Senior NYPD Officials And Others Charged With Federal Public Corruption Offenses
NYPD Deputy Chief Michael Harrington and Deputy Inspector James Grant Charged With Accepting Bribes In Exchange for Official Acts
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Diego Rodriguez, Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and William J. Bratton, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), announced today that Deputy Chief MICHAEL HARRINGTON, Deputy Inspector JAMES GRANT, and Sergeant DAVID VILLANUEVA of the NYPD were arrested this morning, along with a Brooklyn-based man, JEREMY REICHBERG, on bribery charges. HARRINGTON, GRANT, and REICHBERG were charged in Manhattan federal court with conspiring to commit honest services wire fraud for a bribery scheme involving the receipt of tens of thousands of dollars in meals, trips, home renovations, and other benefits in exchange for an array of official NYPD actions, including private police escorts, ticket fixing, and assistance in settling private disputes. VILLANUEVA, formerly a supervisor in the NYPD’s gun licensing division, was charged in Manhattan federal court with bribery offenses in connection with his receipt of cash bribes to expedite and approve gun licenses. In addition, the guilty plea of Police Officer RICHARD OCHETAL, who formerly worked in the gun licensing division, was unsealed today. OCHETAL pled guilty to accepting bribes in exchange for the approval of gun license applications, and is cooperating with the Government in the investigation.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “The alleged conduct violates the basic principle that public servants are to serve the public, not help themselves to cash and benefits just for doing their jobs. Jeremy Reichberg allegedly showered senior police officials, Commanding Officers Michael Harrington and James Grant, with bribes, and in exchange, got ‘cops on call,’ a private police force for themselves and their friends. As alleged, Sergeant David Villanueva and Officer Richard Ochetal in the NYPD’s gun licensing division were also on the take, issuing gun licenses in exchange for cash, liquor, and limo rides. It is heartbreaking to see police officers who have taken the oath to serve and protect allegedly bring dishonor to an institution and profession deserving of the greatest honor. I thank the FBI for their work on this important investigation and the NYPD for its commitment and courage to police itself.”
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Diego Rodriquez said: “The abuses of power alleged in this case are not victimless crimes. The victims are the citizens of New York, who rely on officers to fulfill their sworn duty. The victims are the upstanding police officers who do everything in their power to uphold the law and protect the public. The victims are public trust and confidence in law enforcement, both critical to ensuring public safety. The FBI, along with our partners, will continue to root out this kind of decay at every level in order to protect our citizens from the devastating consequences of corruption that undermines safety, and erodes the trust between law enforcement and the public.”
NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton said: “These charges and today's arrests are a culmination of the joint investigative efforts of the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau along with the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. During the past three years, NYPD Internal Affairs and FBI investigators worked diligently in pursuing leads into alleged corrupt activity involving uniformed members of this department. Two separate investigations, by the NYPD and the FBI, merged seamlessly and resulted in today’s arrests of four members of the department as well as another individual. This investigation is not over and we will continue to work together with our law enforcement partners to go where the facts of these cases lead us.”
According to the allegations in the Complaint against GRANT, HARRINGTON, and REICHBERG; the Indictment against VILLANUEVA and Brooklyn-based gun license “expeditor” ALEX LICHTENSTEIN, a/k/a “SHAYA,” who had been previously charged; and the Information to which OCHETAL pled guilty, all unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:
United States v. GRANT, HARRINGTON, and REICHBERG
For several years from approximately 2012 through 2015, REICHBERG, who described himself as a “community liaison” for the NYPD, along with another individual who had pled guilty and is now cooperating with the Government (“CW-1”), engineered a scheme to provide lavish benefits to high-ranking members of the NYPD, including GRANT and HARRINGTON, so as to be able to call upon those members for police-related assistance for themselves and their communities over time. GRANT and HARRINGTON, for their part, accepted numerous benefits and, in return, took several official police actions for REICHBERG and CW-1. GRANT was, throughout this time period, a high-ranking police official and commanding officer of a precinct in Brooklyn, before becoming a Deputy Inspector and the Commanding Officer of the 19th Precinct on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. HARRINGTON was an Inspector in Brooklyn North and, beginning around November 2013, the Executive Officer in the NYPD Chief of Department’s Office, which is responsible for overseeing all of the NYPD’s uniformed operations.
As alleged in the Complaint, among the benefits accepted by GRANT were a private jet trip to Las Vegas for the Super Bowl, costing $57,000 for the plane alone; a two-night stay in a hotel in Rome, worth more than $1,000; contracting work on his home worth approximately $12,000; and jewelry. Among the benefits accepted by HARRINGTON were private security work worth tens of thousands of dollars for a company he unofficially helped manage; hotel rooms for a trip to Chicago for his family worth in excess of $6,000; and thousands of dollars in dinners.
GRANT and HARRINGTON helped REICHBERG and CW-1 with numerous police-related requests. For example, both performed and arranged for police-related escorts for REICHBERG, CW-1, and their associates, at REICHBERG and/or CW-1’s request. Both diverted police resources to investigate private, civil matters. Both assisted with VIP access to parades and other New York City events. GRANT provided cards that enabled REICHBERG, CW-1, and their associates to avoid tickets when pulled over by police. GRANT also helped REICHBERG obtain a gun license from the NYPD, and attempted to help CW-1 obtain a gun license from the NYPD. HARRINGTON sent police resources to religious sites upon request.
REICHBERG and CW-1’s influence in certain spheres of the NYPD was, at a certain point, so significant as to have people believing that they had a say in promotions. REICHBERG and CW-1, for example, advocated for GRANT to become the Commanding Officer of the 19th Precinct, which GRANT ultimately did, and which led to them being permitted to make the call informing him of the news. REICHBERG also advocated for HARRINGTON to become a senior police official in Brooklyn after HARRINGTON left the Chief of Department’s office, which was unsuccessful. A judicially authorized wiretap on REICHBERG’s phone in early 2015 revealed numerous conversations in which REICHBERG was dispensing advice on promotions to members of the NYPD and taking steps to facilitate promotions.
United States v. VILLANUEVA and LICHTENSTEIN; United States v. OCHETAL
VILLANUEVA was, for many years, a Sergeant assigned to the NYPD’s Licensing Division, which is responsible for reviewing all applications for gun licenses submitted by residents of New York City. The Licensing Division receives approximately 5,000 applications for gun licenses per year. Licensing Division personnel review those applications both for disqualifying characteristics, such as prior felony convictions, and for other characteristics that lead to discretionary denials.
From at least 2012 through 2016, VILLLANUEVA was given cash bribes and other benefits by LICHTENSTEIN, who ran a business charging clients thousands of dollars to expedite their gun license applications. LICHTENSTEIN used some of the money paid by his clients to pay VILLANUEVA for his work in expediting and approving the applications for LICHTENSTEIN’s clients. OCHETAL, a Police Officer who worked under VILLANUEVA, did first-level reviews of many of these applications and was instructed to approve them. OCHETAL was compensated in the form of some of the cash that LICHTENSTEIN gave to VILLANUEVA.
In reviewing and approving applications for LICHTENSTEIN’s clients, VILLANUEVA and OCHETAL omitted some of the required checks, such as criminal history checks, and in other instances ran checks only after they approved licenses. They also approved applications despite red flags that, had they not been bribed, may have led those applications to be rejected. For example, they approved applications of individuals with prior arrests and previous allegations of domestic violence. In addition, VILLANUEVA and OCHETAL approved applications for licenses to carry firearms, which require certain business-related justifications, in scenarios were there was no real business justification for the request. A review of the applications of LICHTENSTEIN’s clients reveals that VILLANUEVA and OCHETAL were able to secure licenses for those clients often within weeks, whereas the process normally takes months to, in some instances, over a year. VILLANUEVA and OCHETAL did this for LICHTENSTEIN’s clients because of the cash payments coming from LICHTENSTEIN, as well as other benefits, such as limousine rides, bottles of liquor, and a wine tour.
GRANT, 43, of Staten Island, New York, HARRINGTON, 50, of the Staten Island, New York, and REICHBERG, 42, of Brooklyn, New York, have been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, which carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison. VILLANUEVA, 42, of Valley Stream, New York, was charged with one count of bribery, which carries a maximum term of 10 years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, which carries a maximum term of five years in prison. LICHTENSTEIN, 44, of Pomona, New York, is charged with two counts of bribery, each of which carries a maximum term of 10 years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, which carries a maximum term of five years in prison. OCHETAL, 37, previously pled guilty to one count of bribery, which carries a maximum term of 10 years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, which carries a maximum term of five years in prison. The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of the FBI, the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau, and the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigations Division, and noted that the investigation is continuing.
These cases are being handled by the Office’s Public Corruption Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Martin Bell, Russell Capone, and Kan M. Nawaday are in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Complaint and the Indictment are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.