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Unwelcomed back

April 2, 2004

Charlie DiRienzo, superintendent of the Port Authority Police, is returning to the NYPD at the behest of his old friend Ray Kelly.

But many city cops may not be so happy to see him. Their union says Kelly and DiRienzo prevented the Port Authority from hiring city officers.

The Port Authority expanded its force to 1,653 after the Sept. 11 terror attack, hiring 532 officers, 316 of them from the NYPD. Then, say union officials in both agencies, someone put the kibosh on hiring any more.

In issuing a no-confidence vote against Kelly after he said Officer Richard Neri's shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Brooklyn did not appear to be justified, Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Pat Lynch said Kelly had also prevented NYPD cops from joining the Port Authority police.

Top union officials suspected Kelly and DiRienzo had come to an arrangement. About 75 to 100 NYPD officers were subsequently rejected by the authority for medical or psychological reasons, the union officials told Newsday.

A top Port Authority official who asked for anonymity said he doubted any such arrangement existed.

DiRienzo declined to comment. Tony Ciavolella, a Port Authority spokesman, would not confirm or deny the number of NYPD cops rejected or say whether they were for psychological reasons, citing "privacy concerns." Kelly's spokesman, Paul Browne, did not respond to questions about the matter.

Meanwhile, at One Police Plaza, many note that since returning as commissioner two years ago, Kelly has chosen confidantes who are all civilians, not chiefs.

DiRienzo, 60, appears to be the exception. Kelly and DiRienzo, who served in the department from 1965 to 1998, go back at least two decades to when Kelly ran the 106th Precinct in Queens and DiRienzo was integrity control officer.

Kelly apparently likes DiRienzo so much he telephoned N.J. Gov. James McGreevey to lobby for DiRienzo for the superintendent's job at the bi-state agency two years ago. McGreevey's press secretary, Micah Rasmussen, confirmed the call to Newsday yesterday.

DiRienzo was apparently so eager to leave the Port Authority and join Kelly that he was willing to forego his NYPD pension, which he was able to collect while working for the authority. He can't collect while working for the NYPD. Cops don't willingly forego pensions, suggesting there may be another reason he is leaving. His new job at One Police Plaza: deputy commissioner of administration, a position that for the past decade has been reserved for a friend of the commissioner.

Vindication. Former captain Louis Vega is the highest-ranking police official to partake of the city's $26.8-million discrimination settlement with the Latino Officers Association. But he says what's important to him is not the money, which is little. It's his reputation.

Vega was brought out of retirement in 1995 by then-First Deputy Commissioner John Timoney and was appointed commander of the 41st Precinct in the Bronx. When Howard Safir replaced Bill Bratton as commissioner a year later, Vega was accused of fudging crime figures and forced to retire.

In his suit, Vega argued that at least two white commanders accused of the same infraction in other precincts were merely transferred and later promoted.

Vega, one of 21 named plaintiffs in the suit, was awarded $426,000. The amount was reduced to zero because since 1996, he had earned more money than that while working. He headed the Hartford Police Department in Connecticut and is currently head of Internal Affairs for Timoney, who is Miami's police chief.

Instead, Vega was granted only $2,000, stemming from a 10-day suspension, and his retirement date was changed to 2001 to reflect five years in the rank of captain. His pension will be increased to that of a deputy inspector, and the accusation will be expunged from his record.

"The most important thing is to have it expunged in the minds of people," Vega said.

While the courts found that Safir discriminated against Vega because he is Hispanic, others figure Safir had a different agenda. When then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani selected Safir to succeed Bratton, he passed over Timoney, who called Safir a lightweight, and Safir retaliated against Vega because he was Timoney's friend.

Keeping track. It is now 11 months since the fatal police shooting of unarmed African Ousmane Zongo in a Chelsea warehouse during an undercover operation. Manhattan district attorney spokeswoman Barbara Thompson says the investigation is "continuing."

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© 2004 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.