narrow view that U.S. Attorney Bharara is appearing to intentionally take about the occurrence and incidence of corruption and misconduct at the NYPD, according to sources, who provided information to Progress Queens for this report.