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A police commander was found not guilty of federal bribery charges on Wednesday after a seven-week trial in which prosecutors contended he had done favors for two businessmen in return for lavish gifts, including a junket to Las Vegas with a prostitute.
The jury in Federal District Court in Manhattan found James Grant, a former New York City deputy inspector, not guilty on all charges, but still decided to convict one of the businessmen, Jeremy Reichberg, on several other bribery and conspiracy charges. The jury found Mr. Reichberg not guilty on one count — that he had paid bribes to Mr. Grant.
The case had cast a shadow over the Police Department and had even tarnished the reputation of the mayor, Bill de Blasio, though he was not accused of wrongdoing.
The verdict appeared to reflect the higher bar the United States Supreme Court has set for public corruption cases with its 2016 ruling that reversed the bribery conviction of the former Virginia governor, Bob McDonnell. In that ruling, the court determined that making introductions or setting up meetings, even in exchange for gifts or financial benefits, did not constitute a crime.
Over nearly seven weeks, federal prosecutors presented evidence — witnesses, wiretaps, and text and email messages — that they said documented years of corruption “big and small” in which high-ranking police officials provided favors to Mr. Reichberg and a second businessman, Jona S. Rechnitz. In return, prosecutors said, the officers received lavish gifts, all-expenses-paid trips on private jets, dinners and access to prostitutes.
“The favors happened because of the gifts,” Kimberly J. Ravener, a federal prosecutor, told jurors. “They weren’t part of a special, unique friendship. They were part of a worn playbook.”
But the defense maintained that there was nothing criminal about the friendship between Mr. Grant, 45, and Mr. Reichberg, 44. Showing photos of the two men at a dining table inside Mr. Reichberg’s home, Susan R. Necheles, Mr. Reichberg’s lawyer, told jurors in her closing remarks: “We ask for help from our friends, and they ask for help from us. In life, it’s called friendship.”
Mr. Grant’s lawyer, John Meringolo, said his client and Mr. Reichberg had met in Borough Park — a predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn — more than a decade ago. Mr. Grant’s rise through the ranks, Mr. Meringolo told jurors, was the result of hard work. “We know bad cops,’’ he said in his closing argument. “That is not a bad cop.”
Part of the government’s case relied on testimony from Mr. Rechnitz, the wealthy son of a real estate developer who pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud as part of the investigation that led to charges against the two defendants.
Mr. Rechnitz was also a witness at the federal corruption trial of Norman Seabrook, the once powerful leader of the correction officers’ union. He testified that he had a close relationship with Mr. de Blasio and that the mayor had accepted large donations from Mr. Rechnitz and Mr. Reichberg.
At the trial of Mr. Grant and Mr. Reichberg, both sides agreed that Mr. Rechnitz had a history of lying and had long pretended to be someone he was not to cultivate relationships with Mr. Reichberg and others who he believed could make him appear important. Defense lawyers argued that Mr. Rechnitz was testifying because he was seeking a lighter sentence.
Prosecutors said Mr. Reichberg was a “fix-it guy” who used his relationships in the Police Department to help people with arrests and moving violations for a fee.
But Mr. Reichberg also used his connections for his own benefit, prosecutors said, describing how he arranged a police escort to a nail salon for a nurse he was romantically interested in and, on another occasion, he was taken to a barbecue by a police boat.
“Citizens can’t get official action like this for no reason,” Ms. Ravener said.
During the trial, Mr. Rechnitz described himself as the “money man” who paid for expensive gifts and trips at Mr. Reichberg’s direction. He said Mr. Reichberg told him that they were indebted to Mr. Grant for all he had done for them.
Mr. Rechnitz said he spent nearly $59,000 on a private jet to fly Mr. Grant and others to Las Vegas during Super Bowl weekend in 2013. Mr. Reichberg recruited a prostitute to be part of the trip.
Mr. Grant and the prostitute, Gabriella Curtis, shared a room, and Ms. Curtis testified that she had sex with him. In an interview, Ms. Curtis said she felt like she had been chosen for Mr. Grant. “It was like it was planned, but no one told me,” she said.
On Christmas Day of that year, Mr. Reichberg and Mr. Rechnitz dressed as Santa to deliver gifts to high-ranking police officials, including Mr. Grant, who got diamond earrings for his wife and toys for his children. Mr. Rechnitz testified that he also paid for Mr. Grant and his wife’s stay at a luxury hotel in Rome, meals at upscale restaurants and upgrades to his home.
In return, prosecutors said, Mr. Grant would escort Mr. Rechnitz to the airport using lights and sirens, and provided special access to events. He also used his connections to expedite a gun license for Mr. Reichberg. Mr. Reichberg had submitted bogus and incomplete documents to obtain the license, but officers did not check the paperwork after learning that Mr. Reichberg was “Jimmy’s guy.”
Martin Bell, the lead prosecutor remixed a theme song from the television show “The Golden Girls,” noting that Mr. Reichberg and Mr. Grant’s relationship “wasn’t a Golden Girls friendship. All of the financial benefits went one way and the favors went another.”
Much of the trial featured testimony about a number of co-conspirators, including top police officials, several of whom were not charged.
Mr. Rechnitz had testified that he and Mr. Reichberg had courted Philip Banks III, a former chief of the department who was the highest ranked uniform officer. They showered him with gifts and took him on several trips, including to Israel.
But Mr. Banks’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said Mr. Banks “did zero for anybody that was even remotely corrupt.”
Mr. Banks was not charged with a crime. He resigned in 2014, citing professional reasons for his departure.
Mr. Rechnitz said another official, Stephen McAllister, a former police inspector who is now the commissioner of the Floral Park Police Department on Long Island, had used his connections in other police departments to close a lane in the Lincoln Tunnel to make the drive easier for a diamond dealer. Mr. McAllister was not accused of wrongdoing.
Prosecutors presented evidence suggesting that Mr. Reichberg’s interactions with another official, Michael Harrington, a former deputy police chief, had resulted in the promotion of several officers. Prosecutors said Mr. Harrington had accepted gifts from the men and in return had, among other things, arranged the police boat ride to the barbecue.
In March, Mr. Harrington pleaded guilty to dispatching police resources without permission and was sentenced to two years of probation.
Reporter Emily Palmer contributed to this report.
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