Manetta case still rankles
December 16, 1996
Although Lewis Manetta retired a year ago, his case continues to expose the fault lines of distrust between police corruption prosecutors and the NYPD's top brass.
Manetta was the "exec," or second in command, of the scandal-plagued 30th Precinct, in which 26 cops have been convicted or have pleaded guilty to corruption-related crimes. Four cops have told prosecutors that Manetta condoned, if not abetted, their corruption.
But the department's top officers disagreed. Ex-First Deputy John Timoney, respected by both cops and prosecutors, called Manetta "an honest, tough, unpolished diamond in the rough." He dismissed the corruption allegations, saying, "Louie's a tough guy, not a thief," and promoted Manetta to commanding officer of the 33rd Precinct in 1994.
Shortly before Manetta retired, the department's inspectors and chiefs rated him first in a survey of all NYPD captains. The survey is the first step in the promotion procedure for deputy inspector.
Manetta wasn't promoted to deputy inspector, however. Testimony this month at the sentencing of Thomas Nolan, the most recent "Dirty 30" cop to plead guilty to corruption-related charges, provides an indication why - and offers an insight into the bitterness the NYPD's top brass harbors toward prosecutors.
Nolan was one of a dozen cops assigned to "Nannery's Raiders" under Sgt. Kevin Nannery, another rogue cop. Their mission was to rid the West Harlem neighborhood of drug pushers. They resorted to such questionable and illegal means as "booming," or breaking down drug dealers' apartment doors, and performing what are known as "key jobs," stealing dealers' keys, then illgally entering their apartments to search for drugs.
At Nolan's Dec. 3 hearing before federal Judge Loretta Preska, his attorney, Michael Shapiro, stated that Nolan "was trained in every type of deceitful, dishonest type of police work imaginable." Manetta, Shapiro said, "took rookie cops out . . . to a building that he told them was a known drug location and he proceeded to tell them . . . how you kick down doors and you go in like gangbusters and you find whatever there is to be found and then you make up your story."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Horowitz wrote to Preska, saying that while his office and the Manhattan district attorney's office had determined that not enough evidence existed to prosecute Manetta, the NYPD was prepared to charge Manetta with administrative violations. Wrote Horowitz, "When Manetta was informed of the possible administrative charges, he left the NYPD."
But wait. That's not how Timoney and current NYPD top brass view Manetta's case.
"Prosecutors sent us a whole lot of things, cases for us to pursue administratively," says Timoney, who retired earlier this year in a now-immortal flash of anger after Mayor Rudolph Giuliani passed him over for police commissioner. "There were three categories of cases: one, go forward and you may get something; two, you can go forward and you'll probably get nothing; and three, cases that were absolutely groundless. That's what they gave us on Manetta," the latter category.
A top NYPD official familiar with Manetta's case says: "We were never prepared to charge him administratively. These people, the Manhattan DA and the U.S. attorney, didn't have enough. They wanted us to do it for them because our threshold of guilt is lower. But we are not going to flake people file bogus charges against them ."
Says Timoney: "Our concerns in police administration are different from those of prosecutors. As first dep, I went, inch by inch, over our department disciplinary system to make sure it was no kangaroo court, so that cops would accept it. We have to make sure the system is fair and not just concerned with technicalities or singling out cops, so that cops will buy into it.
"The danger with the 30th Precinct cases," he continued, "was that the prosecutors were in competition. It became a numbers game - over cops' lives."
Another top NYPD official pointed to the news conference announcing the 30th Precinct indictments in spring, 1994, and noted that Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau and Milton Mollen of the Mollen Commission disliked each other so intensely that they were shoving each other. "Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney had to separate them," the police official said.
As for Manetta, Timoney said, "We couldn't get any sense of how they the prosecutors were going. I said to Louie, They could come after you. It's clear you're not going to get promoted, even though you are the number one-ranked guy.' "
Says another top department official: "We told Louie it was time to go. He had been beaten up so much. It was best for everybody."
Email Leonard Levitt at firstname.lastname@example.org
© 1996 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.