Eric Adams Picks Philip Banks as Deputy Mayor, Despite Ethics Concerns

Eric Adams Picks Philip Banks as Deputy Mayor, Despite Ethics Concerns 1

Philip Banks III, who resigned from the Police Department while under federal investigation, announced his own appointment in a newspaper opinion piece.

As Mayor Eric Adams unveiled top members of his new administration in one splashy news conference after another in recent weeks, one expected move did not come: the naming of a controversial former top police chief as the deputy mayor for public safety.

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

Mr. Banks’s appointment had been delayed amid concerns about 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 a wide-ranging corruption investigation that resulted in several convictions, including that of a Police Department chief who served as his top aide.

When he left the force, Mr. Banks had been chief of department, the highest-ranking uniformed position, and was about to become first deputy to William J. Bratton, then the incoming police commissioner.

The method of the announcement came in sharp contrast to Mr. Adams’s efforts to showcase the selection of his five other deputy mayors, all women: On Dec. 20, he held a news conference at 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 a bit of a family affair. Mr. Banks’s brother, David C. Banks, is the mayor’s new schools chancellor; Sheena Wright, the chancellor’s partner, is deputy mayor for strategic operations.

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

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

The formal announcement of Mr. Banks’s hiring was made in a news release nearly eight hours after he had sought in the opinion piece to quell criticism of his behavior, denying any ethical wrongdoing.

Mr. Banks dismissed concerns about the corruption investigation, and said that the inquiry — which centered on whether Mr. Banks and other high-ranking police officials had abused their positions by taking official actions in exchange for personal benefits — was not the reason he resigned.

“The central theme of the reports about my involvement in the corruption scheme was that I was party to it; that I traded favors as a senior N.Y.P.D. official for some form of compensation,” Mr. Banks wrote in the piece. “That is 100 percent false.”

Mr. Banks added that he retired because he and the new commissioner — he did not mention Mr. Bratton by name — did not agree on the parameters of his role.

He did not address testimony that he had accepted expensive travel and other gifts while he was a high-ranking police official. New York Police Department rules bar members from accepting more than small “tokens of appreciation” for their service; Mr. Banks’s conduct could have led to departmental charges and likely his dismissal or a demotion.

Eric Adams, a retired police captain, made public safety the linchpin of his successful campaign for mayor. 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 administration deliver the safety we need and the justice we deserve.”

Asked why Mr. Banks had been allowed to announce his own appointment, Stefan Ringel, a spokesman for Mr. Adams, said, “We do things in a different way.”

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

Bernard Adams helped organize his brother’s protective detail during the mayoral transition, interviewing detectives about providing security for the mayor-elect, the person briefed on the matter said. It was unclear if his involvement with 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 per year, and deputy commissioners make more than $200,000 per year.

In recent days, Mr. Banks has supervised changes at the Police Department and other criminal justice agencies from an office in 1 Police Plaza. He has been a regular presence on the 14th floor, which houses the offices of Ms. Sewell and the new first deputy commissioner, Edward Caban, according to several people with knowledge of the matter.

On Thursday, the people said, Mr. Banks personally notified several senior department officials that they would be replaced. They included the deputy commissioner of the Internal Affairs Bureau, Joseph Reznick, who helped oversee the corruption investigation of Mr. Banks in 2014. The inquiry was conducted by a specialized squad of Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and police investigators that handles cases involving public and police officials.

Mr. Banks’s involvement in the removal of Deputy Commissioner Reznick was first reported by The News.

Mayor Adams did not address Mr. Banks’s appointment during a morning news conference about the weather on Staten Island or in a subsequent radio interview.

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

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

Anticipating criticism, the Adams administration provided quotes from the Rev. Al Sharpton and Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP New York State Conference, praising Mr. Banks’s 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 gathered by the F.B.I., Mr. Banks accepted high-priced meals, tickets to sports events and foreign and domestic travel from two businessmen, Jona Rechnitz and Jeremy Reichberg, who were trying to corrupt police officials in order to obtain favors for their associates, such as police escorts, special parking privileges and the like.

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

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

“I realize now that even the appearance of our friendship was damaging 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’s travel-related expenses on two trips to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, including prostitutes for those present, according to evidence gathered in the case, and testimony and F.B.I. interviews of Mr. Rechnitz. Mr. Banks, who is married, strongly denies involvement with the prostitutes, a representative has said.

Mr. Rechnitz told authorities he paid for Mr. Banks to travel to Los Angeles, to drive in a rented Porsche, to receive a foot massage, to upgrade from coach to first class on a flight to Israel, and to engage in tourist activities there such as a helicopter ride.

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

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

As chief, Mr. Banks did help the men in some fashion. He gave Mr. Rechnitz a “gold card” from the department — intended for officers’ family members — to use if he ever got into trouble with the police, according to Mr. Rechnitz, who also testified that Mr. Banks once allowed him to store a bag of diamonds in his office safe at Police Headquarters.

Mr. Banks also intervened when Mr. Rechnitz and Mr. Reichberg sought a promotion for James Grant, a former deputy inspector on whom they bestowed gifts and who gave them favors.

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

Then the chief himself got on the phone, Mr. Rechnitz said, recalling what Mr. Banks had told Mr. Grant.

“I promoted you so that they stop bothering me and asking me to get you promoted,” Mr. Banks said.

Jumaane Williams, the city’s public advocate who is running for governor, said that the accusations against Mr. Banks were troubling, but described the new deputy mayor as someone who understood the need to “broaden the idea of public safety.” The hiring of Mr. Adams’s brother also concerned him.

“From 30,000 feet, when you put all this stuff together, you maybe ask why,” he said.