NYPD Confidential - An Inside Look at the New York Police Department
Home Page
All Columns
Contact Leonard Levitt
Search this site
Printable versionSend to a friendEmail Leonard Levitt

The Man Who Kept the Secrets

September 10, 2007

He was the man who kept the department’s most closely guarded secrets, and he died last month as he did his job — out of the limelight and unknown to the public.

Lieut. John J. Donnelly, 60, a 35-year department veteran whose last decade was spent in the Internal Affairs Bureau, died unexpectedly on Aug 16th.

“Everyone in IAB knew he held the secrets,” said a colleague. “At the funeral you could see it in their eyes.”

The heavyset, grey-haired Donnelly with piercing blue eyes was the gruff, heart-of-gold-like commanding officer of Group 25, which turns out of Chief Charles Campisi’s office. Group 25, which the public is not supposed to know about, handles the NYPD side of federal cases potentially more sensitive than even those of top-level police officials investigated by IAB’s notorious Group One.

When the police commissioner needs a quick answer to an especially sensitive case, he goes to Campisi. Campisi went to Donnelly in Group 25.

How sensitive is sensitive? Well, a few years back when Bernie Kerik was police commissioner, the name of a chief’s son came up on a federal wiretap of two mobsters.

More recently, it was to Group 25 that current police commissioner Ray Kelly turned for some quick answers to allegations that Kerik’s Chief of Staff John Picciano had ordered four, high-tech security doors for $50,000 with no paperwork. At the time, the city’s Department of Investigation was conducting a parallel investigation.

After the Mollen Commission’s exposure of the 30th precinct drug scandal in 1994 and the “inclusive” approach taken by former commissioner Bill Bratton, it was Donnelly whom people outside IAB approached to discuss corruption in their bureaus.

“People in the department trusted him,” said a co-worker. “People from other units talked to him.”

Still, his death has led to a mystery that has unsettled IAB’s headquarters staff on the 12th floor of One Police Plaza. Where was Chief Campisi, who missed both the wake, on August 18 and 19th at Wanamaker and Carlough’s in upstate Suffern, and the funeral mass, on Aug. 20th at St. Francis of Assisi Church in West Nyack?

Campisi was said to be on vacation and nobody in the office was able to locate him as he left no travel plans. These are supposed to be listed on the back of his request for leave form, called a UF28.

Inspector Thomas Mason, the commanding officer of Campisi’s office, was also on vacation. When he returned, he, too, tried but failed to reach Campisi.

Some believed Campisi was in Paris; others, that he was on a European cruise with his wife. The office became more unsettled when they heard that during the week of Donnelly’s death, Mrs. C. underwent emergency eye surgery in New York. How could Campisi, a family man, be in Paris or on a European cruise while his wife was in the hospital in New York?

Campisi has yet to explain his absence to his staff. “Now the whole office is pissed,” says an IAB veteran. “They needed a guiding light and he wasn’t there.”

IAB staffers note that Campisi has changed in the decade he has headed IAB. That’s a long time to run a bureau, especially a pressure-filled one like IAB, which can give you a warped view of the world and set you apart from most people in it. In terms of longevity, he’s approaching, if he hasn’t already passed, IAB’s legendary leader John Guido. Giudo so distrusted the top brass he refused to attend social functions so that he wouldn’t be compromised.

Guido was also fiercely independent, running his own shop with little interference from various police commissioners. Nowadays, like everyone else at Police Plaza, Campisi doesn’t move without notifying Commissioner Kelly. His independence has taken the form of secretiveness and remoteness — specifically, not communicating to the people in his office where he goes, what he does and, as the Donnelly situation indicates, where he can be reached on vacation.

Nor is his lack of communication confined to IAB. Within the last year IAB arrested some cops without notifying Chief of Department Joe Esposito, who learned of the arrests in the newspapers.

On the other hand, maybe Campisi was retaliating for Esposito’s not informing him when former Deputy Commissioner Garry McCarthy protested so vehemently over the ticketing of his daughter by New Jersey’s Palisades Parkway Police that he got himself arrested. While in custody, McCarthy telephoned Espo for help in getting him out of there.

And when Campisi subsequently learned of McCarthy’s arrest, guess who he assigned to investigate it? John Donnelly. Kelly, who’s loath to publicly discipline his top brass, then had his spokesman say that McCarthy’s misconduct didn’t “rise to the level of discipline.”

What Was He Thinking? As an admirer of former NYPD First Deputy and current Miami Police Chief John Timoney, Your Humble Servant has been as perplexed as everyone else is about why the straight-shooting Timoney would place himself in a position that compromises both his authority and reputation.

His decision to accept the free use of a leased Lexus SUV for the past year was dumb, dumb, dumb, a description with which Timoney has been the first to agree.

He has publicly acknowledged his lapse in judgment, apologized, paid back the money, and even purchased the car.

While his enemies — most notably the local PBA president — are using the incident to push for his firing, his job seems secure. Both the mayor and the city’s leading newspaper, the Miami Herald, are supporting him, the Herald pointing out that his lapse in judgment is outweighed by the service he had rendered the city of Miami.

« Back to top

Copyright © 2007 Leonard Levitt