The bribery trial of a Brooklyn businessman and a former NYPD Deputy Inspector went off the rails Tuesday after a heated courthouse spat between a defense attorney and a prosecutor.
The showdown between Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Bell and ex-cop James Grant’s attorney John Meringolo has raised the possibility of a mistrial. Bell said the government might hold Meringolo in contempt. A Grant supporter claims he had to separate the two men, who were nose to nose. Judge Gregory Woods sent the jury home for the day, but prosecutors and defense teams are reconvening at 1 p.m.
“I’m concerned about this ending in a mistrial. I would to have this all calmed down,” said, Susan Necheles, attorney for businessman Jeremy Reichberg.
The trial, which is in its fourth week has been tense from the start and those tensions reached a boiling point around 9 a.m. as an FBI agent escorted the government’s star witness, crooked Mayor de Blasio donor Jona Rechnitz, from an elevator to the courtroom.
Meringolo was chatting with Grant’s supporters as Rechnitz passed by, several witnesses said. Rechnitz believed he overheard Meringolo — an animated attorney from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn — call him “a disgrace,” people who were there told the Daily News. Word quickly reached prosecutors and Bell angrily stormed out of the courtroom to confront Meringolo.
“You better wake up from this dream. You’re going to find yourself in trouble!” Bell yelled, according to someone in Grant’s camp.
“There was a little pushing back the forth,” the man said, asking that his name not be published because he didn’t want the feds on his case.
During a brief hearing, both sides gave Judge Woods conflicting accounts of what happened, and Bell raised the possibility of holding Meringolo in contempt.
Woods urged everyone to “take a walk around the block.” He called the confrontation “a freighted and unfortunate situation that should not have occurred.”
“I think it’s important for us to take a break,” Woods said.
Grant is accused of accepting bribes — including a private flight to Las Vegas with a prostitute — from Reichberg and Rechnitz. Grant is accused of then using his power to help make the men look like bigshots through police escorts and other favors.
Reichberg is accused of showering numerous cops with gifts.