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From Rudy's lips to the mayor's ear

August 11, 2003

Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani protested to Mayor Michael Bloomberg about the reassignments of the last five detectives on his "security" detail, a top city official has told Newsday. The official said that City Hall then communicated Giuliani's displeasure to the Police Department.

Eleven days later, as this column reported last week, the detectives were transferred to assignments more to their liking.

"It was unfair," the city official said of the detectives' original reassignments to Special Victims squads far from their homes after Police Commissioner Ray Kelly ended Giuliani's detail.

"We are aware of tensions between Kelly and Giuliani," the official added, "but why take it out on the detectives, who just did their jobs?"

Until Kelly ended it on June 30, Bloomberg had allowed Giuliani to keep his police detail for 18 months, even though Giuliani was a private citizen earning millions of dollars. At its peak, the detail consisted of two dozen detectives at a cost to taxpayers of $2 million annually.

On July 10, three detectives from the detail - Barry Briascone, Sergio Conde and Freddy Garcia - were reassigned to Manhattan Special Victims. The two others, Michael DiBenedetto and Wilson Verella, were reassigned to Bronx Special Victims.

The tip-off that these postings weren't choice was that DiBenedetto and Verella live in Staten Island.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he didn't know whether Rudy or one of his subordinates had called City Hall. He said he also didn't know whether Bloomberg or one of his subordinates had called Kelly or one of his subordinates.

But on July 21, all five detectives were reassigned. Briascone, Conde and Garcia - at least two of whom live north of the city - were transferred to the Bronx DA's squad. DiBenedetto and Verella were transferred to the Staten Island district attorney's squad.

Doubts. Federal Judge Charles Haight Jr. has become the first public official to suggest that Kelly is not all he's cracked up to be.

Haight voiced his doubts in a decision last week in the decades-long Handschu litigation in which he criticized the NYPD's questioning of arrested anti-war demonstrators about their political beliefs and said the department was "in some need of discipline."

Haight termed Kelly's proclaimed lack of knowledge about the so-called "demonstration debriefing forms" - on which the arrestees' responses were recorded - "operational ignorance," and said Kelly and his deputy commissioner for intelligence, the former CIA spook David Cohen, "should have known" about it.

Practically, Haight's decision means little, as Kelly noted when he said he had been too busy to read it. Virtually no one in the NYPD (or outside it, for that matter) understands how Handschu strictures affect the department's surveillance of political groups.

Rather, Handschu decisions are symbolic - of the public's trust or lack of trust in the police department, and in this instance of Kelly. As Haight put it, "I no longer hold that confidence."

Return of the Centurians.
Last November - around the time Kelly cost the Finest Foundation its $10,000 deposit by refusing to allow top brass to attend the group's annual Chief's Night celebration at the Hotel Pierre, Kelly ordered the Centurians, another police buff group, to a meeting on the 14th floor of One Police Plaza.

There, Chief of Department Joe Esposito, Chief of Internal Affairs Charles Campisi and First Deputy Commissioner George Grasso informed the Centurians that their $200,000 contribution to the department did not entitle them to hold look-alike police badges.

Esposito and Campisi departed. Then a lower-level group of officers appeared and informed the Centurians the department needed another $250,000.

So far, the Centurians have not come up with the dough. But last week, for the first time since that meeting nine months ago, they appeared at a ceremony at Police Plaza. They awarded $500 to a Good Samaritan who helped capture a subway attacker.

So are the Centurians back in Kelly's good graces?

Says its president Joe Dippell Jr., "I wish I knew."

What, Bernie worry?
Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson turned up at Police Plaza last week and Your Humble Servant took the opportunity to ask what his investigation of the corrections department could hold for Baghdad Bernie Kerik.

Johnson has indicted former corrections chief Anthony Serra on 233 counts of grand larceny, fraud and misuse of corrections equipment for refurbishing his home, while the feds have indicted former top correction deputy commissioner Frederick Patrick for looting $112,000 from a nonprofit fund to pay for prisoners' phone sex while he apparently listened in.

Said Johnson: "I would definitely not call Kerik a subject. We're still looking at the agency and he was the commissioner."

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© 2003 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.