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Feds investigate the Livoti three

June 29, 1998

Now that Francis X. Livoti has been found guilty in federal court of violating Anthony Baez' civil rights, police department spokeswoman Marilyn Mode says the feds are going after the cops who testified for him on perjury charges.

That looks like the Livoti Three - Sgt. William Monahan and Officers Mario Erotokritou and Anthony Farnam. Each testified Livoti never used a chokehold on Baez. After they and Livoti wrestled him to the ground and handcuffed him, they testified that Baez even stood up and walked a couple of feet before fatally collapsing.

If what they said is true, Livoti's chokehold couldn't have killed him.

Their testimony, however, was refuted by two other cops, Robert Ball and Erotokritou's partner, Daisy Boria. Both testified that after they saw Baez on the ground - face-down, cuffed and Livoti straddling him, as Ball put it. Baez never stood up again.

When Ball attempted to lift him, he couldn't do it.

But then Ball apparently deviated from the script. Asked why he couldn't lift Baez, he testified, "To me it felt that he was holding his weight down."

Well, if that's true, Baez was indeed alive after Livoti's chokehold.

Asked to explain this apparent discrepancy from the government's own witness, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Pomerantz said outside court, "That was the gloss he (Ball) put on it to try and help Livoti."

At least to this reporter, it's not clear where "gloss" ends and lying begins.

Perhaps a more fruitful - or at least a more unequivocal - area for perjury is The Livoti Three's tale of the mysterious black man who happened on the scene of Baez' arrest, then dissolved into the night after his bodiless black hands were seen in the vicinity of Baez' neck. Implication: It was the mysterious black man - not Livoti - who choked Baez.

Preposterous as this story sounds, that's just how The Livoti Three testified in the 1996 trial in the Bronx. That's the trial in which Acting State Supreme Court Justice Gerald Sheindlin acquitted Livoti of killing Baez and described the cops' conflicting testimony as "a terrible conflict" and a "nest of perjury." Sheindlin never identified the nesters other than to say he meant more than one cop.

Last week in Manhattan federal court, those same bodiless black hands materialized again, though this time, The Livoti Three placed them not near Baez' neck but closer to his lower extremities. This time around, Erotokritou actually testified about the mysterious man: "I'd seen him before. I knew him."

If this wasn't incredible enough, his partner Boria (now, for obvious reasons, his ex-partner) refuted his testimony, telling prosecutors that Erotokritou had invited her to a midnight soiree in the parking lot of the 46th Precinct. There, Boria said, according to federal prosecutors, the cops decided they "were going to say that a civilian with black hands choked Anthony Baez."

Printable versionIn his summation, Livoti's Patrolmen's Benevolent Association attorney Stuart London (Livoti was a union delegate) suggested Boria may have lied because of a distant relationship with the Baez family or because she was angry with the department over sexual harassment allegations she had made in a suit filed against the department.

He did not inquire into her 1987 indictment for perjury by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau over an insurance fraud scam before she became a cop. She was acquitted.

Dandy Andy. Say what you will about the Bronx District Attorney's office and the manner in which it handled - or mishandled - the Baez case, what are we to make of Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Dember's suggestion that Bronx prosecutors conspired to protect Livoti?

Dember charged that Livoti's fellow cops engaged in a conspiracy, citing the fact that none gave a statement to the Police Department for two years while omitting the fact that giving such statements would have required immunizing the cops from prosecution - something Bronx prosecutors naturally refused to do.

Dember next mentioned the cops' meeting together with their attorneys in the PBA offices after Baez' death, then tossed in the fact that the same cops met together with the Assistant Bronx District Attorney who prosecuted Livoti.

The prosecutor, Nancy Borko, used the cops as witnesses against Livoti, though their testimony did little to help her case.

"We did it to rule them out as suspects," explained Steven Reed, a spokesman for the Bronx district attorney, last week, "because there was a concern Livoti would try to put the blame on one of them for Baez' death."

Chief Bronx Assistant Barry Kluger added: "Our preliminary interviews with the cops were all done separately."

In his summation, Livoti's attorney London noted the absurdity of Dember's suggestion. The jury, however, wasn't buying.

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© 1998 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.