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Bashing the Bureau

November 19, 2007

Ever since the World Trade Center attack, the FBI has allowed itself to be kicked around by the media and rival law enforcement agencies.

Under Director Robert Mueller, the Bureau doesn’t respond to attacks, even if unfair.

No one has kicked the bureau around more than Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence David Cohen.

Kelly has called the Bureau “incompetent,” among other choice adjectives. He has repeatedly stated the FBI failed to protect the city from 9/11.

Cohen has made such sport of the Bureau that when retired FBI agent Dan Coleman signed on to work with him, Coleman, the New York office’s Bin Laden expert, quit the first day because Cohen made more disparaging comments about the Bureau.

Kelly has sent NYPD detectives outside the city’s jurisdiction where the FBI is the major law enforcement player. The NYPD conducted a bizarre sting of scuba diving shop owners along the Jersey shore. It fruitlessly sent detectives to search for stolen explosives in Pennsylvania. It infiltrated a protest group in Massachusetts, where the NYPD detectives were nearly arrested. The FBI never went public with its complaints of useless NYPD meddling.

After Kelly began his overseas spy service -- stationing NYPD detectives abroad to rival the Bureau -- the FBI embraced it. Getting along with Kelly became the first priority of Mark Mershon, the Bureau’s head of the New York office, per orders from Mueller.

Meanwhile, the FBI’s Assistant Director and former star spokesman, John Miller, remains silent. The knowledgeable and once garrulous mouthpiece for former NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton, Miller has become the Bureau’s stealth spokesman. Two weeks ago, another city official thought he could get away with bashing the bureau. Apparently seeking to deflect criticism after his prize case against former FBI agent Lindley DeVecchio went south, Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes decided to play the FBI card.

Instead of acknowledging his incompetence after evidence surfaced that star witness, mob moll Linda Schiro, had contradicted her sworn testimony years before, Hynes blamed the FBI.

After DeVecchio’s case was dismissed, the Post quoted Hynes’ underlings as saying the FBI paid DeVecchio’s bills. Hynes’ former investigator Tommy Dades stated that Bureau agents followed him and staked out his house.

Hynes spokesman, Jerry Schmetterer, said the FBI had withheld documents, turning them over only at the last minute. “It was a struggle,” the Post quoted Schmetterer, “but they made it very difficult.”

While Bureau officials in Washington remained silent, one person spoke up. He was James M. Margolin, a spokesman for the FBI’s New York office, a middle level official and anything but a star.

“If he [Dades] is talking about on-board agents [following him],” Margolin said. “it is categorically false.” Responding to Schmetterer, Margolin said, “We turned over everything we could legally give them. We gave it to them as expeditiously as possible.”

Then Margolin added the following: "As a rule, I think the FBI's usual policy of taking the high road and declining to respond to criticism is the best policy. But when the criticism is so without factual merit, silence doesn't serve our mission to the truth. To suggest that the FBI failed to cooperate fully with the Brooklyn DA's investigation is disingenuous. To accuse the FBI of willful foot-dragging or interference is worse than disingenuous. It's a statement they know or ought to know is patently false.”

Hynes’ press office declined comment. Schmetterer did not return a message left there. Dades said through a third party that he was referring to former – not current – agents.

Printable versionSeeing No Evil.
Narcotics cop James Calderon was arrested last week for allegedly running a Bronx-based cocaine and heroin ring. According to the newspapers, Federal Drug Enforcement agents and the city’s Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s office developed the case. The police department’s Internal Affairs Bureau played but a secondary role.

Calderon is the second NYPD cop arrested in a drug bust in the past three weeks. On Oct. 31, Suffolk County, L.I.. police arrested Glen Smokler, a Manhattan cop from the 30th precinct, as part of a multi-million dollar ring that smuggled marijuana from Canada. In that case IAB appeared to play no role whatsoever.

The fact that Smokler worked in the 30th precinct, where nearly three dozen cops were convicted in a drug corruption scandal a decade ago, would seem to make Smokler’s case even more compelling.

Yet the city’s media dropped Smokler’s story after reporting it. Let’s see what happens with Calderon’s.

These are both major arrests. Both were initiated by outside agencies – not by IAB, whose job is to uncover police corruption. That lapse is major as well.

Remember the last NYPD cop arrested for serious drug crimes by Suffolk cops and not by IAB? That was Michael Dowd in 1992. His arrest led Mayor David Dinkins to appoint the Mollen Commission to investigate police corruption. That, in turn, led to the 30th precinct scandal and the realization that IAB had lost its effectiveness – if it ever had any.

So are these two current drug arrests of cops by agencies outside the NYPD cause for concern? Who knows? Everyone is too scared of Ray Kelly and of another terrorist attack to even consider the question.

Earlier this month, the Post published a front-page story of an internal IAB report for 2006 that listed scores of errant cops. This, after the department refused to release it, or answer questions about it. And to think that in the past, police the department made those reports public.

Since Mayor Bloomberg has abdicated all responsibility in maintaining outside oversight of the police department, nothing today is made public. No one is pressuring Kelly to inform the public of the true state of corruption in the NYPD. This is frightening. More frightening is the possibility that IAB doesn’t know the answer.

Another David Cohen. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney announced a Homeland Security Policy Advisory Group last week. A name on the list was David Cohen, who a press releases described as having served as “Chief of Staff” to Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

That’s our Raymond Kelly but it is not our David Cohen. Romney’s David Cohen served as chief of staff to Kelly while Kelly was Commissioner of Customs, not Commissioner of the NYPD.

Correction. This column erred two weeks ago when it reported that former top-level FBI official Lane Bonner did not respond to an e-mail about the FBI’s alleged use of mobster Greg Scarpa to find the bodies of three slain civil rights murders in Mississippi in 1964. Mr. Bonner says he never received the e-mail.

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Copyright © 2007 Leonard Levitt