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Latimer Executive Order Limits Chaplains Following Federal Corruption Probe

Former state Sen. George Latimer, a Democrat from Rye, answered reporters' questions outside the U.S. Federal Court about a corruption investigation that involved alleged gifts by a chaplain to then-County Executive Rob Astorino.
Former state Sen. George Latimer, a Democrat from Rye, answered reporters' questions outside the U.S. Federal Court about a corruption investigation that involved alleged gifts by a chaplain to then-County Executive Rob Astorino. Photo Credit: Jon Craig

Westchester County volunteer chaplains must meet tougher requirements after a former chaplain testified last fall that he got a county government job in exchange for campaign donations.

It became a campaign issue for Westchester County Executive George Latimer, a Democrat who defeated incumbent Rob Astorino.

Latimer announced a new executive order via social media, saying he signed the requirement that chaplains be active clergy and either live in Westchester or lead a congregation here.

All requests for chaplains go to the commissioner of public safety and the list of chaplains will be provided every six months to the county executive, county attorney and legislature chairman. That list will be available to the public, Latimer said.

During a White Plains news conference as reported here by Daily Voice, Latimer raised questions about the appointment process.  Two former Department of Public Safety chaplains, Jeremy Reichberg and Jona Rechnitz, were implicated in the corruption probe of former New York City correction union President Norman Seabrook.

According to federal testimony, Astorino gave Rechnitz and associate Reichberg positions as police chaplains in exchange for financial contributions, despite neither being religious officials.

Rechnitz testified that Astorino requested a Rolex watch valued at $10,000, which Astorino reportedly contributed $1,000 to $2,000 towards -- with businessman paying the balance to cover up for the legal prohibition on gifts to elected officials. Rechnitz's JSR Capital donated $15,000 to Astorino's campaign three days after the appointment, with two other entities that share the same address, LTR Trading and Stephnat LLC, contributing $5,000 apiece, according to federal testimony.

After the October testimony, Friends of Astorino campaign spokesman William O'Reilly reacted, "Jona Rechnitz is an admitted felon and a pathological liar."

"Rob Astorino bought a second-hand steel watch in October 2013 in the Diamond District for $2,000, not a new gold $10,000 Rolex as this prison bird falsely suggests. Mr. Astorino gave the receipt for the used watch to the Rechnitz prosecutors 18 months ago, and he hasn't been accused of doing anything wrong," O'Reilly said at the time.

"Furthermore, Mr. Rechnitz never spoke with Rob Astorino about a volunteer chaplaincy for himself or anyone else. Rabbi Reichberg served as an unpaid volunteer chaplain, appointed by the police department. The Westchester County Police severed his chaplaincy when the New York City scandal came to light," O'Reilly said.

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