NYPD Brass Plead Not Guilty to Corruption

     MANHATTAN (CN) — New York City police commanders pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a “cops on call” federal corruption case with charges fueled by a Lincoln Tunnel lane closure and a prostitute who flew by private jet to Sin City for the Super Bowl.
     Outside the courthouse, an attorney for the deputy inspector aboard that flight noted that the list of public officials who do not always fly commercial also includes former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly.
     “I believe Mr. Kelly took a private jet, and he paid back the money,” said John Meringolo, an attorney for NYPD inspector James Grant.
     Kelly received some embarrassing attention in the New York Times for sharing five flights with the man who put him in office, billionaire former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to Florida in 2008 and 2009.
     Though never accused of wrongdoing, Kelly’s erstwhile scandal shares some parallels with the prosecution of four high-ranking NYPD officers.
     Aside from the mile-high antics, the NYPD corruption case shines an uncomfortable light on Bloomberg’s successor through Mayor Bill de Blasio’s connection to real estate consultant Jeremy Reichberg.
     A major de Blasio donor, Reichberg is accused of bribing Inspector Grant and three other officers in exchange for favors to the Hasidic neighborhood of Borough Park, where he serves as the NYPD’s community liaison.
     Prosecutors say Grant accepted a $59,000 flight, accompanied by a prostitute for Super Bowl XLVII weekend, plus hand-delivered Christmas gifts for his wife and children at the Staten Island home. When Grant’s family stayed at “most luxurious hotel in Rome,” their $1,066 tab was taken care of, according to the indictment.
     Grant came under fire by a federal grand jury Friday, alongside former Deputy Chief of Department Michael Harrington and Sgt. David Villanueva of the License Division.
     Grant, Harrington and Reichberg denied the charges against them today at a brief arraignment in the Southern District of New York.
     Richard Ochetal, a police officer who is now cooperating with the government, pleaded guilty last month to helping arm a Hasidic neighborhood watch group called the Shomrim in exchange for bribes.
     Together, the officers received “well more than $100,000” in return for a “private police force” for their benefactors and their friends, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said at a press conference last month.
     “Effectively, they got cops on call,” Bharara told reporters on June 20, announcing the charges.
     Defense attorneys revealed little about their strategy during today’s arraignment, which lasted only a few minutes.
     But Grant’s attorney Meringolo said that that the Supreme Court’s recent decision loosening federal bribery laws would benefit his client’s case.
     On June 27, the high court overturned Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell’s convictions for accepting $175,000 in loans and gifts, including a Rolex and a shopping spree for his wife at Bergdoff Goodman.
     In the wake of the decision, Meringolo said: “We believe the government will have a very, very hard time prosecuting the case.”
     When asked about allegations that Reichberg used his NYPD connections to close a lane of the Lincoln Tunnel for a business colleague, Meringolo dismissed the claim as “puffery” from the cooperating witness.
     Prosecutors have not named the officer they accuse of closing the lane for Meringolo, but they have fingered Grant as the reason police released one of Reichberg’s colleagues whom an officer said had been “driving like a fucking lunatic.”
     If true, Meringolo said, that kind of infraction is usually dealt with through administrative charges.
     Meringolo also invoked presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s recent avoidance of charges over classified-email handling as secretary of state. The FBI found that Clinton had been “extremely careless” but lacked criminal intent.
     Meingolo said Grant’s situation is “similar,” but would not concede that his client Grant had broken any statutes, willfully or not.
     “My client wants to have his day in court, and we take the position that he will be exonerated,” he said.
     A hearing has been scheduled for the afternoon of Tuesday, July 19.

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