We’re not going to be breaking down Philip “Uncle Phil” Banks from Will Smith’s 90’s sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. That Philip Banks – when he wasn’t throwing Jazzy Jeff out of the front door – was a fictional character played by the late James Avery who seemed to do things by the book. He was a judge and, by the standards that NBC wanted us to believe, that meant he was a man of integrity.
No, the Philip Banks we’ll be examining is in real life formerly the highest ranking uniformed cop in the NYPD and now the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety to Mayor Eric Adams. Oh, and Banks was also an unindicted “co-conspirator” and almost-felon as part of the biggest police corruption scandal the department has seen in a generation.
To get a sense of Banks, you can go back nine years to see how close he came to being the commissioner of the police department. In late 2013, it was reported that Banks, then the Chief of Department, was in the running for top cop under the incoming administration of Bill de Blasio. Alas, it appeared that Banks, a 28-year veteran cop who rose through the ranks, was stepped over for the job by Bill Bratton – the iron-fisted former commissioner who left positions in media and corporate boardrooms to reclaim the title he’d held under Rudy Giuliani.
Banks was offered the #2 spot at the department, the First Deputy Commissioner. He resigned instead.
Reports flew that Banks was favored by local politicians and by the mayor’s wife, Chirlane McCray, who was said to have been upset when he wasn’t picked. Banks himself told Politico in 2014 that he decided to leave because the First Deputy Commissioner role (largely a ceremonial, civilian position) “would take me away from where I could make the greatest contribution: the police work and operations that I love so much.”
As it turned out, Banks left because the FBI was investigating him as well as the former head of the correctional officer’s union, Norman Seabrook. At the time, Seabrook was being bribed by a pair of Orthodox Jewish businessmen from Brooklyn, Jonah Rechnitz and Jeremy Reichberg. They were lavishing “gifts” upon Banks too. From expensive seats to Brooklyn Nets games, to a ring that used to belong to Banks’ hero Muhammad Ali, to all-expense trips to Israel and the Dominican Republic, Banks was having his back scratched and in turn was being very accommodating with his friends.
The day after Eric Garner was murdered in a chokehold by Staten Island cop Daniel Pantaleo, Banks was in Los Angeles partying with Seabrook and Rechnitz.
Rechnitz and Reichber had access to one of the department’s top officials. Videos of them and police commanders smoking stogies in Banks’ office and even driving into the parking lot inside the normally impenetrable police headquarters would soon surface in a federal trial. A trail of corruption from Rechnitz and Reichberg also led to other high ranking NYPD officials (which I detailed a bit in 2016) and even to then-Mayor de Blasio, whose relationship with Rechnitz led to two separate ethics investigations, one by federal prosecutors who in the end chose not to charge the sitting Mayor of New York City.
A recent Bloomberg article detailed some of the charges against the pair as well as other top police officials in a federal trial, including photos and videos the men took of their time with Banks. These photos showed Banks in Israel – one picture showing the then police official aiming semi-automatic rifles with what appear to be Israeli gunmen, perhaps settlers (they were not in any official military or police uniform). Other videos from the trial, published in Bloomberg, show Banks and Seabrook at dinner with one of their benefactors in the Dominican Republic.
The investigation began when federal prosecutors started to look at what turned out to be a ponzi scheme by Hamlet Peralta, owner of the since-shuttered Hudson River Cafe – a favorite hangout spot of cops and politicians. The feds, the New York Times reported in 2018, wiretapped one of Peralta’s investors, Rechnitz, and found out about the Rechnitz and Reichberg’s access to police officials. Questions remain as to why Banks was never charged, despite what appears to be bribery. One tabloid report suggested federal prosecutors didn’t charge Banks because another high-ranking police official, Michael Harrington, who worked under Banks, said “Harrington never flipped…that ended the possibility of going after Banks.”
To say that in naming Banks to a top position in his administration Adams courted controversy would be an understatement. Not shying away from a federal investigation into police corruption is perhaps yet another bold move by the mayor of “swagger.” However, Banks’ hire earlier this year isn’t surprising given Adams’ own behaviors. Banks used his position to receive perks. Mayor Adams loves perks too. Banks was able to finagle reservations at swanky restaurants doling out high-priced meals because of his shady friends. Adams loves to eat high-priced meals at swanky restaurants with shady friends, too. A lot.
But much like what happened with Banks – who, again, ultimately wasn’t charged – Adams’ YOLO approach has gone largely unchecked. So why would the mayor balk at bringing on Banks, who came up in the NYPD around the same time as Adams, the former police captain? He wouldn’t – and he didn’t.
Banks, who mulled a run for mayor himself not too long after narrowly escaping federal prosecution for police corruption, continues to attract attention. He has reportedly tripled his net worth since his time in public service. Before that, federal prosecutors said he’d made cash deposits amounting to $300,000 of unexplained money between 2007-2013. Recently, Banks was given his own police security detail by Adams, something usually requiring assessment and approval by the NYPD Intelligence Bureau.
When asked if Banks had gotten the police bodyguards with the approval of the department’s intelligence bureau, Adams said “I am the Intelligence Bureau.”
So who the hell is Philip Banks?
After resigning from the NYPD, he started a security consulting company, City Safe Partners LLC, and served on the board of Sobro (also known as the South Bronx Overall Development Corporation). City Safe Partners, based in Harlem, made a Fortune Magazine list of “fastest growing inner city businesses” in 2018. Sobro has been involved in some of the fights over gentrification in the Bronx, backing the controversial Jerome Avenue rezoning, part of a larger “luxury takeover of the South Bronx,” which developers have been trying to rebrand as, well, SoBro.
Banks seems to not only have a lot in common with Adams, he appears to command power and influence within the administration that other Deputy Mayors not. The CITY reported a few weeks ago that the formerly unindicted co-conspirator has been having meetings with top NYPD officials without the police commissioner, Keechant Sewell. Sewell has been less visible in general because of the tendencies of Adams (“Black Giuliani”) to loom large over police issues. Still, not including the commissioner in high-level meetings about NYPD policy would appear to be taboo within the top-down world of the police department.
Years ago, Banks wanted to be the police commissioner. It appears he may in fact play a role akin to a shadow commissioner by overseeing agencies like the NYPD (he oversees the FDNY and others too) and key police policy decisions. Some of his meetings reported by The CITY include those with private firms hawking artificial intelligence, gunshot-detection systems and even drones to the NYPD. The gunshot-detection company, the super-shitty ShotSpotter, is reportedly trying to collaborate with an Israeli drone manufacturer on autonomous flying drones.
While deals for dystopian flying police robots might sound outlandish, under Adams and Banks, anything goes.
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