NEW YORK (AP) — New York's governor demanded an investigation Tuesday into allegations that a lane in one of the traffic-clogged tunnels connecting Manhattan to New Jersey was shut down as a special favor to a politically connected businessman accused of paying bribes to police commanders.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed the inspector generals for both the state and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to conduct investigations to figure out what role, if any, the Port Authority played in allowing the closure at the Lincoln Tunnel.
"If members of the Port Authority or PAPD (Port Authority Police Department) participated in any fashion — through purpose or neglect — the State will deliver immediate and severe consequences," Cuomo said in a letter Tuesday. "We will simply not allow Port Authority facilities to be chips in some nefarious pattern of deceit."
The closure was revealed Monday in a federal criminal complaint that charged the fundraising businessman, Jeremy Reichberg, and two high-ranking New York Police Department officers with conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud. They have all denied wrongdoing.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the officers accepted free flights, prostitutes, expensive meals and other bribes in exchange for "a private police force for themselves and their friends."
Court documents said a cooperating witness told the FBI that Reichberg "using his connections in local law enforcement agencies was able to arrange for the closure of a lane in the Lincoln Tunnel and a police escort down that lane for a businessman visiting the United States." The court papers did not identify the businessman who was being escorted and did not disclose when the closure occurred.
"If this is true, it is deeply troubling," Cuomo said.
Spokesmen for the New York Investigator General and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
When asked to comment Monday on the lane closure and other allegations, Reichberg's lawyer, Susan Necheles, said her client "did not commit a crime." She said his "only mistake" was befriending a government cooperator "who is desperately trying to get others in trouble in order to curry favor with prosecutors and save his own skin."
A former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's former deputy chief of staff face federal charges in connection with the 2013 lane closures of the George Washington Bridge. The scheme was alleged payback when a Democratic mayor didn't endorse Republican Christie's re-election bid.
One defendant has pleaded guilty in the case; two others still face numerous charges. Christie has denied any involvement and has not been charged.
Follow Michael Balsamo on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MikeBalsamo1.