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Bernie Betrayed? Joe Says No

March 24, 2008

So what’s up between Bernie Kerik and his former attorney Joe Tacopina?

People who know the former police commissioner say Kerik feels Tacopina, his former top bud and attorney, abandoned him last year as the feds were preparing their 16-count indictment against him — which included tax evasion, making false statements on a loan application, and lying to the government during his Homeland Security nomination.

As a source put it: “Bernie feels Tacopina threw him under the bus.”

Until then, the two were tight as ticks. After Kerik left the NYPD, Tacopina served as Bernie’s spokesman and civil attorney. When Kerik set up his international consultant business, he used Tacopina’s office on Madison Avenue.

Tacopina even accompanied Kerik to the Harvard Club, where Kerik, a recent graduate of Empire State College, lectured on foreign policy to the Manhattan Institute. In his lecture, Kerik, who had just returned from his three-month tour in Baghdad training the Iraqi police, praised President Bush and the Iraq war, probably helping him to obtain his ultimately doomed Homeland Security nomination.

Then in June, 2006 came Kerik’s indictment in the Bronx. He plea-bargained to two misdemeanors, admitting he accepted $165,000 in renovations to his Bronx apartment from an allegedly mob-linked company during his time as Corrections Commissioner. As part of his plea, he admitted lobbying city officials on behalf of the company, allowing it to use his office for a meeting with the city’s Trade Waste Commission.

The feds then began their investigation. As they moved to indict Kerik, Tacopina withdrew.

The feds say he bailed because Kerik lied to him during negotiations for Kerik’s plea deal with Bronx prosecutors. Specifically, say the feds, Tacopina passed on Kerik’s alleged lies to the prosecutors and to the city’s Department of Investigation, which also probed Kerik.

As Judge Stephen Robinson wrote, “According to the Government, after the Defendant’s nomination for Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security was withdrawn in December 2004, the Defendant’s then-attorney, Joseph Tacopina, met with the Bronx County District Attorney’s Office (“BCDAO”) to discuss its allegations against the Defendant.

“Mr. Tacopina told the BCDAO that Mr. Kerik paid for all of the renovations to his Riverdale apartment himself, and that Mr. Kerik had taken a loan from a Manhattan realtor in order to make a down-payment on the same apartment, and had repaid the loan in 2003.

“The Government claims to have learned of these statements via the Assistant District Attorneys to whom the statements were made, documentary evidence and grand jury testimony. After the Defendant, Mr. Kerik, pled guilty in the Bronx case, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, during its investigation of Mr. Kerik, questioned Mr. Tacopina about the above statements. Mr. Tacopina confirmed that he made those statements to the BCDAO and that the information he conveyed was provided by the Defendant for the “express purpose” of conveying it to the Bronx District Attorney’s Office.

“Also during the course of its investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office met with the New York City Department of Investigation (NYCDOI). NYCDOI informed the Government that, during a meeting with Mr. Tacopina, the NYCDOI Deputy Commissioner was advised by Mr. Tacopina that the total cost of the apartment renovations was between $30,000 and $50,000, and that the Defendant and no one else paid for the renovation costs. Mr. Tacopina confirmed making these statements, and again stated that he conveyed information provided to him by the Defendant for the express purpose of conveying it to personnel at NYCDOI.”

Because of Kerik’s alleged lies, the feds say they plan to call Tacopina as a witness against him.

Tacopina said in an e-mail that he dropped from the case “because the government said I had a conflict. I can’t help that I was conflicted out of a case. I’ve spoken with him [Kerik] and know he has no hard feelings.”

In a subsequent telephone conversation, he said he wanted to remain on the case but that, “The law is the law. The rules are the rules.”

He also wanted to make it clear he had that had acted properly — [The feds say he acted “honorably”] — and that Kerik was not upset with him. “It’s silly,” he said. “I received a note from him. He is not pissed at me.” A source in the know says Kerik denies having written to him.

Contrast Tacopina, who — so far as anyone can tell — exited without a murmur, with his successor Kenneth Breen. Breen had to be dragged off the case after Judge Robinson backed the feds’ claims that Kerik had passed the same lies on to Breen.

As Robinson wrote, “In the summer of 2005, Mr. Breen joined Mr. Tacopina in his representation of Mr. Kerik in connection with the BCDAO/NYCDOI investigation. According to the Government, Mr. Tacopina informed federal investigators that, throughout the course of the next year, the Defendant repeated to Messrs. Tacopina and Breen the substance of the above statements for the purpose of conveying this information to prosecutors and investigators.”

Said Tacopina: “They didn’t challenge Breen until after the indictment. The government claimed Breen and I had the same conflict. If Kerik had won that argument, I could have come back as Kerik’s attorney again with Breen. But when the judge ruled that Breen and I were both potential witnesses, it was over.”

Kerik didn’t return an e-mail. Asked to comment, Breen hung up the phone.

A Coup For Kelly.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly achieved another public relations coup in a piece of fluffery in Saturday’s Washington Post, which stated that the FBI had acquiesced in allowing the NYPD to construct a vault at Police Plaza so the NYPD could access the Bureau’s SCIF — Sensitive Compartmented Information [the nation’s highest classified documents] — about terrorism.

The article made no mention of the fact that NYPD detectives on the Joint Terrorist Task Force have had access to the same material at the New York FBI office. Nor does it mention FBI concerns about adequate oversight of the 1,000 counter-terrorism cops who might access the material.

Three final points about the article:

bulletIt’s reassuring to know that working as Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence has given David [Confidential] Cohen “a sense of professional freedom and accomplishment that is hard to achieve in the bureaucratized intelligence world of Washington.”

bulletFBI spokesman John Miller’s terse answers to the Post’s questions provide further indication [if any is needed] that FBI Director Robert Mueller has neutered him.

bulletThe head of the FBI’s New York office is Mark Mershon, not, as the Post spelled it, “Mershan.”

Worth's Worth.
WNBC-TV news anchor Darlene Rodriguez obviously does not read NYPD Confidential. If she did, she might have hesitated before hiring Stephen Worth to represent her husband David, a New Rochelle police sergeant accused of raping a 17-year girl — even if Worth gave her a low-ball figure so he could get some publicity for himself..

Worth is known to readers of this column as the PBA attorney who defended police officer Charles Schwarz so ineptly in the Abner Louima trial that a federal appeals court ruled Schwarz deserved a new trial.

Worth is also known for his defense of police officer Edward McMellon, one of the four cops acquitted of fatally shooting Amadou Diallo. The trial was moved out of the Bronx to Albany after the Appellate Division of the First Department ruled that the cops couldn’t get a fair trial in the Bronx. Key to their decision was a survey paid for by ex-Bronx judge Burton Roberts, who represented Sean Carroll, another of the cops. The survey indicated that 80 per cent of Bronx residents felt the cops were guilty of Diallo’s murder. Roberts paid $20,000 for the survey himself, after Worth refused to fund it. He did not return a phone call.

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Copyright © 2008 Leonard Levitt