Eric Adams picks Philip Banks as deputy mayor, despite ethical concerns

When Mayor Eric Adams revealed in one rousing press conference after other top members of his new administration in recent weeks, one expected move came true: the appointment of a controversial former top police chief as Deputy Mayor for Public Safety.

On Friday morning, the former chief, Philip Banks III, announced his own appointment as deputy mayor in an op-ed in The Daily News.

Mr. Banks’ appointment had been postponed amid concerns over whether his 2014 resignation from the New York Police Department while the subject of a federal corruption investigation would hamper his credibility and ability to perform the job. Mr Banks was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in an extensive corruption investigation that resulted in several convictions, including that of a police chief who acted as his top aide.

When he left the force, Mr. Banks had been the chief of division, the highest uniformed position, and was about to become William J. Bratton’s first deputy, then the new chief of police.

The method of the announcement was in stark contrast to Mr. Adams’ efforts to publicize the selection of his five other deputy mayors, all of them women: On December 20, he held a press conference in Brooklyn Borough Hall where the new appointees were present.

The selection of Mr. Banks, 59, also illustrated how serving in the Adams administration can be somewhat of a family affair. Mr. Banks’ brother, David C. Banks, is the mayor’s new chancellor; Sheena Wright, the Chancellor’s partner, is Deputy Mayor for Strategic Operations.

The circle widened Friday, when Mr. Adams’ brother, Bernard S. Adams, 56, was appointed deputy police commissioner. Mr. Adams retired as a sergeant for the New York Police Department in 2006; he has worked at Virginia Commonwealth University as an operations manager and parking administrator since 2008, according to his LinkedIn profile.

His responsibilities as deputy commissioner were not immediately clear, but a person briefed on the matter said he would be assigned to the office of Keechant Sewell, the mayor’s newly installed police commissioner.

The formal announcement of Mr Banks’ hiring was made in a press release nearly eight hours after he attempted to quell criticism of his conduct in the op-ed, denying any ethical violations.

Mr Banks dismissed concerns about the corruption investigation, saying the investigation – which focused on whether Mr Banks and other senior police officers had abused their position by taking official actions in return for personal benefits – was not the reason he resigned.

“The central theme of the messages about my involvement in the corruption settlement was that I was there; that I have traded favors as a senior NYPD official for some form of compensation,” wrote Mr. Banks in the piece. “That’s 100 percent incorrect.”

Mr Banks added that he was retiring because he and the new commissioner – he did not mention Mr Bratton by name – disagreed on the parameters of his position.

He declined to comment on taking expensive trips and other gifts when he was a senior police officer. New York Police Department rules prohibit members from accepting more than small “tokens of appreciation” for their service; The behavior of Mr. Banks could have resulted in department costs and likely his firing or relegation.

Eric Adams, a retired police captain, made public safety the linchpin of his successful mayoral campaign. In a statement, he said he needed “a partner in government who understands what it takes to keep New Yorkers safe.

“Phil Banks is that person and I am grateful for his continued public service in this new role to help our government provide the security we need and the justice we deserve.”

When asked why Mr. Banks should have announced his own appointment, Stefan Ringel, a spokesman for Mr. Adams, said: “We do things differently.”

No press conference was held Friday to introduce Mr. Banks, whose role will be to coordinate with “all public safety agencies to ensure they align with Mr. Adams’s vision,” the statement said. press release. The Adams government declined to make Mr. Banks available for an interview and made no announcements about Mr. Adams’ brother.

Bernard Adams helped organize his brother’s protective department during the mayoral transition, interviewing detectives about providing security for the elected mayor, the person briefed on the matter said. It was unclear whether his involvement in the detail would continue, and neither Bernard Adams nor a spokesman for the mayor responded to requests for comment.

Deputy mayors typically earn about $250,000 a year, and deputy commissioners earn more than $200,000 a year.

For the past few days, Mr Banks has been overseeing changes in the police and other criminal justice agencies from an office in 1 Police Plaza. He has regularly visited the 14th floor, which houses the offices of Mrs. Sewell and the new First Deputy Commissioner, Edward Caban, according to several knowledgeable people.

On Thursday, people said, Mr. Banks had personally notified several senior officials of the department that they would be replaced. Among them was Deputy Home Affairs Commissioner Joseph Reznick, who helped oversee Mr Banks’ corruption investigation in 2014. The investigation was conducted by a specialized team of Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and police investigators handling cases involving public and police officials.

The involvement of Mr. Banks in deputy commissioner Reznick’s impeachment was first reported by The News.

Mayor Adams did not comment on Mr. Banks’ nomination in a morning Staten Island weather press conference or in a subsequent radio interview.

John Kaehny, executive director of the good governance group Reinvent Albany, said Mr Banks’ announcement of his own appointment was “extremely unusual”.

“He was an unindicted co-conspirator in one of the biggest corruption scandals in New York City in the past 20 years, one that directly implied his role as head of the department,” Mr. Kaehny said. “It is commendable that Eric Adams wants to support his friends, and loyalty is a great virtue, but Eric Adams’ duty is to the public, not to Phil Banks.”

Anticipating criticism, the Adams administration quoted Rev. Al Sharpton and Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP New York State Conference, praising Mr. Banks’ appointment.

“Banks was not charged or convicted of anything,” Mr Sharpton said in an interview. “His expertise in public safety has not been questioned.”

According to evidence collected by the FBI, Mr. Banks accepted expensive meals, tickets to sporting events and foreign and domestic travel from two businessmen, Jona Rechnitz and Jeremy Reichberg, who attempted to corrupt police officers to obtain favors for their associates, such as police escorts, special parking rights and the like.

Mr Rechnitz cooperated with authorities, pleaded guilty to charges of criminal fraud and testified about his role in court. Mr Reichberg was convicted in 2019 of bribery and conspiracy.

In his Daily News column, Mr Banks said it was “a mistake” to deal with the two men.

“I now realize that even the appearance of our friendship was detrimental to my profession,” he wrote. Mr Banks declined to comment on his relationship with the men when reached by phone last month.

Mr. Rechnitz paid for Mr. Banks’ travel expenses on two trips to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, including prostitutes for those in attendance, according to evidence gathered in the case, and testimony and FBI interviews with Mr. Rechnitz. Mr Banks, who is married, strongly denies involvement with the prostitutes, a representative said.

Mr Rechnitz told authorities he had paid Mr Banks to travel to Los Angeles, drive a rented Porsche, get a foot massage, upgrade from coach to first class on a flight to Israel, and visit tourist attractions there. undertake activities. like a helicopter flight.

Mr. Rechnitz also said he was giving Mr. Banks an unearned gain on a $250,000 investment; Mr. Banks wrote in his column that he made the investment because he believed that Mr. Rechnitz was a legitimate businessman.

Federal prosecutors decided not to charge Mr. Banks because they concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove that he had personally used his position to do the businessmen favors, two people familiar with the investigation previously told The New York Times.

As a chef, Mr. Banks helped the men in one way or another. He gave Mr. Rechnitz a “gold card” from the department – intended for relatives of officers – to use if he ever came into contact with the police, according to Mr Rechnitz, who also testified that Mr. Banks once authorized him. given to stash a bag of diamonds in his office safe at the police station.

Mr. Banks also intervened when Mr. Rechnitz and Mr. Reichberg sought to promote James Grant, a former Deputy Superintendent to whom they presented gifts and favors.

Mr. Banks allowed the men to call Mr. Grant — who was later acquitted of bribery after he was tried alongside Mr. Reichberg — from the Grand Havana Room, a cigar bar in Manhattan, to inform him of his promotion, testified Mr Rechnitz. .

Then the chief himself answered the phone, said Mr. Rechnitz, remembering what Mr. Banks had said to Mr. Grant.

“I promoted you so they don’t bother me anymore and ask me to get you promoted,” said Mr. Banks.

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