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A Short History of the Rise and Fall of Bernie Kerik

June 12, 2006

So Rudy Giuliani has testified before a Bronx grand jury investigating whether his protégé, former police commissioner Bernie Kerik, accepted $200,000 in freebie renovations from an allegedly mob-controlled company when Kerik served as Corrections Commissioner in 2000.

The long-lasting unanswered question — at least for this reporter — is whether the former mayor — now a possible presidential candidate — bypassed the city’s normal vetting process some months later in appointing Kerik police commissioner when his chief qualification appeared to be that he had served as Giuliani’s driver and bodyguard.

Let’s return for a moment to yesteryear, specifically to August 2000, when Giuliani disregarded the recommendation of “the greatest police commissioner in New York City’s history,” as Giuliani had termed Kerik’s predecessor Howard Safir, another of his sterling appointments.

Safir, about to retire, had recommended Chief of Department Joe Dunne, a 31-year veteran, to succeed him. Instead, Giuliani went off to the mountain to consult an oracle, and then announced he was appointing Kerik, a seven-year veteran with no college degree who’d risen only to the rank of third-grade detective.

Giuliani had pulled this routine before. After he forced the resignation of his first police commissioner, William Bratton, in 1996, he disregarded Bratton’s recommendation of First Deputy John Timoney and selected Safir. The repercussions of Safir’s appointment are still felt across the city.

Besides the millions of dollars paid to the families of Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo because of NYPD abuses that occurred under him, the city paid another $1 million to Sandra Marsh, a black deputy commissioner whom Safir demoted after she refused his order to alter a report she had written critical of a chief whom he regarded favorably. Earlier this year, the Bloomberg administration agreed to pay $17 million to 625 black and Hispanic police officers who had claimed in federal court that Safir had discriminated against them.

As for Timoney, when he indiscreetly called Safir a “lightweight,” Giuliani — whose post-9/11 image is one of restraint, sensitivity and wisdom — retaliated by ordering city lawyers to find a legal way to demote him to captain, reducing his pension. Only the intervention of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association through former Staten Island borough president and Giuliani crony Guy Molinari scotched that plan.

Four years later, in 2000, when Giuliani appointed Kerik police commissioner, the city’s Department of Investigation allegedly did not investigate him thoroughly, supposedly because he had been vetted the year before as Corrections Commissioner.

Was that lapse at Rudy’s direction? Was Rudy aware then of Kerik’s relationship with the construction company, Interstate Industrial Corporation, which supposedly paid for his apartment renovations? Was Rudy aware that Interstate was then seeking city business and that Kerik allegedly tried to help it?

At the time, Giuliani appeared to have gotten the best of both worlds. He appointed a crony while persuading Dunne — who said he loved the NYPD so much he’d stay as dog catcher — to remain as First Deputy.

After 9/11, when everything in New York City was becoming insane, Kerik became so popular that Michael Bloomberg, running to succeed Giuliani, claimed after Ray Kelly had endorsed him that he had prevailed on Kelly to persuade Kerik to remain as police commissioner. Kelly and Bloomberg maintained that Kelly didn’t want the job himself. That’s how crazy things were then. People actually believed them.

 

Meanwhile Kerik wrote his autobiography, “The Lost Son,” which made the best-seller list. At the behest of the White House, he went off to Iraq for six months to train the Iraqi police. He returned after three, with no explanation of why he’d cut his tour short, and then began making speeches on foreign policy, touting President George Bush and the Iraq war. He began planning for a new career in politics, perhaps as a U.S. Senator from New Jersey, his home state.

In late 2004, Bush nominated Kerik to head the Department of Homeland Security, calling him “one of the most accomplished and effective leaders of law enforcement in America.” It was then that the roof fell in. As the government began vetting him in a manner that DOI apparently did not, his life was laid bare, with revelations of personal bankruptcies, associations with mobsters, a series of mistresses, an undisclosed marriage — “The Lost Wife,” wrote Newsday reporter Sean Gardiner who discovered her.

Perhaps most disconcerting was the revelation that in the weeks following 9/11, he had used an apartment overlooking Ground Zero, which he had been given rent-free supposedly to recuperate from 18-hour work days, to rendezvous with his girlfriends, one of whom was The Lost Son’s publisher, Judith Regan.

Now comes the Bronx investigation, which is seeking to determine whether as a quid pro quo for the freebie renovation, Kerik helped Interstate Industrial pursue city business.

But will Kerik — now an albatross around Giuliani’s White House ambitions — be indicted? A visit to the Bronx by Your Humble Servant last month detected no sense of urgency. People close to Kerik are praying that District Attorney. Robert Johnson, a cautious man and the rare high-level law enforcement official without an overriding ego, may feel that the case against Kerik might be too difficult to prove.

Nonetheless, there are actions Johnson could take, short of an indictment, which could prove harmful to both Kerik and Giuliani and useful to the public. He could do what his predecessor Mario Merola did 20 years before in an era day of care scandals involving abuse of children. In one such case Merola declined to indict but issued a public report making recommendations and chastising the participants.


No More Acting.
Our old friend Charlie DeRienzo has been promoted from Acting Deputy Commissioner of Training to Deputy Commissioner. So far as is known, DeRienzo is the only department official whom Ray Kelly has gone out of his way to help since returning as commissioner in 2002.

That same year Kelly personally called New Jersey Governor James McGreevey to recommend DeRienzo for the job of superintendent of the Port Authority police.

Two years later after he was dumped from the Port Authority, Kelly brought him back to the department as Deputy Commissioner of Administration. But instead of working as the department’s liaison with other law enforcement agencies fighting terrorism, as DeRienzo said he hoped to do, Kelly appointed him head of the department’s Facilities Management Division, where he became One Police Plaza’s head custodian.

He remained there until last December when following the death of Dr. James Fyfe, Kelly appointed DeRienzo Acting Director of Training.

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Copyright © 2006 Leonard Levitt