The Mayor, the Rat, & the NYPD

The Christmas season in New York City truly is a wonderful time. Everyone seems caught up in the spirit of giving, even the crooks. This year, Christmas brought a special gift: the denouement of the long-running saga of the mayor, the rat, and the NYPD.

Once, in an only-in-New-York moment, the rat and a key co-conspirator, both Orthodox Jews, dressed as Santa’s elves and delivered pricey gifts to police officials at the center of a corruption scheme. Then there was the time they flew an NYPD deputy inspector and a detective to Vegas in a private jet with a hooker for Super Bowl weekend. And the time the rat shoved $60,000 in a Ferragamo handbag to pay off a union boss. They showered cash on public officials. They bought their police friends jewelry, cigars, and meals at pricey restaurants. They paid for trips to Rome and Israel and the Dominican Republic.

In return, the NYPD did favors for the rat, Jona Rechnitz, and co-conspirator Jeremy Reichberg. In a midtown office, the New York Times reported, Rechnitz and Reichberg met with “people seeking help with police matters.” The men would later “split the profits” after the problems were resolved. Tickets were fixed, jury duty was avoided, problems with business rivals and city officials went away. Reichberg got a license to carry a gun. Rechnitz was provided with high-speed police escorts to the airport. Police closed a lane in the Lincoln Tunnel to whisk a Rechnitz business associate into Manhattan.

Cash was bestowed on Bill de Blasio’s political campaigns–a lot of it. “Love you brother,” wrote de Blasio in an email to Rechnitz the day after his 2014 inauguration as mayor. And why not? Rechnitz himself had been showing de Blasio a lot of love, bundling more than $41,000 for the mayor’s campaign. And there was a lot more to come. The New York Post reports that Rechnitz and his allies raised upward of $250,000 for entities linked to de Blasio.

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So Long 2018, an Alarming Year in Many Ways, Particularly for the Jews

And so 2018 passes into the history books. It’s been an alarming year in many ways, including for the Jewish people.

Pressure is mounting on the Jews from without and within, warns Adam Milstein in the Jerusalem Post. The Pittsburgh massacre was just the latest in a series of attacks coming “not only from the radical right but also from the radical left, and from radical Muslims.” Some of these attacks have come from within the Jewish community itself, Milstein notes.

What is to be done? Well, to start, sunlight is a good disinfectant.

And silence is not an option.

Read Milstein here:

Best wishes for the new year,


Swamp Rules, Part II: New York’s LLC Loophole

Last week, we looked at federal efforts to combat money laundering by changing “beneficial owner” laws for various types of legal shell companies, including limited liability companies, LLCs. New York LLCs have the same transparency problems as other states–the true owners, the “beneficial owners,” are hidden behind corporate curtains.

But New York’s campaign-finance laws put a different spin on the LLC shell game, enabling millions in masked donations to pour into state races. The chief beneficiary of LLC donations? New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Irony is a stranger to the governor. He has repeatedly called on the state legislature to close the LLC loophole, but has taken in more than $17 million in LLC donations since becoming governor.

Cuomo has relied on New York’s Republican-controlled Senate to block any real reform. But that changed in November, when Democrats seized control of both houses of the state legislature.

With corruption a rising concern for New York voters, Albany’s LLC loophole is getting renewed attention. Will Cuomo keep his word and close it? Or will the prospect of giving up all that money cause lawmakers’ hearts to grow faint?

Here’s how it works: in New York, an LLC is treated as a person, not a corporation. Corporate political donations are capped at $5,000 per year. But a person can donate up to $65,000 per year to every candidate for statewide office.

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Swamp Rules: Cui Bono?

Old swamps are the best swamps. Cui bono? famously asked the Roman consul Lucius Cassius, who benefits? Cassius knew a few things about swamps. He cleaned up Rome, instituted election reform, and even served as a special prosecutor. Cui bono has been a touchstone of criminal investigations for two thousand years.

Today, as in Cassius’s time, swamp benefits are matters of money and power. The stakes are enormous. The Treasury Department estimates that $300 billion in illegal cash washes through the U.S. financial system every year. Dirty money is hidden behind legal corporate structures such as shell companies, shelf companies, and limited liability entities. Congress has been trying to fix the problem for years.

There’s an “increasing flow of illegal money through our financial system,” Senator Chuck Grassley warned Congress earlier this year. “The lifeblood of criminal enterprises all over the world is their revenue. Money fuels terrorists, transnational criminal organizations, narco-terrorists and kleptocrats to grow, increase their power, and gain more influence.”

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Amazon HQ2: Magnet for Corruption, Creative Destruction

The Amazon HQ2 sweepstakes is over and the winner is Queens, New York. And some place in Virginia called National Landing. And Nashville, Tennessee.

New York and Virginia will split Amazon’s second headquarters, while Nashville gets a consolation prize operations center. The Amazon move cements Queens’ status as an icon of the new New York — dynamic, diverse, economically upward, technologically savvy, and largely low-crime. Forget about Brooklyn. The future is Queens.

But that future is about to get a massive stress test.

Deals like HQ2 are a magnet for corruption. Amazon claims the new Long Island City site will create 25,000 jobs with an average wage of more than $150,000 per year. Ditto Virginia. In exchange for this fairy tale, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio ponied up more than $1.5 billion in tax breaks and grants to be overseen by Albany’s famously corrupt political culture. The state will seize control of the land. Amazon’s construction costs will be reimbursed. Jeff Bezos gets federal tax breaks for “distressed” property, a helipad, and a partridge in a pear tree. Instead of property taxes paid to the city, Amazon says it will contribute to an “Infrastructure Fund” for local improvements “developed through input from residents during the planning process.”  Watch for Amazon-aligned groups to magically appear to game this process. Watch for Albany-aligned special interests to start putting their hands in the pie.

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The Murder Curtain

Are Veterans Administration hospitals the perfect hunting ground for serial killers? That’s one of the provocative suggestions in former VA special investigator Bruce Sackman’s new book, “Behind the Murder Curtain.”

Sackman was the special agent in charge of the VA’s Criminal Investigation Division’s Northeast Field Office, chasing crime from West Virginia to Maine. A maverick, he bucked the system and brought two prolific serial killers—Michael Swango and Kristen Gilbert—to justice. Both murdered veterans at VA hospitals.

“There have been plenty of hospital serial killers in the private sector throughout history,” Sackman writes. “But it sticks in my mind that a VA medical center is a perfect hunting ground. The VA facilities are filled with long-term care patients with serious debilitating illnesses,” making them easy marks for medical serial killers. Often, patients are isolated and vulnerable, with visits from family members few and far between.

“Behind the Murder Curtain,” co-authored with Michael Vecchione and Jerry Schmetterer, unfolds like a police procedural, taking us through the Swango and Gilbert cases. The authors make quick stops at other cases and offer a smart program for spotting trouble.
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Voting on Three Important Ballot Proposals in New York City Tomorrow

New York City has three important ballot measures before the voters tomorrow. Flip your ballot over: the proposals are on the back. Essentially, the three proposals are all about the same thing: the fight against corruption through further democratization of the system. Here are my recommendations. (These are my personal endorsements and have no relation to my employer, Judicial Watch.)

Ballot Proposal 1: Vote Yes.

These revisions to New York’s campaign finance system would weaken the power of large donors and special interests and help deter corrupt practices. The proposal boosts the power of small donors, increases matching funds, and creates better chances for a more diverse slate of candidates. For more information:

Ballot Proposal 2: Vote No

The proposed Civic Engagement Commission would give City Hall more influence over discretionary funds and community organizations, cutting into the influence of the City Council. It’s a naked power grab by the mayor and should be rejected. More information:

Ballot Proposal 3: Vote Yes

The proposal would impose term limits on community board members. Members would be limited to four consecutive two-year terms. This important measure further democratizes New York’s community boards, which often are dominated by members beholden to local power brokers. As de Tocqueville noted, the spirit of association is the mother science of American democracy. Proposal 3 breathes new life into community associations. More information:

Judicial Watch & the Fight Against Corruption in New York

Judicial Watch & the Fight Against Corruption in New York

On October 4, I had the pleasure of speaking to the Queens Village Republican Club about Judicial Watch’s fight against corruption in New York. We’ve been fielding requests for copies of the speech ever since, so we’re reprinting an edited version here:

Judicial Watch takes a lot of heat in the public arena, but in fact we are not a partisan group. Our mission is public education. We educate through investigations, litigation, journalism and public outreach. Increasingly, our public education efforts include the rapidly expanding world of social media.

We use national and state transparency laws to fight corruption and malfeasance in public office. Our weapon of choice is the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA. We lead the nation—including all the major news organizations—in filing and litigating freedom of information actions. These are powerful tools for holding public officials accountable.

New York is the financial and media capital of the world and deserves special attention in the fight against corruption. New Yorkers take corruption seriously. Poll after poll shows that corruption ranks among the top concerns of New Yorkers.

For instance, in a July 2018 Zogby poll, New Yorkers ranked corruption concerns second, after high taxes.

That same month, a Quinnipiac poll showed that 45% percent of New Yorkers ranked corruption as a “very serious” concern.

In 2015, in a Sienna College poll, 92% of New Yorkers ranked corruption as a “serious issue.”

Corruption has a long history in New York. It includes the notorious Tammany Hall, a corrupt political machine that dominated city politics for more than a century. Judicial Watch has raised questions about whether the city has entered an era of a new, more sophisticated Tammany Hall, with sketchy financing from international players, power brokers in Albany ruling with an iron fist, and influential non-profit entities like the Clinton Foundation making an end run around the law.

With a new generation of corrupt enterprises, new challengers have begun to emerge as well.

But who are the corruption fighters of tomorrow and how will they do?

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A Plan to Keep Schools Safe

It’s September and New York City’s 1.1 million school kids are back to class and Randy Jurgensen is back to worrying about them getting killed.

A Korean War veteran and former New York City homicide detective, Jurgensen has seen a lot of shooting deaths. He investigated over 200 murders during his twenty years as a detective, including the killings of children, police officers and civilians. After that, he was a consultant to national and international police organizations. Jurgensen is a famous figure in law-enforcement. Investigative Bulletin has written about his pursuit of justice in the murder of NYPD Patrolman Phillip Cardillo—the so-called “Harlem Mosque Incident.”

A grandfather many times over, Jurgensen is obsessed with school shootings. He says that experience has taught him that “two things matter most in preventing shootings: training and information.”

He’s had a plan to make schools safer. In the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School cataclysm, he wrote Vice President Joe Biden with the plan. Biden had been appointed by the president to lead a gun-violence task force. Jurgensen pointed out that across the country, dozens of law-enforcement personnel retire every day. These highly-trained professionals have been vetted their entire careers, retire with pensions and health insurance, and are licensed to carry firearms. He recommended that retired law-enforcement professionals be hired to help protect school kids.

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The EB-5 Swamp, Con’t

Congress gets another shot at killing that swampiest of swamp creatures, the EB-5 visa program, at the end of September. EB-5 is a cash-for-visas program beloved of Democrats and Republicans, real estate developers, and a not insignificant number of crooks and hustlers. Cause of Action has been documenting mounting EB-5 scams at a new website. It’s an eye-opener.

Under EB-5, foreigners—mainly Chinese citizens—get a green card and a path to citizenship by paying $500,000 into the program, the money designated for job creation in economically distressed “targeted unemployment areas” in the U.S. The payments are brokered by politically connected EB-5 Regional Centers, which often rake off hefty fees.

As for those targeted unemployment areas? Critics charge that they are often nothing more than elaborately gerrymandered maps drawn from census tracts to create fictional qualifying districts.

The program is a magnet for fraud. Estimates vary, but the best guess is that around $15 billion in EB-5 cash has come into the country in the last decade. Part of the problem is that EB-5 is so loosely regulated, it’s difficult to follow the money. Real estate developers love EB-5’s lax guidelines and easy financing opportunities.

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