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Brooklyn DA’s case could backfire

April 24, 2000

Poor Joe Hynes. After pandering to Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish community for most of his decade as district attorney, he finally plucked up his courage to take on one of its leaders.

Alas, he chose the wrong guy. Or the wrong case.

A 23-year-old Russian immigrant a year ago accused her father of having raped her since she was 12, and Hynes charged him with the crime.

But Rabbi Bernard Freilich, finding out about the charges, threatened the woman and her husband to prevent them from testifying, Hynes said.

Freilich told the daughter she "would wind up in the cemetery," according to Hynes. He therefore charged Freilich and four others, including his attorney, with witness tampering.

Freilich, the first to stand trial, was acquitted last month. The jury deliberated only four hours.

The case was prosecuted by two of Hynes' top guns: Michael Vecchione, his first deputy, and Jay Shapiro, head of the Rackets Bureau, which Hynes uses to handle politically sensitive cases.

More than a decade ago, Shapiro, then an assistant district attorney in the Bronx, begged off the team prosecuting former Secretary of Labor Raymond Donovan because he felt uncomfortable about its tactics. Jay's older now.

In a telephone interview, Vecchione said that although the jurors acquitted Freilich, "they didn't believe his story." He added that his office would continue to prosecute the rape case and the other charges of witness tampering.

Freilich, who once served on Hynes' advisory board, also has connections to Gov. George Pataki. Until his indictment, he held a $76,000-a-year job as a chaplain to the state police, although in a piece of political legerdemain, he was on the payroll of the State Health Department.

Freilich and his friends are now searching for a candidate to oppose Hynes for re-election and have approached Randy Mastro. Mastro appears to have impeccable credentials. He was a deputy mayor under Rudolph Giuliani, whose administration has pandered to Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish community as much as Hynes has.

Manhattan Borough President Virginia Fields held a seminar last week on "Police-Community Relations." The seminar began with former Police Commissioner Bill Bratton criticizing his successor, Howard Safir, for refusing to attend.

John Timoney, Bratton's first deputy and now police commissioner in Philadelphia, discussed making Philadelphia's department more accessible by opening its COMPSTAT, or crime strategy meetings, to the public.

Zachary Carter-the former United States attorney of the Eastern District who prosecuted former Officer Justin Volpe for sodomizing Abner Louima with a broken broom stick-explained how minor police abuses and discourtesies cause public distrust of cops, especially among minorities. He then blamed the media for making it harder for him and Giuliani to come to an agreement on the monitor issue.

Jill Nelson, an African-American writer and native New Yorker, said she had never had a positive encounter with the police. She read an eloquent passage from her book "Police Brutality: An Anthology" about a turn-of-the-century beating of an unarmed black man by New York City police for no justifiable reason.

She then asked why there were no "white voices of outrage" to protest the recent police shootings of unarmed black men such as Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond. (No doubt Nelson spent so much time researching her book she hasn't had time to read the newspapers or watch television for the past year.)

Meanwhile, Fields, who is also African-American, continued to address Bratton, Timoney and another participant, Richard Emery, all of whom are white, by their last names.

Asked why, when addressing them, she did not use the term "Mister," Fields said, "I meant no disrespect."

The Rivals?
While Bratton and Timoney could play key roles in a post-Giuliani administration, chances are it will be either/or and not both.

Although they are friends and policing soulmates, no city administration appears big enough for both of them. That's because there can be only one police commissioner, and if any future mayor has learned anything from Giuliani, it's that the NYPD should not be run from City Hall, either by the mayor or deputy mayor.

Bratton said last week that, as he is now self-employed, he would speak out on police issues. He also mentioned a possible return to public life. Asked what he had in mind, he said, "I always keep my options open."

Those close to him suspect his future may lie more in Washington than in New York. A recently declared Democrat, he has cozied up to Hillary Rodham Clinton and appears to be positioning himself both with her and with Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore. Should Gore become president, Bratton might seek to succeed FBI head Louie Freeh. He'd then bump into another NYPD rival, former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

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© 2000 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.