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Not-guilty pleas In Maryland scandal

December 12, 2003

Baltimore - Unrepentant and unbowed, former deputy NYPD commissioner Ed Norris pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges that he had used $20,000 from a police fund for his personal use while serving as Baltimore's commissioner.

Former NYPD deputy inspector John Stendrini, 60, who had served as Norris' chief of staff in Baltimore and later at the Maryland state police, which Norris went on to head, also pleaded not guilty of lying to the first deputy mayor.

Norris, 43, a protege of the late Jack Maple, succeeded him as the NYPD's deputy commissioner of operations. Appearing yesterday before federal magistrate Susan Gauvey, he walked into court with a Maple strut.

Gauvey waived traditional post-indictment strictures and allowed Norris and Stendrini to keep their firearms and passports. Both their lawyers mentioned need of weapons as protection for themselves and relatives back in New York.

The indictment charges Norris with using a discretionary fund, originally set up to help unemployed officers cope with the Depression of the 1930s, for "romantic encounters" with six females, including expensive dinners and luxury hotels in New York under the guise of conducting official Baltimore police business.

With Norris yesterday was his wife Kathryn, dressed all in black, including high-heeled black boots. The two held hands as they entered. Afterwards, outside court, she gave him a peck on the lips and asked, "How are you doing?"

"I'm fine," said Norris.

His lawyer Andrew Graham gave reporters a hint of what Norris' defense might be when he said that there were "no clear guidelines" for the fund and that previous commissioners had made use of it. Stendrini's attorney Michael Schatzow pointed out in a statement that in Stendrini's 38 years in law enforcement, "no hint of scandal has ever been associated with him."

Friends of Norris, who has resigned his state job, have suggested the indictment is "political," whatever that means, and that Norris attempted to repay the money but was rebuffed. Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, had hired Norris on recommendation of Mapple and former NYPD commissioner Howard Safir.

 

"I felt pretty bad a year ago when he left me suddenly for a Republican governor," O'Malley told reporters yesterday. Then, after reports of the scandal emerged this year, he added, "I felt anger, betrayal and disappointment. He did really good things here the first two years. It's just sad."

Inside the courtroom Norris and Stendrini were accompanied by retired NYPD deputy chief inspector Sal Carcaterra and Norris' father, Edward Norris Sr., a retired NYPD police officer and more recently, former chief of staff to Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum.

As the son left the courthouse, still holding hands with his wife, a horde of photographers and TV crews pursued him in the kind of ugly scene he may never have imagined when he came south to become Baltimore's top cop.

Time delay. Detective Julio Vasquez and his former partner, retired detective Thomas Rachko, were arrested on charges of ripping off a drug courier of $169,000 on Thanksgiving. But the NYPD did not announce the arrests until Dec. 3, a week later.

Officially, the department has not given a reason for the delay but a police source said last week the department held off because the Internal Affairs Bureau was hoping to turn either one or both. For over 100 years, there has been an unwritten rule between the department and the media that the police would make public all arrests, in particular the arrests of officers.

That this is a special case seems unquestionable and the reporting delay could be seen by some as understandable. But both Vasquez and Rachko, who were partners in the Manhattan North narcotics division, were arraigned within two days of their arrests and by the following week, stories started appearing. And still the department held out for two more days before reporting the arrests.

Those Damn Yankees. Commissioner Ray Kelly has nothing to apologize for in accepting free Yankee tickets to Opening Day and to a 2002 playoff game. Courtesy of the state's lobbying commission, Kelly's name turned up on a list of Bloomberg commissioners who have obtained Yankee freebies

This is not the same as Safir's accepting freebies to the Oscars and being forced to repay $7,000. No less than Hank Seiden, chairman of the Finest Foundation, whose annual Chief's Night dinner was canceled after Kelly objected to a brochure describing a $50,000 "commissioner's table," said that Kelly's integrity is "unquestionable."

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© 2003 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.