The scandal over the alleged corruption of high-ranking NYPD officials by donors to Mayor de Blasio had receded from public view, but it popped back into the news with retired Deputy Chief Michael Harrington’s guilty plea.
When he was arrested in June 2016, Mr. Harrington was charged in Federal court with conspiracy to commit honest-services wire fraud, which carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison. On March 1, he pleaded guilty to misappropriation of property belonging to an organization receiving Federal funds: the NYPD. That offense carries a maximum term of 10 years.
Probation or 10 Years?
His attorneys and the prosecutors agreed on a term of zero to six months. But that agreement is not binding on U.S. District Judge Gregory Woods, who can set any term up to the 10-year maximum. Sentencing is set for June 11.
Mr. Harrington, 53, of Staten Island, was one of a handful of top-ranking NYPD officers charged with accepting cash and other gifts, including the services of a prostitute, from the two donors, Jeremy Reichberg and Jona Rechnitz.
In exchange, the two donors called on the officers to provide police-related assistance for themselves and their associates as needed, said prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District. That assistance included assigning police officers, helicopters and boats to escort people and investigate private disputes, the prosecutors said.
Mr. Rechnitz has pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against other defendants.
The corruption allegations reached as high as Mayor de Blasio, who denied any wrongdoing and said he barely knew the two donors despite Mr. Rechnitz’s testimony that he had done favors for the pair in exchange for donations.
The allegations also included members of the NYPD License Division, who were charged with taking bribes for expediting firearms permits.
Mr. Reichberg and Mr. Rechnitz “got a private police force for themselves and their friends,” the U.S. Attorney at the time, Preet Bharara, said at a news conference after their arrest in June 2016. “Effectively, they got ‘cops on call.’”
Mr. Harrington had originally been scheduled for trial at the end of April with retired Deputy Inspector James Grant and Mr. Reichberg.
In his plea, Mr. Harrington told Judge Woods that he provided the police services because he “understood Mr. Reichberg to be a leader within the Jewish community, and also considered him a friend.”
He admitted arranging an NYPD escort for a prominent man’s funeral, having residents of a summer camp for seriously-ill children to visit an NYPD training facility, ordering counterterrorism officers to monitor a Manhattan synagogue and setting up a police helicopter to fly above a party Mr. Reichberg was hosting on a boat.
Wrong but Not Illegal?
Judge Woods asked him whether he knew he was breaking the law. “Your honor, I certainly knew at the time that what I was doing was wrong,” Mr. Harrington replied, “but I didn’t appreciate until much later that what I did was illegal.”
Mr. Harrington’s attorney, Andrew Weinstein, asked Judge Woods to sentence his client to probation. “The single new charge to which Mr. Harrington pled guilty today involving the misapplication of NYPD property is obviously a horse of a different color compared to the bribery-based offenses with which he was originally charged,” he said in a statement after the proceeding.
Mr. Harrington retired from the NYPD in May 2016. He had worked with Mr. Reichberg as an Inspector in Brooklyn North and then as executive officer in the office of Chief of Department Philip Banks III, who according to news reports received cash and trips funded by Mr. Reichberg and Mr. Rechnitz. Mr. Banks was not charged and reported the income from the two on city disclosure forms.
When Mr. Harrington retired, he had recently been named No. 2 in the Housing Bureau. After that assignment, he had been placed on modified duty by then-Commissioner William J. Bratton because of the Federal investigation. Police officers can safeguard their pensions by retiring before they are convicted of criminal charges.
Mr. Grant, a Deputy Inspector who commanded the prestigious 19th Precinct, has been charged with accepting cash from and doing official favors for Mr. Reichberg. He also retired in May 2016 after being placed on modified duty.
The Credibility Question
It’s questionable how effective Mr. Rechnitz will be as a witness against Mr. Grant and Mr. Reichberg. He was the key prosecution witness in last year’s trial of Norman Seabrook, the longtime president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, on charges of accepting a $60,000 bribe in return for investing $20 million of union money in a hedge fund run by co-defendant Murray Huberfeld.
However, in cross-examination, defense lawyers emphasized Mr. Rechnitz’s own checkered history: his heavy-handedness, self-importance, financial shenanigans and history of lying. Jurors found him difficult to believe, and the proceeding ended in a mistrial.
Federal prosecutors promised to retry Mr. Seabrook and Mr. Huberfeld, but they have not discussed publicly what they will do about their witness’s credibility problems.