The bar for chutzpah—famously defined as the man who murders his parents and then begs the court for mercy because he’s an orphan—has always been YUGE in New York City.
But two of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s big donors allegedly providing an in-flight call girl to top NYPD “cops on call” on a private flight to Vegas for a Super Bowl weekend there, not to mention wearing elf hats to home-deliver a Christmas bribe to one of those cops (plus jewelry for the wife), sure as hell clears that bar.
That’s before you get to elf Jona Rechnitz’s many notes directly to De Blasio, finally made public late Friday after months of stalling by City Hall. One classic message, from the alleged cop-briber straight to the mayor, who now appears to be gliding to re-election in November:
“Dear Mr. Mayor, I am interested in serving on your committee for ‘combat police corruption,’” he wrote. “In addition to being the chaplain for Westchester County, I am a concerned citizen of NYC that wants to ensure the community’s safety.”
In another email, Rechnitz—among his many other hustles a small player in New York real estate, who contributed, along with his wife, nearly $200,000 to the mayor’s campaign and causes in 2013 and 2014—emailed de Blasio directly to suggest that a friend of his would be a fine pick as New York’s new buildings commissioner.
“I’m all ears, Jona,” the mayor wrote back an hour later, cc’ing his chief of staff.
Rechnitz’s fellow elf, Jeremy Reichberg, a “building expediter” paid to smooth things over between developers and the city and who gave and bundled over $50,000 to the mayor, is now charged with bribery. He liked to get his friends police escorts, federal prosecutors say, and once allegedly even got a lane of the Lincoln Tunnel shut down for the private use of a business partner visiting the U.S.
The emails dumped Friday show Reichberg hitting up the administration for help with, among other things, a $650,000 water bill. The city cut it down to $125,000—though City Hall says it was only because of a defective water meter.
Chutzpah! De Blasio’s been doing his best Frank Drebin, declaring that not getting criminally charged but only publicly scolded by the U.S. attorney and Manhattan district attorney in March after a year-long probe amounted to a vindication of his “honest, transparent government.”
Since that time, he’s kept insisting he hardly knew these elves, whose houses he visited and who emailed him directly. This was just business as usual, a mayor doing constituent service for big donors just like he does for any other New Yorker.
After all, Rechnitz’s pick for buildings commissioner (whose name is blacked out in the email) didn’t get picked. And Rechnitz didn’t get to join the corruption committee. Move on, folks! No special favors to see here.
Rechnitz, who secretly pleaded guilty last year to giving campaign cash for official action, is now due to be the government’s star witness in various cases against cops and others who are getting charged. His involvement in two Ponzi schemes, though, may make him a tough sell with juries.
There’s the one with the ticket broker he allegedly made millions from. Then there’s the one that led the probers to City Hall—a $12 million scheme run by once-wired Manhattan restaurateur Hamlet Peralta, who pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in May, that federal prosecutors say sucked in Norman Seabrook, then the powerful head of the corrections officers union and now awaiting his own trial in October on corruption charges.
Rechnitz was the guy the feds say personally delivered to Seabrook—whom De Blasio had deemed a “friend” and a “great leader” before he was charged—a Ferragamo bag stuffed with $60,000 in cash on behalf of Peralta, as a kickback for the jail boss putting 20 million of his members’ pension dollars into a teetering hedge fund.
Peralta, like Rechnitz and Reichberg, reportedly had his own cops on call at the Hudson River Cafe, where the brass liked to hang out, on the house, while rank-and-file cops says they were ordered to work “like their security guards,” as one put it, breaking up fights without arresting patrons and ensuring nuisance complaints weren’t enforced.
De Blasio—who isn’t tied in with Peralta’s alleged scam—suggests none of this has anything to do with him.
“I wish I never met the guy,” he said at one point of Rechnitz. The mayor has stressed that be didn’t know Rechnitz or Reichberg before they started pouring money into this campaign and outside political operation, that they got no special favors from his government, that he stopped talking to them once prosecutors began probing, and that “I hold myself and my administration to the highest standards of integrity.”
Then again, De Blasio also insists the decision to abruptly fire a long-serving deputy commissioner just after he refused to help out another restaurateur was just an ordinary decision. The restaurateur—since arrested on separate corruption charges in Long Island and now reportedly cooperating with prosecutors—was an early donor to the mayor who owed the city $1.7 million in back rent. Chutzpah!
There’s no sign at all that De Blasio or his officials are enriching themselves. There’s every sign that people around him are getting paid off from public funds for signing on to his agenda and that he thinks that’s a form of honest graft.
Back to the cops and the alleged cop-bribers. A year after Deputy Inspector James Grant got that magical visit, he was allegedly caught by the feds venting when the “two elves didn’t come for fucking Christmas.”
After his Vegas trip, too, came a letdown the next year, when Reichberg reportedly took a different cop to Super Bowl XLIII.
“See you don’t love me anymore,” Grant was recorded saying. “You don’t even invite me to the Super Bowl. What the fuck?”
As for the in-air prostitute who allegedly flew out with Rechnitz and Grant and the others the year before, she told law-enforcement agents that the group “took advantage of her services.” When Grant drove her home afterward, she said, he paid her just $1,500, less than a third of what she’d expected at the end of a grueling trip.
He apologized a bit, explaining that they’d bet on the San Francisco 49ers. “If our team had won, you would have made more,” she recalled him saying.
However badly the cops did, Rechnitz—De Blasio’s early and generous donor and then regular correspondent for a while—reportedly won $50,000 betting on the Ravens, nearly covering the $59,000 for the flight, not counting meals, comped rooms, or the cost of the various prostitutes. Chutzpah!
Those aren’t De Blasio’s sins, exactly, but the shame of it is that the mayor really seems to think that he deserves an orphan’s mercy (again, the polls appear to back him up here). The emails are “boring,” his press secretary said Saturday, and De Blasio spent the weekend trying to produce big news (he issued a new call for a millionaire’s tax, which was a political winner for him in his first run for mayor, even as he failed to get it once in office) to bury them.
There’s every reason to expect more chutzpah to come in a second term from people willing to throw their dollars behind his agenda and whom he’s then willing to call “friends” and “men of integrity.”