A former top city police official whom the feds have identified as an unindicted co-conspirator in the NYPD bribery scandal spoke out for the first time Monday, denying that he took payoffs from two ex-fundraisers for Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“When friends ask me about this case and say, ‘Did the police commit a crime?’ I say to them that I can only answer for one person — Myself. And the answer is NO,” ex-Chief of Department Philip Banks wrote on the NYPD Confidential website.
The guest column marked the first public statements from Banks since former NYPD Deputy Inspector James Grant and Jeremy Reichberg went on trial in November in a corruption scam.
Banks’ name has been repeatedly mentioned during the trial — which is currently in jury deliberations — but he was never called to the witness stand after his lawyer said he would plead the Fifth.
In a column titled “Phil Banks Speaks for Himself,” he refers to himself in the third person in response to being called “Dumb and dumber” by NYPD Confidential writer Leonard Levitt.
The insult stemmed from Banks’ decision to pose in uniform for a photo with Reichberg and fellow de Blasio donor-turned-cooperating witness Jona Rechnitz during a 2013 trip to Jerusalem’s Western Wall.
“I believe the following in addition could have been introduced,” Banks wrote. “That Banks received a briefing from the NYPD’s intelligence division prior to going, that he conferred with the NYPD detective stationed in Israel upon arrival, that he met with the head of the Israeli Army, a ranking member of their Air Force, and had a two-hour meeting with the former head of the Masoud as well as speaking with Palestinian and Jewish settlers in the West Bank,” he added, misspelling Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency.
“This was in addition to granting an interview for a local newspaper. Not the typical actions for someone receiving a bribe. Was it dumb to appear in uniform or was it the action of someone who was not hiding anything.”
In a similar vein, Banks said Rechnitz’s decision to hire a photographer and bring his son to a $25,000 suite at MetLife Stadium for a 2014 Patriots vs. Jets game belied Rechnitz’s claim that Banks tried to pay off cops by inviting them.
Rechnitz, who spent nine days on the witness stand, testified that Banks turned down his invitation because it wasn’t exclusive to his “inner circle” — but still sent his father and brother.
Banks wrote that Rechnitz failed in his first attempt to become a government snitch and suggested he had to “fine-tune his story” before cutting a deal with the feds.
He also claimed that Rechnitz had cleared him of wrongdoing by testifying that “Banks was very careful not to bend the rules within the NYPD as favors to us.”
“Those were his words, not mine,” Banks wrote.
An NYPD source confirmed Banks’ claims about being briefed before his Israel trip and meeting with an NYPD detective there.
Rechnitz’s lawyer, Alan Levine, declined to comment.
Additional reporting by Tina Moore