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Molinari ends up a triple winner

March 26, 2001

The Police Department has completed its investigation into who ordered the arrest of Terence Hunter for writing a letter accusing Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari of a "high-tech lynching" in closing a black youth center.

Score a triple win for Molinari and triple losses for the department.

First, the department determined that Molinari's back-up police bodyguard, Det. John Pascone-and not Molinari's chief of staff Dan Donovan-"misinterpreted and conveyed misinformation to the Intelligence Division," as department spokesman Chief Tom Fahey put it.

The misinformation, filed in a police complaint on Jan. 11, conveyed to Intel that Donovan wanted Hunter arrested. Donovan has denied this.

The result: "a lateral transfer" for Pascone to Brooklyn.

Second, the department determined that Sgt. Joe Simonetti of the Intelligence Division's Threat Assessment Unit-and not Molinari's primary bodyguard, Det. James Reyes-prompted Hunter's arrest.

Simonetti maintained he acted after a phone conversation the evening of Jan. 11 with Reyes, who told him Hunter's letter so frightened Molinari that Molinari wanted Hunter prosecuted. Reyes maintains his only conversation with Simonetti followed Hunter's arrest.

The department also determined that Intel failed to interview either Donovan or Molinari before arresting Hunter. "The Intelligence Division made an error in not speaking to Molinari," Fahey said.

A police source said, "There was a rush to judgment. Either they [Intel] were intimidated, which I don't think was the case, or they wanted to please [Molinari]."

Simonetti happens to be the nephew of former First Deputy Tosano Simonetti, appointed by Howard Safir in 1996 within a month of his becoming police commissioner. Tosano Simonetti was believed to have obtained the first deputy job through Molinari, a constant political ally of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

The result of Sgt. Joseph Simonetti's actions: a "letter of instruction" was sent to Intel's recently appointed head, Inspector Edmund Harnett, urging that the Threat Assessment Unit be retrained.

Molinari, who has had police protection since 1995, has apparently had so many negative encounters with the public that his office is in continual contact with the Intelligence Division. Donovan says Intel detectives personally interview him or Molinari about each incident. Donovan says the only person Intel arrested was Hunter.

On Jan. 10, for example, just the day before Pascone conveyed his "misinformation," Reyes filed an unrelated complaint with Intel, claiming that "approximately 20 alarming and annoying phone calls were made to several of [Molinari's] employees in borough hall." Donovan says Intel interviewed him about the calls but made no arrest.

But could Hunter's arrest have occurred without the acquiescence of a police official above the rank of Joseph Simonetti? We now turn to Molinari's third victory and the department's third loss.

Last week, the department advised Staten Island borough Chief Eugene Devlin to retire. Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik said Devlin, who's had a tough couple of years while his relations with Molinari have frosted, "has had a great career."

Devlin's retirement allows for the promotion of Deputy Chief Tony Marra, appointed Devlin's executive officer nine days before Hunter's arrest. How close is Marra to Molinari? Within the last two months, he attended two Molinari-sponsored political fund-raisers.

Showtime for Joe.
State Supreme Court Justice Edward K. Pincus of Brooklyn issued a written order last week, instructing Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes to answer the following questions about a trip two top assistant district attorneys, Michael Vecchione and Stacey Frascogna, took to Puerto Rico in 1995 on office business.

How long did they stay there? Did they fly coach or first class? How much was the cost of their air fare, hotels and meals? Did they have separate rooms? Did others from the district attorney's office accompany them? If so, how many were there and what were their titles?

For the past year, Vecchione has refused to respond to Newsday's inquires about the trip, following allegations that personal relationships between him and assistants played a role in their promotions. Hynes threatened to sue Newsday if it wrote about the matter. Pincus' order gave Hynes two weeks to respond.

Valets and water boys.
On Friday, Kerik acknowledged he was extending Howard Safir's 10-man security detail through August.

This means Safir will have the detail a full year after resigning as commissioner.

A security detail is to protect lives. There is literally no one at Police Plaza-including Kerik, Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Tom Antenen and Fahey-who believes Safir's detail serves as anything but as his valets.

Since succeeding Safir, Kerik has improved the morale and reputation of the Police Department. But so long as he allows the mayor to embarrass the department over Safir's detail, this column will call Kerik Rudy's water boy.

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© 2001 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.