Mayor Bill de Blasio had a much closer relationship with disgraced donor Jona Rechnitz and his partner Jeremy Reichberg than he has ever let on, according to testimony and correspondence presented Wednesday in the ongoing NYPD corruption trial in federal court in Manhattan.
Rechnitz — who is cooperating with federal prosecutors and testifying against Reichberg and NYPD officer Jimmy Grant — said he and Reichberg befriended former NYPD Chief of Department Philip Banks III over a period of several years before he abruptly announced he was resigning from the force in 2014.
They bought Banks trips to the Dominican Republic and expensive meals, and wooed his closest allies in the Department, in the hopes of building a network of powerful police officers who could help them obtain favors like lights and siren escorts to bypass bad traffic, or help fix tickets for their friends and family.
When Banks announced his plans to resign, it jeopardized that plan and Reichberg and Rechnitz panicked, Rechnitz said Wednesday. Rechnitz asked Mayor Bill de Blasio — who has repeatedly denied a “close relationship” with his former donation bundler — for help. The mayor immediately asked for an in-person meeting, Rechnitz testified.
At the time, in late October of 2014, there was speculation that Banks left because he’d been passed over for police commissioner. Banks, who was soon to be promoted to the highest ranking civilian job on the force, publicly stated that the new job was too ceremonial and would take him away from real police work.
The departure of the highest-ranking black officer in the department prompted an immediate public relations crisis for de Blasio and news reports surfaced that mayor’s wife Chirlane McCray blamed then-Police Commissioner Bill Bratton for Banks’ departure.
But in reality, federal investigators were already scrutinizing Banks’ finances, for potentially laundering $300,000 in undisclosed income.
At the time, Rechnitz wanted de Blasio to try to convince him not to leave. In an email sent to the mayor’s personal Blackberry on Nov 3, 2014, he begged the mayor for help.
The email, which copied another de Blasio bundler, Fernando Mateo, had the subject line “Please help please please.”
“I’m in my office in a summit with Fernando, Norman and Jeremy,” Rechnitz wrote, referring to Mateo, former Corrections Officers Union President Norman Seabrook and Jeremy Reichberg.
“What can we do for you to refuse Banks’s resignation and get him back in and for Bratton to see past Phil’s monstrous mistake?” Rechnitz wrote.
Rechnitz said the mayor invited him to come discuss the matter in person, at the South Street Seaport, and the pair met.
“Bill was fuming that day” because Banks “had embarrassed the mayor,” Rechnitz said Wednesday.
“[De Blasio] had higher aspirations for him. He was going to make him police commissioner one day,” Rechnitz said, adding that de Blasio felt Banks had “made a big mistake.”
That email was not disclosed by City Hall to reporters despite multiple Freedom of Information requests for any communications between Rechnitz and the mayor sent on government or personal email accounts. Nor was another email exchange introduced as evidence in federal court Wednesday between Rechnitz and de Blasio from early February of 2014, in which Rechnitz offered the mayor tickets to see the Knicks play.
De Blasio declined, but said he wanted “to profoundly thank you for all the help you’ve given lately. Means a lot to me. And fyi, it has been an absolute pleasure getting to work regularly with Chief Banks. His future is bright.”
Those two emails were in addition to another missive City Hall failed to producefrom Rechnitz to de Blasio that surfaced last year as evidence in Seabrook’s federal corruption trial. Seabrook was convicted on bribery charges earlier this year.
At the time, de Blasio’s spokesperson said the email was not in City Hall’s possession.
Asked Wednesday, mayoral spokesperson Eric Phillips said only, “There was a diligent search performed and the complete results were provided to the requester.”
De Blasio’s relationship with Rechnitz and Reichberg came under close scrutiny in 2016 and 2017, when the mayor and some members of his administration came under federal investigation for their fundraising practices.
The federal inquiry was closed in 2017 without any charges being brought against the mayor or his staff.
But when the inquiry first became public in the spring of 2016, de Blasio downplayed the extent of his interactions with the pair — despite the fact that de Blasio had attended a fundraiser at Reichberg’s house and that Rechnitz had contributed more than $150,000 to the mayor’s campaign, a nonprofit he controlled, and a separate effort to help Democrats win back control of the State Senate in 2014.
“It’s not a particularly close relationship,”de Blasio told reporters in 2016. “I met them first around the time of the  general election. I hadn’t known them previously and really haven’t seen them in the last year or more.”
But hundreds of pages of emails released by City Hall in 2017 in response to a records request show Rechnitz and Reichberg had easy access to officials in City Hall and the mayor, who often responded to their emails within minutes.
In 2017, de Blasio told reporters Rechnitz was “trying to present some great closeness, not just with me but with others, and it’s just not true.”
De Blasio’s personal meeting with Rechnitz at the South Street Seaport to discuss Banks’ resignation wasn’t the only previously unknown courtesy to the pair of donors.
According to emails obtained by POLITICO through a Freedom of Information request, the mayor afforded Reichberg another honor: a personal phone call to Reichberg when he was hospitalized to have his gallbladder removed, in September of 2014.
“Dear Mayor: Jeremy Reichberg will undergo surgery tomorrow morning at Mt Sinai Hospital, I would like to surprise him with a call from you,” another of de Blasio’s campaign bundlers, Fernando Mateo, wrote on September 2, 2014 to de Blasio’s personal email address. “I will stop by the hospital early afternoon 1-2pm who can I reach out to for you to wish him well. It will mean a lot to him and to me as well.”