For weeks, Philip Banks III has been Mayor-elect Eric Adams’ quarterback on criminal justice issues, helping define how the incoming administration will handle perhaps its most important task: addressing public safety in a fair and equitable manner.
Seven years after suddenly resigning as the highest-ranking uniformed member of the NYPD, Banks is now back at One Police Plaza — working out of an office there and talking with brass about the state of the department. He’s also taken part in the interviews of police commissioner candidates, multiple sources say.
He is said to be high on Adams’ list to be deputy mayor for public safety — an appointment that could come soon given the New York Post’s report Tuesday that the mayor-elect has anointed Keechant Sewell, Nassau County’s chief of detectives, as police commissioner. If tapped, Banks would join his brother David, whom Adams recently named schools chancellor, in the new administration.
But just a few years ago, Philip Banks found himself in a very different place — implicated in multiple criminal schemes involving money laundering, bribery and tax fraud.
FBI agents uncovered evidence that Banks, while NYPD’s chief of department, accepted thousands of dollars in free meals and sports tickets — even a $20,000 “gift” from a corrupt businessman seeking to bribe his way to favorable treatment from the police, prosecutors said.
The FBI concluded Banks was regularly depositing small amounts of cash from “unexplained” sources — deposits that totaled more than $300,000 and that Banks did not report to the IRS. The FBI also found Banks neglected to inform the taxman about years of rental income from properties he owns in Queens, records show.
Reached last week by THE CITY, Banks declined to answer any questions about his role in the formation of the incoming mayor’s criminal justice policies and referred all questions to Adams’ spokesperson, Evan Thies.
In response to THE CITY’s inquiry, Thies wrote, “Advisers to Eric are working out of a number of city government offices. That’s standard for the transition of one administration to another. I would also point out that Mr. Banks has never been charged with or even questioned about any crime.”
A Long Adams Link
Adams — a former NYPD officer who rose through the ranks to become a captain — has known Banks for years.
Like Adams, Banks climbed the ladder from patrol duty to become one of the few Black cops to reach the upper echelon of the NYPD. Banks was also a member of the NYC Council of Guardians, a fraternal group of Black cops, when Adams ran the group.
According to several sources on Adams’ transition team and in the NYPD, Banks has for weeks worked out of a sixth floor office at One Police Plaza. There he’s been interviewing members of NYPD’s leadership, getting a better idea of how the department functions seven years after he left.
He’s also heavily involved in vetting candidates for commissioner and attending all the interviews with finalists.
And he’s spent hours going over a wide array of issues, taking a holistic approach to criminal justice. He’s also held lengthy sit-downs with top officials running the Department of Corrections and members of the team handling broader policy issues in the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, the sources said.
Banks has a long history in the world of criminal justice, exclusively from within the NYPD. At different points in his 30-year career, he was an assistant chief in Manhattan North, the chief of community affairs, and ultimately chief of department, the highest-ranking uniformed member of the NYPD.
He was also deputy chief in Brooklyn South, where he “formed close relationships with community groups,” according to his Linkedin page.
Among the members of Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community Banks befriended were Jeremy Reichberg and Jona Rechnitz. It was that involvement that brought him to the attention of the FBI.
Reichberg was a community activist and businessman from Borough Park. Rechnitz was a wealthy Los Angeles-based developer seeking a foothold in New York. Both men thought they could buy their way into the centers of power in New York City.
Rechnitz ultimately pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges and cooperated with prosecutors in the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, detailing his tangled interactions with Banks, as well as his pay-to-play fundraising for Mayor Bill de Blasio. Reichberg was convicted of bribery at trial.
Meals, Tickets and More
Much of Banks’ alleged involvement in some of Rechnitz’s dealings emerges in a 2019 memo, written by federal prosecutor Martin Bell, detailing Rechnitz’s cooperation.
Bell wrote that Rechnitz and Reichberg “bribed high level members of the NYPD in exchange for police action as opportunities arose, a scheme that came to include the highest ranking uniformed officer in the department.” Bell was referring to Banks.
The prosecutor wrote that Banks received a “luxury tour through Israel” in 2014, thousands of dollars worth of “regular meals at high-end kosher steakhouses in Manhattan” and “expensive hockey and basketball tickets” — all paid for by Rechnitz and Reichberg.
In one instance, Bell wrote, “Rechnitz provided Banks with what amounted to a $20,000 gift disguised as a successful ‘investment on his behalf.’” Prosecutors say Rechnitz claimed the money was “interest” paid on that investment.
Banks’ name also surfaced in affidavits the FBI submitted in 2014 to win approval for wiretaps in an ongoing investigation of a Harlem businessman named Hamlet Peralta. Informants had told the FBI Peralta was selling stolen or untaxed booze.
In the affidavits FBI allege that some of Banks’ money wound up funding Peralta, but via a circuitous route.
Citing Banks’ account records at Chase and surveillance of him at ATMs, the agents alleged that he regularly deposited small amounts of cash from “unexplained sources” into his personal accounts throughout 2013 and 2014, the affidavits state. The cash amounted to more than $300,000.
An FBI agent labeled his regimen of deposits as money laundering, describing Banks’ habit of making two simultaneous deposits into separate accounts on each visit. The deposits were relatively small, usually several hundred dollars. But there were lots of them over two years, from 2013 into 2014, the FBI found.
“The investigation has not uncovered any legitimate source for this income in Banks or his spouse’s accounts,” one federal agent wrote. “When numerous small cash deposits are made into a bank account it is impossible to tell the source of the money, so making such deposits is one way individuals wishing to conceal the illegal source of funds accomplish that goal.”
The FBI found that some of Banks’ money wound up financing Peralta’s liquor business via Rechnitz, who was at the time supplying the Harlem businessman with money with the promise of big profits.
At one point, the FBI discovered that Banks had provided Rechnitz with $180,000 through a shell company Rechnitz created called JSR Capital LLC. Rechnitz’s firm, in turn, steered hundreds of thousands of dollars to Peralta and his liquor business on 125th Street, according to the FBI affidavits.
“The volume and pattern of [Banks’] deposits — together with the wire transfers to JSR Capital LLC which in turn funds Peralta and West 125th Street Liquors — is indicative of the subject offense of money laundering,” the agents alleged.
A Sudden Resignation
On top of all this, the IRS launched a parallel investigation into Banks’ filings to determine whether he was committing tax fraud, according to one of the FBI affidavits.
Investigators determined he hadn’t reported any of the $300,000 in cash deposits or another $245,000 in rental income he and his wife collected on two Queens properties between 2007 through 2013, the affidavit stated.
Rechnitz, meanwhile, was Banks’ biggest cheerleader with de Blasio. Rechnitz had ingratiated himself after raising funds for the mayor’s 2013 campaign, and de Blasio gave him his personal email.
After de Blasio won, Rechnitz began emailing the mayor-elect, suggesting Banks would be an ideal police commissioner, according to emails that were later made public.
In one February 2014 email shortly after de Blasio arrived at City Hall, Rechnitz emailed him asking if he’d join him in his courtside seats at a Knicks game. De Blasio declined, but thanked Rechnitz profusely and added, “It has been an absolute pleasure getting to work regularly with Chief Banks. His future is bright.”
De Blasio ultimately chose Bill Bratton as his first police commissioner. By the fall of 2014 Bratton offered to promote Banks to the No. 2 spot in the department, first deputy chief. On the morning of Oct. 31, 2014, however, Banks suddenly resigned from the department.
Unbeknownst to de Blasio and Bratton, the day before Banks quit, a judge signed a court order allowing the FBI to begin monitoring the cellphones of several targets of the investigation, including Rechnitz.
Bratton later said of Banks’ resignation as “something that I regret,” labeling it a “setback” to his plans for reforming the department.
Three days after Banks resigned, Rechnitz emailed de Blasio again, this time begging him to keep the chief on. Under the subject line “Please help please please,” Rechnitz wrote, “What can we do for you to refuse Banks resignation and get him back in and for Bratton to see past Phil’s monstrous mistake?”
There is no record of a response to that email from de Blasio. But Bell noted that a few weeks after Banks resigned, Rechnitz and Reichberg were secretly recorded on wiretapped phones “lamenting that they did not get even more for their investment in Banks” and another top cop who was later convicted of illegally misusing police resources, Michael Harrington.
Plea Deals Yield Info
Rechnitz later began cooperating with the U.S. attorney, who expanded his investigation to include accusations that de Blasio solicited donations to a non-profit he controlled called Campaign for One New York from entities doing business with City Hall.
After agreeing to cooperate, Rechnitz detailed how he’d made major donations to de Blasio’s causes, in exchange for having direct access to the mayor. Multiple emails between de Blasio and Rechnitz later surfaced, with the mayor directing his minions to respond to the donor’s many requests.
In 2019, Rechnitz pleaded guilty to a bribery-related charge and was sentenced to five months in prison and five months of home confinement after prosecutors urged the judge to be lenient due to his cooperation.
Reichberg was convicted of bribery at trial and sentenced to four years in prison. He was released two years early on medical furlough. Peralta was convicted of wire fraud after prosecutors charged him with operating a Ponzi scheme through his liquor business. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
Banks was never charged and went on to form a private security company, CitySafe Partnership LLC.
In his Linkedin profile, Banks boasts of an “extensive executive level security and law enforcement experience spanning a twenty-eight year career culminating in the highest-ranking uniformed position in the New York City Police Department.”
He makes no mention of Reichberg or Rechnitz.