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Why back so soon, Kerik?

December 10, 2004

So why did Bernard Kerik bug out of Iraq before his six-month assignment ended? And is his unexplained departure relevant to his appointment as Homeland Security secretary?

Here is what we know from past articles and interviews:

On May 15, 2003, two months after the invasion, Kerik told this newspaper he expected to go to Iraq to head the ministry of the interior for the Pentagon's reconstruction team. He was to head the interior division, one of 23 departments set up by ambassador L. Paul Bremer. His job was to train Iraqi police.

"I will be there at least six months - until the job is done," he said. Instead, he left Iraq on Sept. 2. That meant he was there for 3 1/2 months. He left the day before a bomb exploded at the police headquarters where the special operations office was run. He had been scheduled to visit there on Sept. 3.

"I was lucky," he said when he resurfaced in New York later that month. "I caught a hop to Amman, Jordan, where I had some business the day before."

After leaving Amman, he said he traveled to Europe to meet his family.

Kerik added he would "do everything I can to get President George Bush re-elected."

And he did, campaigning nationally, defending the war to the American people and giving a speech for Bush the first night of the Republican National Convention. But he has never explained his premature departure from Iraq. Had he junked his training of the Iraqi police, said to be among the least prepared of that nation's law enforcement agencies? Did he fear for his safety, as many in law enforcement believe?

Sources told Newsday Kerik was concerned enough that whenever he traveled he cleared a two-block radius.

On Wednesday, Kerik's attorney, Joe Tacopina, said he would ask Kerik for an explanation. Yesterday, Tacopina did not return calls.

K vs. K. Friends of Kerik note that unlike former First Deputy John Timoney, now Miami police chief, or former Commissioner Bill Bratton, now Los Angeles chief, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly never called to congratulate Kerik on his nomination. Instead, Kelly has offered back-handed praise while angling for federal money.

"Few appreciate the fact that New York City must be at the top of Homeland Security's priority list better than Bernie Kerik," Kelly said last week. "He understands the magnitude of the threat against New York and the nation, and he is a staunch advocate for the police who must guard against another attack."

During his two years as commissioner, Kelly has not hesitated to belittle Kerik, his predecessor. One of Kelly's first actions was to move a statue commemorating Sept. 11 with a quote from Kerik against a wall in the lobby of One Police Plaza so Kerik's words could not be seen.

Last summer, Kelly spokesman Paul Browne questioned Kerik's having ordered four high-tech $50,000 security doors for police headquarters while commissioner, and announced the department's Internal Affairs Bureau was investigating. That announcement followed the Department of Investigation's arrest of Alan Risi, whose company supplied the doors, for allegedly overcharging the city $50,000 to service similar doors on other city buildings.

DOI shared its findings with the Police Department, which found no impropriety but noted that a proper engineering study was not conducted. Internal Affairs Chief Charles Campisi said he would not discuss department business.

Then there's the case of former inspector Benny Petrofsky, charged with improperly arranging pistol permits for members of the rock group Aerosmith. Although police trial judge Michael Sarner fined him 30 days pay, saying his conduct "did not appear to be motivated by personal interest," Kelly demoted Petrofsky to captain and placed him on dismissal probation.

A suit Petrofsky filed quotes Chief of Department Joe Esposito saying on Dec. 31, 2003, that Petrofsky's demotion resulted from "his relationship with the Police Department's prior administration and that his career . . . [is] essentially over."

The suit also alleges that union delegate John Driscoll advised Petrofsky that Kelly "disliked the Police Department's prior administration and consequently was penalizing Petrofsky because of his perceived relationship with that administration."

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© 2004 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.