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Getting Burned by Bernie

June 25, 2007

Beware of getting too close to Bernie Kerik. His own lawyer is the latest person in hot water over ties to the former NYPD commissioner.

Sources say federal authorities recently grilled attorney Joe Tacopina about what he said to Bernie during the time of his failed nomination as Homeland Security Director, the investigation into the renovations to his Bronx apartment, and his relationship with former Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro.

The Bronx District Attorney had wiretapped Kerik’s cell phone and captured Tacopina’s comments on tape. D.A. Robert Johnson subsequently turned the tapes over to the feds.

Sources say the feds are keying in on three subjects supposedly discussed.

bulletHow Kerik answered questions during his federal background check during the Homeland Security nominating debacle. Kerik’s nomination collapsed amidst allegations of at least one bankruptcy, ties to alleged mobsters, an undisclosed marriage and personal indiscretions including trysts with girlfriends at a Ground Zero apartment he had been loaned after 9/11.

bulletKerik’s relationship with Pirro, a failed Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate and state attorney general. She reportedly tried to recruit Kerik to plant a recording device on her philandering husband’s boat to catch him with another woman. Both Pirro and Kerik remain under investigation in this matter.

bulletKerik’s plea deal to a misdemeanor for accepting $165,000 in free renovations to his Bronx apartment by a construction firm allegedly linked to the mob.

In a telephone interview, Tacopina said, ““They [the feds] said there may be a conflict as I may be called as a witness.

“They spoke to me about some things related to the Bronx District Attorney’s office and who authorized me to relay them — things I might have said to people in negotiating his deal.

“Basically, they’re trying to build a case against Bernie.”

Fellow defense attorneys voiced another concern. They say Tacopina agreed to talk to the feds without an attorney to represent him. As any defense attorney knows, this could leave him vulnerable to making an unintentional misrepresentation to a federal official. People have been indicted for less.

Tacopina, a high profile celebrity lawyer recently profiled in GQ magazine, joins a growing number of people whose associations with Kerik have given them headaches and agita. These include:

bulletConstruction executives Frank and Peter DiTommaso. Appearing before a Bronx grand jury, the DiTommasos denied paying for the $165,000 in renovations to Kerik’s Bronx apartment. In accepting a misdemeanor plea to avoid a trial and possible jail time, Kerik said the opposite. Result: brothers Frank and Peter were indicted for perjury.

bulletKerik’s friend and spokesman at the NYPD and Department of Corrections, Tom Antenen. He lost his city job after disobeying an order to avoid contact with Kerik during the Bronx investigation. However the wiretaps on Bernie’s phone showed that Antenen had been talking to his old boss.

bulletKerik’s accountant, NYPD Captain Sean Crowley. He was subpoenaed as part of the ongoing federal probe into Kerik. Crowley moonlights — legally — in a family accounting practice and prepared Kerik’s tax returns for the first two years after he left the NYPD.

Finally, there’s Pitch, Kerik’s former chief of staff John Picciano. Recently, Pitch returned from Brazil, where he’d disappeared two years ago. Now he’s ducking both creditors and the feds, who want to talk to him about Bernie.

Kerik, meanwhile, was most recently heard from in Jordan, where is working on — of all things — prison reform while bemoaning his existence. “At least here in Jordan I have half a chance,” he said. “Back home it’s death by a thousand cuts.”

Of his patron, former mayor and current presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, he said: “It’s like dying a slow death, watching him have to answer for my mistakes.”

Is that a cri de coeur — a cry from the heart? Or is Bernie sending a message?

Bailing Out. It’s not just NYPD cops who are bailing in droves [if they can] to join their gold-dust brethren in Nassau County, where salaries top out at over six-figures.

Now the rush is on to replace outgoing police commissioner James Lawrence.

No fewer than four top-ranking NYPD officers have applied for his job.

Two of them have made the semi-final cut.

This column will not embarrass anyone by naming them.

As the department’s former highest ranking black female, Joyce Stephen, can testify, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly doesn’t take kindly to officers who leave without his approval.

But one of the NYPD’s current highest ranking females, whose name was bruited about as a candidate for the Nassau job, did not apply.

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Copyright © 2007 Leonard Levitt