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Fund raisers' wealth of perks

January 29, 2001

Of the groups of buffs and hustlers on the fringes of the New York City Police Department, there exists the Finest Foundation.

According to its latest filing with the state attorney general, its function "is to provide scholarship awards to police officers and the children of police officers...The foundation also takes pride in their award ceremonies honoring those police officers who have performed particularly heroic or life saving activities."

Translation: In return for raising $742,899 from 1995 to 1998 the foundation's 22 officers and directors were afforded such Police Department goodies as police badges and parking placards, identification cards allowing entry into headquarters, honorary deputy commissionerships and pistol permits. In 1997, the foundation paid for former Police Commissioner Howard Safir's controversial dinner at a reputed mob joint in Little Italy that is off limits to officers.

One Finest director loans his Florida condo to a three-star chief-no matter that cops are prohibited from accepting gifts of more than $50.

On Jan. 19, the foundation held its annual "Chiefs' Night at the Plaza Hotel." Among those receiving awards were Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, First Deputy Joe Dunne, Chief of Internal Affairs Charlie Campisi, the FBI's newly appointed assistant director of the New York office, Barry Mawn, and U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White of Manhattan.

U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch of Brooklyn also was to have received an award but didn't show. Four days later, postal inspectors in her jurisdiction arrested the event's chairman, foundation executive vice president Teddy Leb. He was charged with mail fraud in connection with a $600,000 loan from the Chrysler Corp.

Police sources say the investigation was prompted by an ex-foundation board member who had lost money in one of Leb's two Long Island car dealerships, which went into bankruptcy after Leb allegedly partnered up with a Colombo organized crime family member.

The Chiefs' Night 2001 "Dinner Journal," a glossy magazine distributed to dinner guests, describes Leb as "an active supporter of the entire New York Law Enforcement Community, including the New York City Police Department and all the federal law enforcement agencies assigned to the New York metropolitan area.

"Mr. Leb was appointed Honorary Chief of Department of the transit police and Honorary Deputy Commissioner of the NYPD," the journal said.

Most Unwanted. Mawn was a busy man last week. Besides his Finest Foundation award, he was guest speaker Wednesday before a fat cat business group, the Citizens Crime Commission.

Mawn is so green to New York he repeatedly referred to the NYPD as the NYCPD. The addition of the "C" was as grating to the half-dozen police chiefs and deputy commissioners at a nearby table as a fingernail scratching a blackboard.

Mawn also discussed how he compartmentalized his investigative units.

He explained that if a fraud or bank robbery unit came across a drug dealing operation, the unit was to ignore the drug dealing and concentrate only on the frauds or bank robberies.

Your Humble Servant asked Mawn whether this approach helped create one of the all-time bureau horror stories, still unfolding in its Boston office, which Mawn headed from 1997 to 2000. (The story broke in the mid-90s before Mawn headed the office.) In a nutshell, here's what happened in Beantown.

Since the 1960s when the FBI discovered La Cosa Nostra, its Boston agents allied themselves with rival gangsters to obtain information on the city's Italian mobsters. For two decades, their key informant was James (Whitey) Bulger, an alleged killer, extortionist and drug trafficker whose brother happens to be the president of the University of Massachusetts.

In return for Whitey's informing on the Italian mob, his bureau handler John Connolly allegedly tipped Whitey off whenever rivals or legitimate citizens complained about his illegal dealings. Whitey is now accused in federal court of using Connolly's tips to murder at least one person. Whitey's partner, Steve Flemmi, is accused of murdering a dozen.

After a federal judge in 1998 exposed the bureau's dealings, Whitey disappeared. He is the first person in history to go from an FBI informant to the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list. The FBI has put up a $1 million reward for his capture.

In his remarks, Mawn implied the bureau's problems were confined to Connolly and his supervisor, John Morris, who admitted receiving $7,000 in gifts from Bulger. Morris faces federal charges.

Mawn didn't discuss the internal investigations by bureau supervisors in Boston and Washington who found no problem with the bureau's decades-long relationship with Bulger.

The Crime Commission's Tom Reppetto, who pleads with reporters to attend these breakfasts, then halted this reporter's line of questioning, protesting that commission members had no chance to ask questions.

Paul Crotty, a group president of Verizon, which hosted the breakfast, called such questions "inappropriate." He was seconded by Bell Atlantic's vice president Frank McLoughlin, a former reporter for the Daily News.

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© 2001 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.