4 former Finest suing, say they were forced to retire in bribe scandal to protect mayor and ex-police commish
Mayor de Blasio is catching flak from, clockwise from upper left, ex-Deputy Chiefs Andrew Capul, Eric Rodriguez and David Colon and former Inspector Peter DeBlasio. They were booted from the Police Department in 2016 after being linked to a bribes-for-favors scandal. (Barry Williams/for New York Daily News )
by Stephen Rex Brown New York Daily News
Four high-ranking NYPD cops are suing the city, claiming they were scapegoats forced into retirement to protect Mayor de Blasio and former Police Commissioner Bill Bratton from a federal bribery investigation and denied due process.
Former Inspector Peter DeBlasio and ex-Deputy Chiefs Andrew Capul, David Colon and Eric Rodriguez were booted from the department in 2016 after being linked to a bribes-for-favors scandal revolving around mayoral donors Jona Rechnitz and Jeremy Reichberg.
“At the end of the day, you always need sacrificial lambs. But we don’t know why. Why us?” Capul told the Daily News. “That job we love so much — they took it away from us. We want someone to step up and tell us why.”
“The Police Department would not tell us what we allegedly did wrong,” Capul said.
The four cops with nearly 120 years of combined experience were mentioned in testimony and court documents but never charged. Their lawsuit will be filed in Manhattan Federal Court on Monday.
In April, they and former Deputy Chief John Sprague settled a grievance with the city Office of Labor Relations after an arbitrator found they had been “ blackmailed ” out of their jobs. A source told The News the settlement from the city was in excess of $1 million.
In a nearly two-month trial, Rechnitz testified that he and Reichberg received special treatment from City Hall after donating more than $100,000 to de Blasio’s favorite causes. They showered cops with fancy meals, gifts and vacations in exchange for official favors that made them look like big shots, Rechnitz said.
The investigation resulted in two years’ probation for former Deputy Chief Michael Harrington, who copped to misusing police resources as favors for Reichberg and Rechnitz. Ex-Deputy Inspector James “Jimmy” Grant was acquitted at trial of taking bribes. Rechnitz testified for the government and is awaiting sentencing. Reichberg will be sentenced Monday for bribing police officers .
“Because the allegations led to the highest-ranking NYPD officials, and perhaps directly to the mayor, who the NYPD was trying to protect, the NYPD believed it needed to take immediate action, at least for public relations purposes,” the new lawsuit charges.
“Because the corruption allegations reached the mayor’s office, the mayor, the city and NYPD top leaders, such as the commissioner and Chief (Philip) Banks, they had an interest in insulating themselves from the allegations. … Accordingly, the NYPD implicated ‘expendable’ deputy chiefs and inspectors — career police officials with impeccable records — while protecting politically tied officers from implication in the corruption.”
The lawsuit seeks damages to be determined at trial, including reinstating the men to their jobs.
“These four officers’ lives have been changed forever by the city’s unlawful actions, and by the NYPD’s apparent need to find fall guys to cover up the vast ongoing corruption at the department’s highest levels,” the cops’ attorneys, Yale Pollack and Matthew Weinick, said in a statement.
Capul, Colon and Rodriguez were among the unindicted co-conspirators in the explosive case. Some of them received “friendship” trophies from Rechnitz and Reichberg during an Oct. 20, 2013, ceremony in a suite at MetLife Stadium for a Jets-Patriots game, which was raised at trial.
Colon said he doesn’t even like football and went to the game as part of his duties in community affairs. “How are we to know who is unsavory? That was our job — go meet people and make them feel good about the Police Department. Then this happens and no one is sticking up for us,” he said.
“If we had any idea what these gentlemen were involved with we never would have associated with them,” Capul added.
The lawsuit says the four ousted officers were victims of an arbitrary process orchestrated by Bratton to protect himself and de Blasio. Those with the right political connections survived the scandal while those who didn’t have those sorts of connections left the Police Department with blemished badges, the complaint charges.
They charge they were all deemed “fall guys” and forced into retirement in the summer of 2016 by Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters Lawrence Byrne, who was acting on Bratton’s orders.
“I was heartbroken, saddened, angry,” DeBlasio said, adding that his forced retirement devastated his wife, who was a committed participant at NYPD events.
Captains Endowment Association President Roy Richter told The News he was surprised to hear the men were suing, but declined to further comment. Bratton and Byrne, who are named as defendants in the lawsuit, did not return phone calls.
A police spokeswoman said the department believed the retirements were handled properly.
And City Hall said in a statement, “The mayor is not involved [in] NYPD personnel decisions at this level. Any belief to the contrary is wrong.”