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Safir’s answers beg questions

April 12, 1999

In a grown-up version of "The dog ate my homework," Police Commissioner Howard Safir maintained last week he didn't know he was part of a $1.5 million lawsuit filed by his wife over a minor car accident.

This was but the first of a series of preposterous explanations offered by Safir and his first deputy, Patrick Kelleher, at a news conference Friday at One Police Plaza, in which Safir acknowledged sending two city detectives to question the other driver, work normally performed by private insurance investigators. Equally preposterous was his explanation: The detectives questioned her for security reasons.

This latest Safir brouhaha appeared to stem from something harmless enough: the rear-ending of Safir's wife Carol's Cadillac on the Queensboro Bridge on Jan. 31, 1997, by Monica Nascimento of Astoria, a concierge at the Omni hotel in Midtown.

The two women exchanged information, but Nascimento, later saying she panicked, gave a false name. The commissioner then dispatched two detectives from his detail to Nascimento's home and to the Omni to question her. Safir himself telephoned Nascimento to say she'd committed a crime.

The commissioner's use of city detectives to aid his wife in a matter in which no injuries were reported at the time or arrests occurred emerged only last week when Carol Safir filed her lawsuit. Although the commissioner was named in the suit as seeking $250,000 because of the loss of his wife's "aid, services, society, companionship and consortium" - translation, lack of sexual relations - he maintained the suit was filed "without my knowledge."

"What I'm telling you is I have never seen the lawsuit . . . I have never, up until 25 minutes ago, talked to the attorney."

At the news conference, Safir then had to restrain his zealous spokeswoman, Marilyn Mode, who for the past two days had insisted the matter was "private," and who then began yipping at a reporter who had difficulty understanding Safir's explanations.

"Don't be contentious, Marilyn," the commissioner chided her.

Citing past unspecified threats against him, Safir explained that using detectives from his detail was appropriate in determining "whether in fact this was a security risk to my wife.

"We wanted to determine why somebody who ran into the back of my wife, who is the police commissioner's wife, was giving false information and whether or not it was a security problem," he said.

That Safir used his own detectives and not those of the Threat Assessment Unit of the Intelligence Division - whose mission is specifically to investigate all threats against public officials - is perhaps indicative of how seriously he viewed Nascimento as a security threat. Surely, the commissioner will now release to the public the "49," or department report, from his detail to the Threat Assessment Unit, as is always prepared when a security threat is suspected.

As might be expected, Safir's claim of "security" was seconded by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Mention the word security to the mayor and a bell starts ringing inside his head. That bell has been ringing since August, when, citing security issues related to the terrorism trial being held nearby, the mayor erected barriers around City Hall, despite a report from the FBI that no specific threat existed. That those barriers remain eight months later without a credible explanation raises the suspicion that the mayor fears terrorists less than he does Al Sharpton.

The final absurdity was uttered by poor first deputy Kelleher, who sat beside Safir at the news conference and said with a straight face that the detectives investigation of Nascimento was no different from what they would do for any citizen. Right, Pat. When's the last time detectives investigated a car accident with no injuries or arrests? It wasn't so long ago that detectives wouldn't investigate burglaries under $10,000.

Unsolved Mystery.
Who is police officer Harold R. Newman, and why can't anyone in the Police Department locate him? Newman is suing Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president James Savage over his inability to run for PBA president because he hasn't paid his dues.

But where does Newman work? Department officials list him in the Legal Bureau, though no one there has seen him. They also list him on the Military Leave Desk, though no one has seen him there, either.

Newman is represented by Sgt. Thomas Gambino and Lt. Jeffrey Hoerter, who share a private law practice. In his day job, Gambino doesn't do any police work but serves instead as executive director of Carol Safir's police museum. Hoerter works as a Police Department prosecutor. Neither lawyer returned phone calls.

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© 1999 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.