Reporting by Don Sikorski
Defense attorneys in the immensely heated federal trial of James Grant and Jeremy Reichberg have filed a motion to have Mayor de Blasio testify as the proceedings continue in the courtroom at the Southern District of New York City. The motion was filed after lawyers for Mayor de Blasio and the City of New York filed a motion to quash the subpoena.This follows the inflammatory testimony of key government witness Jonah Rechnitz last week, and his many statements of having a deep personal connection with not only Mayor de Blasio, but key campaign players like Ross Offinger and the upper echelon of the NYPD. The filing also included personal emails between Rechnitz and the Mayor, made available exclusively to Law and Crime.
In the filing by Defense Attorney John Meringolo, the defense states that “Rechnitz has provided us a more fulsome basis on which to oppose the motion to quash the subpoena to testify. Particularly in the recent days, Mayor de Blasio has been publicly discussing Mr. Rechnitz, describing him as a “very troubled person who’s committed crimes and has lied incessantly.” By the Mayor’s own public admissions, he has information about Mr. Rechnitz that is directly relevant to the issues here. “
Meringolo further states, “After Mayor de Blasio won the New York City mayoral election, Mr. Rechnitz describes him and Mr. Reichberg as being excited because they were “very substantial donors,” “had an in with his chief fundraiser,” and had their “own relationship with Bill de Blasio at that point.” Mr. Rechnitz and Mr. Reichberg were subsequently appointed to an inaugural committee. Mayor de Blasio also asked Mr. Rechnitz to donate to a campaign to keep the New York State senate under Democratic control, to which Mr. Rechnitz donated the maximum allowable amount of $102,000 “to have the effect that I’m his guy.” Mr. Rechnitz surmised that he violated election laws when donating the Mayor de Blasio’s campaign because he obtained the money through straw donors who he was illegally reimbursing. Mr. Rechnitz alleges that Mr. Reichberg was aware of these activities and that they “were part of it together.”
One can speculate that the defense really wants to get to the core of whether anything Jonah Rechnitz testifies to is true, and accurate. If Mayor de Blasio feels he is a liar and has testified about dealings with him, personally it would get to the issue of whether he is a credible witness in the Grant and Reichberg case.
In other stunning developments within the case, The daily grind of the trial has been a bit bizarre as the government has paraded a list of witnesses that at times have been comical, sad, and plain confusing. These witnesses upon cross examination have led many courtroom observers wondering why this is a federal trial to begin with instead of an internal, discipline problem handled within the NYPD. The contention by the government is that Grant and Reichberg engaged in a conspiracy to get favors from the NYPD, and in return, Grant received gifts including a trip on a private jet, toys at Christmas, new windows for his house, and possibly a white, picket fence for his yard.The more interesting aspect of the circus trial is actually taking place outside the presence of the jury in hearings about motions that start before the jury is present at 9 AM and sidebar conversations held between the lawyers in open court. It appears as if US Attorney Jessica Lonegran and Martin Bell want to spend more time arguing arcane, legal motions and preventing both defense attorneys from arguing the case, than they do showing concrete evidence that there was a quid quo pro going on between Grant and Reichberg.
One stellar argument on behalf of Martin Bell is to have the judge ban the many Hassidic men and women from holding laminated cards of various Rabbis who have passed away and other religious memorabilia. In a portion of the transcript from last week, Bell and Lonegran argued that holding these religious totems could possibly intimidate the jury and other Hasidic witnesses. This conversation devolved even further when the Honorable Judge, Gregory H. Woods, likened the laminated prayer cards to when Bloods and Crips wear red or blue bandanas inside a criminal court proceeding.
This ludicrous notion continued on the morning of November 26th, US Attorney Martin Bell, yet again spent close to thirty minutes outside the ears of the jury arguing that both Jimmy Grant and Jeremy Reichberg were displaying religious totems on the defense table in sight of the jury. Grant has a pair of Catholic rosary beads, and Reichberg, a Hassidic Jew, has a number of prayer sheets and other religious paraphernalia. Martin Bell went on to cite an article that had been printed in the Staten Island Advance, about these religious totems, and that the jury would be intimidated, as well as the possible witnesses. In arguing for the defense, John Meringolo stated that at a previous federal trial an alleged Philadelphia mobster, Joey Merlino, in plain sight of the jury, used religious prayer beads every day at trial. One has to question why the United States government is involved in conversation about these religious keepsakes. The courtroom most days is packed with Hassidic men and women praying openly with pamphlets and laminated sheets of prayer. In citing a Wikipedia entry, Martin Bell went further, stating that one of the rabbis on these laminated prayer cards was a famous Rabbi, who was associated with rats or rodents. It is not professional for a United States Attorney to cite Wikipedia; however, it could be a strategy to rattle the defense. To date, there doesn’t seem to be any meat on the bone when it comes to bribes given to Jimmy Grant. Reichberg was more of a police buff than he was a financial player and manipulator.
It was no coincidence that the government’s key witness, Jona Rechnitz, would take the stand immediately after this bizarre soliloquy from the government. Many people in the galley of the courtroom were laughing, enraged, and some current, NYPD officers supporting Grant had some very choice words for the US Attorney under their breathe.
The daily court transcripts are filled with endless conversations and arguments that you need a degree from Harvard Law School to understand. One glaring point to date is the government has not presented one witness or any type of evidence of who actually was bribing whom, or what they actually got for the bribes. It reads like a comedy of errors. One witness, a contractor from Brooklyn, installed six-thousand-dollar windows in Grant’s home; however, the contractor on cross examination admitted he never asked Jimmy Grant to pay for the windows. He had only asked Jeremy Reichberg. It is also stated that the windows were faulty, causing flood damage to Grant’s home. So, if he was bribed with windows, it was a pretty poor example of police services for graft.
In another example of absurdity, the government called former call girl, Gabbi Greco, to the stand to recount her recollection of a trip on a private jet to Las Vegas with Jimmy Grant, Jonah Rechnitz, Jeremy Reichberg, and Marco Franco. In her account, she performed sexual favors for the men in a private jet that was the size of large bathroom. Greco openly took anxiety medication on the stand in front of the jury.
Additionally, on cross examination, she did not know James Grant’s full name, who picked her up, or who drove her to the airport. In FBI 302 documents from the defense, it is clear that contrary to what Greco said on the stand, it wasn’t Grant who drove her; it was a friend of Grant and Reichberg, Marco Franco. If the United States Attorney had this information, why are they allowing Greco to lie on the stand?
Greco has been the darling of the New York dailies, the reporting on this case by the New York Post has been embarrassing at best. In open court, it was revealed that former journalist, Shawn Cohen, who wrote the explosive, first cover story on the in-air NYPD orgy, decided it was a good idea to sleep with Gabbi Greco, and make her his girlfriend.
On the stand, Greco admitted that most, if not all of the information in the New York Post article written by Cohen was mostly made up and untrue. She said his words were blown out of proportion. What makes this another fantastical aspect of this case, is that what Cohen printed in the New York Post has been used as gospel by the government’s witnesses and the United States Attorney. Further, it is alleged by sources with ties to the case that Greco might have had an improper relationship with one of the FBI agents on the case, and there were text messages as proof. The defense has asked repeatedly for the government to provide these text messages as Discovery; however, as of yet, the Judge has not ruled on this matter, nor has the government turned over any information.
With Jonah Rechnitz taking the stand the week of November 26th, 2018, the government is finally trotting out their star witness, the briber-in- chief as he has been called. It is Rechnitz, who has bragged on wiretaps and in emails presented at trial, that first he wanted to take the Mayor’s Office and then the NYPD. As Rechnitz begins to testify, it is important to follow his testimony and his version of what happened between himself and many members of the upper echelon of the NYPD. Under questioning by Martin Bell, Rechnitz rattled off all his key relationships at One Police Plaza. This includes Chief Steven McCallister, David Colon, Michael Harrington, and his prized access point, Chief of the Department, Philip Banks.
These relationships had Jonah inside One Police Plaza, front row for the dropping of the famed, New Year’s Ball, courtside at basketball games, and kosher dinners. He has the cache to drop any name that he wants to serve his own self-interest. The problem with most of Jonah’s testimony is that per the NYPD Patrol Guide, which has been presented at trial in many forms, it is not an illegal act to accept a gift from a friend, a business associate, or anyone for that matter as a police officer. It becomes an ethics violation if the individual providing the gifts has contracts with the City of New York or does business with the department or the City.
For example, it is public knowledge that prior, NYPD Chiefs like Howard Safir took a trip on a private jet to the Academy Awards ceremony that was paid for by a cosmetics company executive. Mr. Safir and his wife, Carol were guests of George Fellows, the president and chief executive of Revlon. Within the department, sources have questioned for years the ethics and conflict of interest tightrope that Chief William Bratton navigated. Bratton is known for bringing a cadre of “consultants” with him to each new posting, and he is no stranger to private jets, fancy meals, and even facilitating gun licenses for his celebrity friends.
The United States Attorney and their overreach in this case, have chosen to sully the reputation and long storied careers of many high-ranking NYPD officers. Sources contacted by Law and Crime would only go on the record with anonymity for fear of more retribution by the FBI and United States Attorney. But, many officers who have spoken have the same viewpoint. Access to parades, meetings at One Police Plaza, fancy dinners at Kosher restaurants, and expensive gifts are grey areas, according to the NYPD Patrol Guide. These “gifts” if given in the past would have gone before an NYPD Disciplinary Board. The punishments would be taking away vacation days or docking pay. For many within the NYPD, the fact that James Grant is looking at a possible six-year jail sentence is laughable and has left many insiders scratching their heads as to the merits behind this case.
There is a fundamental problem with the story that Jonah tells. The biggest problem is perjuring himself on the stand, the morning of November 26th, 2018. His perjury and testimony are lies, and the US Attorney knows he is lying in order to implicate Jimmy Grant into a conspiracy he wasn’t a part of. In his testimony, Rechnitz states that he went to the Chief of the Department, Phil Banks and asked Banks to promote Jimmy Grant to the “posh” precinct on the Upper East Side. Through conversations with two sources, there are two major lies Rechnitz is telling. First, Phil Banks never dealt with Jimmy Grant, or had anything to do with his promotion. It would have been the decision of Police Chief Bill Bratton and his alone to promote Jimmy Grant. Second, its laughable to even speculate, that after serving twenty-years for the NYPD, and rarely if ever missing work, that Rechnitz had any influence, power or decision making when Grant was to be promoted.