Rechnitz — appearing in the bribery trial of former city corrections-union chief Norman Seabrook — first dealt with questions about pay-to-play allegationsinvolving him and Mayor de Blasio, the NYPD and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.
He said he and businessman pal Jeremy Reichberg targeted the cops in the beginning, doling out gifts and cash in lieu of favors.
Soon, “We had the police going for us — and now it was time to get into politics,” Rechnitz said.
In his first meeting with de Blasio fundraiser Ross Offinger after de Blasio won the Democratic primary in 2013, Rechnitz and his pals — including Brooklyn businessman Jeremy Reichberg and Fernando Mateo, president of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers — made the rules clear, Rechnitz said.
“We’re going to be significant contributors, but we want access,” Rechnitz, 34, said the group told Offinger. “When we call, we want answers.
“We’re one group, and we expect a lot of access and influence.”
And they got it, Rechnitz said.
De Blasio soon visited Rechnitz at his office and handed the real-estate investor his personal cell-phone number and e-mail address.
“He said, ‘Keep in touch’ and [that] he really appreciated my friendship,” Rechnitz said.
Next thing you know, Rechnitz was talking with the mayor once a week, and Rechnitz was calling Offinger every time he had a problem that needed to be fixed, including a massive water bill for a friend, violations over a renter’s subletting one of his residences on Airbnb and a request to delay his wife’s school’s closing by a month.
Prosecutor Martin Bell asked Rechnitz whether Offinger did “in fact have the sort of pull” that Rechnitz and his friends were expecting in exchange for their contributions.
“Yes,” Rechnitz replied.
Bell asked, “How did you come to realize that?”
Rechnitz said, “Whenever we would call him for access or for a favor, we were getting the response that we expected and the results we were expecting.”
Rechnitz said he secured a spot on de Blasio’s inauguration committee thanks to his efforts to raise $100,000 for his mayoral campaign.
Rechnitz was also offered a spot on the mayor’s transition committee, but he turned it down after de Blasio rejected Reichberg for a vacancy due to diversity issues, he said.
In just one hour of testimony, Rechnitz painted a picture of a city — and beyond — completely ruled by money.
Rechnitz said Astorino gave him and Reichberg positions as police chaplains in exchange for their financial contributions — even though neither of them are rabbis or priests.
This landed them parking placards, among other perks.
Rechnitz also told a story about the time Astorino approached him with a picture of a Rolex watch and asked for helping procuring it.
“I told him I’d be happy to give it to him,” Rechnitz said, prompting Astorino to agree to pay for between $1,000 and $2,000 of the watch, with Rechnitz paying for the rest.
The government witness estimated the watch was worth as much as $10,000.
When it came to the cops, Rechnitz said, he and Reichberg were running the show — doling out gifts and cash to cops in exchange for favors, including ticket-fixing and police escorts to funerals.
He named a slew of cops — everyone from Phil Banks to James Grant to Eric Rodriguez — and talked about the time the cops, together with the Port Authority, shut down large portions of the Lincoln Tunnel so Rechnitz’s boss — an Israeli billionaire known as the “King of Diamonds” — could get to his Manhattan hotel faster.
Mayoral spokesman Eric Phillips denied the felon’s claims.
“These are nothing but re-heated, re-packaged accusations that have been extensively reviewed and passed on by authorities at multiple levels,” Phillips said. “The administration has never and will never make government decisions based on campaign contributions.”
A rep for Astorino called Rechnitz’s testimony “total contrived nonsense.
“Rob Astorino went shopping in the city for a second-hand watch several years ago. Mr. Rechnitz, who was in no trouble at the time, offered to help and took him to a store near his office,” said Astorino’s re-election campaign spokesman, William O’Reilly.
“Mr. Astorino was then offered the used watch for free. Mr. Astorino promptly declined and insisted on paying for it, which he did. He has the credit-card receipt to prove it, which he provided to the authorities prosecuting Mr. Rechnitz.
“Although this transaction occurred almost 18 months ago, Rob Astorino has never been accused of any wrongdoing by any federal or state prosecutor for any reason – he did nothing wrong,” O’Reilly said.
“Furthermore, Mr. Rechnitz never spoke with Rob Astorino about a volunteer chaplaincy for himself or anyone else.
The NYPD declined comment.
Ben Brafman, lawyer for former NYPD Chief of Department Banks, said, “I don’t have any interest in commenting about Mr. Rechnitz, but I do point out that Chief Banks has never been prosecuted for any wrongdoing.”
John Meringolo, lawyer for James Grant, whose own corruption trial is set for April 30, said, “It’s just all made up against Grant, it really is. Grant’s done nothing wrong. After Jona’s testimony today, we’re certainly going to call Mayor de Blasio to testify and prove that Jona’s lying about having the mayor’s office on speed dial. He’s lying about the mayor the same way he’s lying about Grant.”
Andrew Weinstein, lawyer for another officer tainted by Rechnitz, Michael Harrington, added, “Jona Rechnitz’s entire existence is built upon lies and deception. Any suggestion by Mr. Rechnitz that Mike Harrington was in any way complicit in his [Rechnitz’s] life of crime is but one more lie from a pathetic wannabe who is desperate to implicate others in an effort to save his own skin.”
Major de Blasio donor brags about closeness with mayor, says he expected influence for funds at Seabrook trial
One of Mayor de Blasio’s biggest donors took the witness stand Thursday to boast about his closeness to the mayor and make clear he had expected “lots of access” to Hizzoner.
The embarrassing testimony came from Jona Rechnitz, who’s pleaded guilty to corruption charges and is the star witness in the trial of disgraced jail union boss Norman Seabrook.
“I was giving money `to the Mayor of New York in exchange for favors,” he said to describe one element of the criminal offense to which he pleaded guilty.
Rechnitz described a meeting he and another donor, Jeremy Reichberg, had with de Blasio’s key fund-raiser, Ross Offinger.
“We expect a lot of access and influence,” Rechnitz said the group told Offinger. “We’re going to become significant contributors.
He said Offinger, a longtime de Blasio aide and the chief rainmaker for the mayor’s non-profit, Campaign for One New York, replied, “Okay. How much do you think you guys can get together?”
Rechnitz, who is cooperating with prosecutors in the hopes of winning lighter jail time, raised $41,000 for the mayor before his 2013 election, donated $50,000 to Campaign for One New York, and wrote a $102,300 check as part of the mayor’s 2014 failed effort to flip the state Senate to Democratic control.
Offinger, Rechnitz testified, returned with his hand out after de Blasio was elected mayor.
“He would call when they needed money,” he said. In return, “I would call whenever I had an issue.”
“I would be a ‘yes’ man,” he added. “I always gave money.”
In court he revealed that de Blasio — who has strained to distance himself from Rechnitz — even came to his office before the election.
The then-candidate “told me to call if there’s anything I need. Always be in touch.”
Rechnitz was one of several donors who got tremendous access to the mayor. De Blasio routinely ordered his minions to intervene on donors’ behalf.
Emails show de Blasio responding, “I’m all ears” when Rechnitz suggested a candidate for buildings commissioner, and City Hall intervened when he was cited for running an illegal hotel.
In response late Thursday, de Blasio’s press secretary, Eric Phillips, mocked the credibility of the mayor’s major donor.
“These are nothing but re-heated, re-packaged accusations that have been extensively reviewed and passed on by authorities at multiple levels,” he said. “The administration has never and will never make government decisions based on campaign contributions.”
Rechnitz was cooperating with the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s probe of de Blasio that result in no charges but the finding that the mayor had intervened on behalf of big donors.
Rechnitz also admitted he “straw donors” — an illegal scheme to avoid laws limiting how much contributors can give to politicians.
The law prohibits donors from masking their identity by giving to campaigns through other donors. Rechnitz said he did just that by having people in his office write checks for which he would reimburse them.
He described Offinger as a kind of bag man, dropping by his office to pick up checks.
“I told him to hold on and I’d walk out, get a few checks from people and then bring them in,” he said.
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From: The Gothamist
Oholei Torah in Crown Heights. Mayor de Blasio praised the yeshiva, which is under DOE investigation, in a letter this spring. (Emma Whitford / Gothamist)
In May of this year, long after the Department of Education announced an investigation into dozens of yeshivas for failing to provide a basic education to their students, Mayor Bill de Blasio effusively praised one of the yeshivas that was being investigated.
In a letter obtained by Gothamist, de Blasio congratulated Crown Heights yeshiva Oholei Torah for “giving its students the tools they need to build solid foundations for their futures,” even as alumni accuse the ultra-Orthodox school of leaving them unprepared for college and a career.
Meanwhile, the Department of Education has yet to issue any findings related to their investigation of educational neglect at 39 yeshivas in New York, and has allegedly blown through several promised deadlines since the probe was opened over two years ago.
At a press conference outside City Hall on Wednesday, secular education advocates criticized de Blasio’s support for the school, and accused the mayor and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña of dragging their feet on the investigation for fear of offending the powerful Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox voting blocs.
“The politics behind this is obvious—the city is absolutely terrified of calling out the Hasidic yeshivas, because the findings would indicate that they’re not even close to meeting state requirements [concerning education],” Naftuli Moster, the executive director of Young Adults For A Fair Education [Yaffed], which acquired the mayor’s letter, told Gothamist.
The letter was included in a commemorative “journal” distributed to guests at the yeshiva’s 60th anniversary dinner this year, according to the group. It will be included in a forthcoming Yaffed report, which alleges that Oholei Torah provides no secular education to its students, in grades kindergarten through twelve.
“It feels like the mayor just is not even pretending to care,” said Chaim Levin, 28, who attended Oholei Torah in Crown Heights from 1995 to 2005. “It’s like, he’s rewarding very bad behavior. Bad behavior that’s been going on for 60 years of this school’s existence.”
Oholei Torah did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the mayor’s letter, or Yaffed’s allegations. The Mayor’s Office declined to comment on the letter.
In July of 2015, around 50 yeshiva parents, alumni and former teachers sent a letter to the DOE expressing their concern that the Orthodox schools were almost entirely focused on intensive religious studies, to the exclusion of math, English, science and social studies.
According to a report put out earlier this month by Yaffed, the lack of instruction in secular education leaves “young men lack[ing] the requisite skills to obtain employment with a decent income to support themselves and their (often large) families.” The report recommends that the DOE establish a task force to improve education in the schools, and that all funding be cut to schools not meeting state benchmarks by summer 2019.
In response Yaffed’s report, the pro-yeshiva group Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools [PEARLS] released a statement noting that the purpose of the ultra-Orthodox schools was for “children to receive a religious education that is central to their cultural identity, and that teaches young men and women to become thriving, respected members of the community.” The group rejected Yaffed’s recommendations.
“The vast majority of Hasidic boys’ high schools do not teach any secular studies, zero, not even English,” Moster said in response.
Such practices would place yeshivas in violation of a state law requiring all private schools to provide education that is “at least substantially equivalent” to that provided in public schools. While the city has promised a good faith investigation into the potential neglect, Moster says they’ve missed at least two deadlines that they set for themselves.
Toya Holness, a spokesperson for the DOE, told Gothamist, “The investigation is ongoing and we are treating this matter with utmost seriousness.” She also provided Gothamist with a letter showing that the DOE had made scheduled visits to six yeshivas through the city, and planned to make additional visits throughout the month. She declined to answer a question about whether the department had a deadline for releasing their findings.
According to Moster, the DOE promised to release a report about the schools last summer, then pushed that back until this summer, and now appears to have backed off their commitment to a deadline entirely,
“If the only issue was waiting until after the elections, I would say fine,” he noted. “The problem is what this delay symbolizes: the city will bend itself backwards to appease a handful of powerful Hasidic leaders. If the report does ever come out, I’m expecting them to water it down dramatically.”
The government’s star witness in public corruption cases involving two NYPD cops and a city union official may have been involved in criminal activity — including extortion — while he was cooperating with the feds, The Post has learned.
Explosive new court documents accuse Jona Rechnitz — a Bill de Blasio donor and the fed’s key witness against two NYPD cops and ex-union official Norman Seabrook — of threatening “to go to the feds” over a scheme he was wrapped up in unless one of his wealthy friends got paid.
If proven true, “the game is over,” said a lawyer involved in one of Rechnitz’s bribery probes.
“Even if it’s legitimate monies owed — if you make a threat then that’s extortion,” this person said.
It could also force the government to rip up Rechnitz’s cooperation agreement, putting their cases in jeopardy, sources said.
According to recently unsealed NY state court documents, Rechnitz was a recruiter for a $70 million Ponzi scheme involving Jason Nissen, a former math teacher busted last week and charged by Manhattan federal prosecutors with duping investors of his wholesale ticket business.
It’s unclear whether Rechnitz knew Nissen’s ticket selling business was an alleged sham. But the court documents, filed by Diamond wholesaler Taly USA Holdings, show that he may have kept his concerns hidden from the government in hopes that one of his pals would get paid.
“Jona’s the one who told me he would go to the Feds if Weinberger doesn’t get paid,” Nissen told Taly executive Yaron Turgeman in a secretly recorded conversation from May 7th, referring to hedge fund manager Michael Weinberger.
Nissen doesn’t say when the threat was made, but sources said Nissen only started having trouble paying Rechnitz’s investor pals after Rechnitz pleaded guilty last June to conspiring to bribe public officials.
A spokeswoman for the Manhattan US Attorney’s Office declined to comment.
A lawyer for Rechnitz also declined to comment.
Meanwhile, lawyers for defendants in the bribery probes — who include ex-NYPD cops James Grant and Michael Harrington — are gearing up to demand evidence from the Nissen case be turned to help them vet whether Rechnitz broke any laws or violated the terms of his cooperation agreement.
According to Nissen, Rechnitz was a paid recruiter for the alleged scheme, earning him up to $8 million in recent years, including payments of roughly $80,000 a month on Rechnitz’s credit card bills.
“We are confident that most, if not all of the misappropriated monies will be recovered,” said Christopher Milito, lawyer for Taly USA Holdings.
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Le Pen’s Trump Tower Italian Fundraiser Tied to Lega Nord-Russia; Are Diamonds Le Pen’s Best Friend?
Will France get an anti-American president, Marine Le Pen, who doesn’t even know that New York City is located there? Does she think that Trump Tower is in Montreal? “Vive le Quebec Libre! Vive le Canada Français et vive la France!” said De Gaulle on July 24, 1967 in Montreal: http://youtu.be/rGm6imM-7AI
And are diamonds Le Pen’s best friend, as once sang by another bleached blond? In “Gentlemen Prefer Blonds“-“Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friends“, Marilyn Monroe sang that the French may be willing to die for love, but that she prefers diamonds. Link: http://youtu.be/g__ANxxwKIk And, love won’t pay for Marine Le Pen’s campaign, it seems. The French connection would’t do. She needed an Italian connection in Trump Tower.
Enter her Italian “fixer”, George “Guido” Lombardi, apparently Giorgio Guido Lombardi, who migrated from Italy to the US in the 1970s. Lombardi states in an interview at the beginning of the BBC Panorama documentary “Marine Le Pen: Who’s Funding France’s Far Right” ( http://youtu.be/0ClNpJYuqdE ) that there were people at the cocktail-fundraiser, which he held for Marine Le Pen in Trump Tower, who could have contributed a million dollars “without blinking an eye“. Was one of them the “King of Diamonds?”
According to the New York Post, long-time friend of Putin “Israeli diamond dealer Lev Leviev was the mysterious businessman hustled through the shut-down Lincoln Tunnel on behalf of a [New York Mayor] Bill de Blasio fundraiser.” http://nypost.com/2016/06/21/bribed-cops-shut-down-lincoln-tunnel-lane-for-king-of-diamonds Did he help Marine Le Pen too?
According to the New York Times, “The political operative she [Marine Le Pen] went to meet at Trump Tower, George G. Lombardi, is a businessman who has made a career as a liaison between two right-wing Italian political parties — the Northern League and Forza Italia — and like-minded people in the United States. He has also worked with the National Front since 2012…” Pictures of Lombardi with former Senate majority leader Bob Dole, and former NY Republican Senator Alfonse D’Amato, as well as a younger Trump, are found on one of his web sites, they say: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/13/world/europe/marine-le-pen-trump.html. Recall: https://miningawareness.wordpress.com/2017/03/23/russian-oligarch-deripaska-tied-to-manafort-also-has-past-links-to-bob-dole/
In a more recent interview with the New York Times, Lombardi says that he was born in Geneva and moved to Rome, as a child, and that it was the 1968 protests, and popularity of communism at his university, that made him leave for America. He says that he started out in the jewelry business, then turned to real estate. He married the apparently older widow of real estate magnate Frank Lahainer, who already lived in Trump Tower, and was originally from Trieste, Italy, as was Frank Lahainer. Trieste faces Venice, on the Adriatic. See: “A Trump Tower Neighbor Is the Point Man for Europe’s Populists“. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/14/world/europe/trump-tower-neighbor-europe-populists-orban-wilders-le-pen.html (Did the New York Times confuse Geneva with Genoa (Genova), or was he born in Switzerland?)
Although it was apparently bought by Frank Lahainer, the 25 carat diamond, mentioned in the 2002 Washington Post article, called up a memory about the sell-off of huge diamonds by Russia in the 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Lev Leviev is believed to have helped liquidate these assets. Lev Leviev is also reportedly behind Putin’s Milan born Rabbi Berel Lazar (Lombardi’s dual compatriot: American-Italian)
Isn’t it bizarre that Putin’s official Rabbi Lazar was born in Milan, in Lombardy Italy, and ordained Rabbi in New York City? Lazar is a member of the Chabad Ludavitch sect, who have their own book, which is not used by mainstream Judaism. Lazar is reported as having both American and Russian citizenship and his wife as having American citizenship. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berel_Lazar They presumably have Israeli citizenship too. And, while Lazar has recently been quoted as saying that, if Le Pen wins, France’s Jews will have to leave France, we don’t know if he is playing at Briar Rabbit, nor if he thinks that a bad thing. (See JTA .org: “Russian chief rabbi says Jews should leave France if Marine Le Pen elected“, April 22, 2017) Lazar may want to bring the Jewish diaspora to Israel for the arrival of the Messiah. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chabad_messianism#Anticipation Another Putin friend-Russian Oligarch-Chabad supporter, Roman Abramovich, is currently building a new house in Israel. And, building lots of housing for the diaspora would be big business for real estate magnates. This could include Trump’s sons and son-in-law.
De Blasio won’t face federal, state charges in fundraising probe
Mayor Bill de Blasio won’t be facing federal or state criminal charges for fundraising activities tied to his now defunct Campaign for One New York, officials announced on Thursday.
“After careful deliberation, given the totality of the circumstances here and absent additional evidence, we do not intend to bring federal criminal charges against the Mayor or those acting on his behalf relating to the fundraising efforts in question,” acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim announced on Thursday.
The investigations hinged on whether de Blasio solicited donations from developers and others who had business before the city in exchange for political favors. In October, the New York Time’s reported that Jona Rechnitz, the real estate developer at the center of the NYPD corruption scandal, was cooperating with authorities. The mayor was accused of giving a retired police official a high-level position in his administration after Rechnitz called him and requested the appointment as a “personal favor.” The federal investigation was conducted by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office led the state probe.
In his announcement, District Attorney Cyrus Vance stated that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that the mayor violated state election laws in his efforts to help Democrats take over the Republican-controlled state Senate. The investigation focused on whether he wrongfully sidestepped contribution limits to individual candidates by directing donations to upstate county committees. Vance said, however, that the actions “appear contrary to the intent and spirit of the laws that impose candidate contribution limits.”
Kim noted the unusual nature of announcing that his office wouldn’t pursue criminal charges, saying that, in this case, it was appropriate to not “unduly influence the upcoming campaign and Mayoral election.” The announcement comes just a few days after President Donald Trump fired Preet Bharara from his post as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
The decision not to prosecute clears what was a black cloud over the mayor’s re-election campaign. It remains to be seen if potential Democratic challengers who were waiting on the sidelines as the investigation dragged on will now step aside. Meanwhile, Republican mayoral candidate and Cushman & Wakefield executive Paul Massey announced Wednesday that he raised twice as much as de Blasio since Jan. 12.
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