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Surgery? Brass didn’t have clue

March 10, 1997

True to his fashion, Police Commissioner Howard Safir told virtually no one at Police Plaza of his coronary bypass.

"They didn't tell any of us," said a top chief. "Not the executive staff. No one. Why the hell would they keep it from us?"

Instead, Safir's executive staff learned of his three-hour open-heart surgery Friday afternoon from First Deputy Commissioner Tosano Simonetti around 6 p.m. when the surgery was completed and the building was nearly empty.

Simonetti's announcement appeared to have been precipitated by reporters' calls to the department's Public Information Office after the "buff wire" for photographers reported - falsely, as it turned out - that Safir had suffered a heart attack. Only then did Safir's spokeswoman Marilyn Mode release a terse statement of Safir's condition to the public, stating that he had undergone surgery at New York University's Medical Center.

Others close to Safir say there was no attempt to conceal as evidenced by the fact that he registered at NYU under his own name. Rather, they say, his family resisted releasing information about his condition pending the surgical outcome.

Later Friday evening, Safir's three doctors held a hospital news conference with New York's elected 800-pound gorilla, known as Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, seated beside them. So flummoxed were the docs by the mayoral presence that one referred to Safir as "Commissioner Giuliani," a not altogether inaccurate description.

This becomes especially true with Giuliani's designation of the lame duck Simonetti as the acting commissioner. Simonetti is planning to retire (claiming a heart ailment himself, no less) at the end of the month to become director of security for zillionaire Ronald Perelman.

Safir's cardiologist, Dr. Edwin Weiss, explained that Safir's heart problems, discovered two weeks before and confirmed during medical testing Friday morning, stemmed from heredity, not police stress. That caused a sigh of relief among some journalists - this one included - who had bashed Safir over his refusal to come clean on department matters, such as his whereabouts on the evening of Feb. 23, when an apparently deranged gunman shot seven people atop the Empire State building and it took Safir three hours to reach the crime scene.

So with Safir said to be out of danger and unlikely to suffer a relapse from anything he reads about himself, here now are his most recent words on the subject, issued last Thursday.

Printable version"Where I was is my own business. I was in the area. I was not out of town. I slept in my own bed that whole weekend. We have answered that question for you about twenty-seven times."

Broken Hearts. If Commissioner Safir were a career cop, like, say First Dep Simonetti, his surgery would qualify him for a tax-free line-of-duty disability pension through a corruptive piece of legislation courtesy of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. What is known as the "heart bill" holds that virtually any heart problem a cop suffers is job-related.

Since becoming mayor, our self-described corruption-fighter at city hall has never once mentioned the heart bill. No doubt he's been holding it as his trump card in the stalled PBA contract negotiations.

Meanwhile, his designee to run the department, the 63-year-old Simonetti, is about to file for a line-of-duty disabilty pension - citing his own heart problem - despite the fact that he does a mean macarena and was seen running like the wind last fall around the bases of the department's press office-police reporters softball game.

If approved, he will, even before he begins his job with Perelman, draw an annual tax-free police pension of well over $100,000.

Who's on First? U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Batts held a hearing Friday to determine whether any of the four defendants accused in the Transit PBA's racketeering indictments had conflicts of interest.

It turns out that Gerald Lefcourt, now representing PBA counsel Jim Lysaght, had represented co-defendant Richard Hartman in a 1993 investigation in the Eastern District involving an undisclosed banking matter. Lefcourt had also, it turns out, interviewed a prospective government witness while representing Lysaght, Hartman and Lysaght's law partner and third co-defendant, Peter Kramer.

Lysaght, meanwhile, had represented the transit PBA, headed by the fourth co-defendant, Ron Reale. And, it turns out, Bruce Maffeo, currently representing Reale, had also represented Kramer.

It got so confusing that when Lysaght was asked who represented him, he mistakenly said, "Gerald Shargel," who is now representing Hartman.

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Email Leonard Levitt at llevitt@nypdconfidential.com

© 1997 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.