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Inner workings of a crimefighter

August 30, 1999

By popular request, we return to Anne Arundel County Maryland's District Court to bring you the best of Police Commissioner Howard Safir, by Howard Safir.

His unpublished autobiography was the subject of a lawsuit by his ghostwriter, Dan Moldea, who won a $17,000 judgment against Safir for not informing him that it had already been rejected by a dozen publishers.

For background, we begin with Safir's 1991 "60 Minutes" interview, which Safir - then recently retired as associate director of operations at the U.S. Marshals Service - hoped would lead to a book, movie or television deal. This is the interview in which Safir told interviewer Steve Kroft: "There is no hunting like the hunting of armed men and those who have hunted armed men long enough and like it never wish to do anything else thereafter."

Safir then explains how he developed a fugitive-hunting team that kidnaped people around the world. When Kroft says such kidnapings violate the law, Safir responds: "The kind of things that I did are not exactly what diplomats do." Asked about objections from State Department and FBI officials, Safir retorts: "They're politicians. That's what they do is worry about official repercussions. I'm not a politician. I'm a cop."

The Origins.
The idea for Safir's autobiography germinated during the last five years of his Marshals Service career, from 1985to 1990, he says. "I propose to write the untold story of the U. S. Marshals' Service," he explains. "I had thought about a number of variations. I had thought about a possible witness security thing, about a fugitive, court security."

He also considered writing a novel. "It was a fictional novel involving the blowing up of some judges in New Orleans relative to basically a murder mystery as to why they were blown up and who did it . . ."

Safir also signed with an independent producer for a fictionalized television series about the witness-protection program. The series, said Safir, would be "what is called an ensemble show, which would have a number of characters in it and that the characters would be based on government people and witnesses and that the show would be based on real events and real people but fictionalized . . ."

Asked by Moldea's lawyer whether the program would fictonalize historical events he had been involved in, Safir answers: "To some extent, yes." "Even with respect to fictionalized accounts of events that you may not have any involvement in?" the lawyer continues. Safir: "That's right."

On His Writing Background.
"I knew that I had great writing ability and I knew that I was certainly capable of writing my own book and in fact a number of professional authorities had told me that," Safir says. But, he said, "I decided to use a ghostwriter." It was necessary, he said, because he was running his own business and he didn't have enough time to write the book.

Safir said he took a creative-writing class at Hofstra, where he graduated with a B.A. "I was also the news editor of the college newspaper, The Hofstra Chronicle. I wrote most of the lead stories . . ." (Memo to Safir: Should you be interested in becoming a reporter for Newsday, you can contact Newsday at its headquarters, 235 Pinelawn Road, Melville, NY 11747. Send copies of your best clips.)

Safir on Money.
"I decided I did not want to pay anybody to write this proposal, and if somebody has enough confidence in the material and in themselves to write it gratis, then that is what they should do."

His Muse.
Safir is asked the following: "You mentioned one of the key people who worked with you in the Witness Security Program suggested that you collaborate on the book about the program. Who was that person?" Safir: "Her name is Marilyn Mode . . . She was associate chief of witness security . . . I think it just came up in conversation relative to she had some interest in doing some writing when she left the government and she knew that I had an interest in doing some writing . . . If in fact anybody indicated any interest in this project, Marilyn and I would then sit down and talk and see if it was possible to come to an agreement or an arrangement. It never got that far."

The Pro.
Safir was then asked about the inititals JAS on the bottom of his original proposal. "That is something that I do to make things look professional when I type things myself. JAS are my daughter's initials."

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© 1999 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.