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Controversy comes calling

August 20, 2004

Two key FBI officials in the investigation of the 1981 Brinks armored car robbery in Nanuet say they were never told by the NYPD that fugitives in the case telephoned the upstate home of Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau to speak to his wife, Lucinda Franks.

"This is the first I'm hearing about it," said Ken Maxwell, one of the FBI's two agents on the Brinks robbery in which two Nyack cops and a security guard were killed.

Ken Walton, former deputy assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York office and supervisor of the Brinks investigation, said in a telephone interview from New Mexico, "I did not know of the Morgenthau-Franks connection. I am a little surprised we didn't hear from the NYPD."

Walton offered a possible explanation for why police did not inform the bureau, the lead investigative agency on the case, which involved the radical Weather Underground and the Black Liberation Army.

"I can understand," he said. "Despite the successes of the joint Bank Robbery and Terrorist Task Forces, there is still that parochial business that is endemic to law enforcement.

"And if the situation were reversed, I think I would have done the same thing," he added. "Let's say we came up with information about someone we knew, say the U.S. Attorney at the time John Martin. And after we made inquiries, we concluded he was not germane to the investigation. I would not have turned that information over, either. It would only be a red herring."

Retired NYPD Lt. John Kelly, who was a member of the department's bank robbery unit in the Major Case Squad, said the unit participated in a series of telephone "dumps" of the fugitives' safe houses in the hours after the robbery and shooting. It was this that led to the discovery that a number of calls had been placed to Morgenthau's upstate home.

Kelly said the unit was ordered to file a report by then Chief of Department Patrick J. Murphy for First Deputy William Devine and Police Commissioner Robert McGuire. But, he said, the calls to Morgenthau's home were not included in the report.

Franks, a journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1971 for stories about the Weather Underground, and Morgenthau told Newsday that the calls were made to Franks, who was preparing an article about Kathy Boudin and the Weather Underground for The New York Times Magazine.

The Times, she said, contacted her to write the story after the robbery on Oct. 20, 1981. Boudin was arrested at the scene and later pleaded guilty. She served 20 years in prison and was released last year.

Frank's article, "The Seeds of Terror," appeared on Nov. 22, 1981. It did not mention the telephone calls.

Morgenthau and Franks said they were not questioned by any law enforcement officials about the calls.

But there is a hole in this doughnut of explanations - actually three.. Hole number one: Without Morgenthau and Franks being questioned, how could the NYPD determine that the calls were not germane and a red herring, as Walton suggested?

Hole number two: Who in the NYPD made the decision not to inform the FBI? Murphy and Devine are dead. McGuire was said to be out of town on vacation

Hole number three: What jurisdiction did the NYPD have to conduct the phone dumps?

"You can also put in that I have the highest regard for Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau," Walton said.

Breaking the mold. Patrolmen's Benevolent Association attorney Stuart London says that when police Officer Bryan Conroy goes on trial in the slaying of Ousmane Zongo late this fall, his case will be heard not by a judge but by a jury.

PBA dogma for the past 30 years or so holds that cops in racially charged killings do better before judges. [CORRECTION: The four officers tried in the shooting of Amadou Diallo were acquitted by a jury. An item in the One Police Plaza column Friday incorrectly referred to the acquittal. Also, Eleanor Bumpurs was shot during an eviction in the Bronx. The borough and the spelling of her name were incorrect in the same item. Pg. A08 C 8/24/04] Recall the acquittals of Stephen Sullivan (shotgun death of Eleanor Bumpers during an eviction in Harlem); Francis Livoti (chokehold death of Anthony Baez during an argument at a football game), and the Diallo Four (41 bullets, unarmed African emigrant).

London says there is "so much political pressure on judges today, I'd rather have 12 people, not one, make the decision."

Conroy shot the unarmed Zongo, an African emigrant, to death in a Chelsea warehouse during an undercover raid.

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© 2004 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.