Bernie Kerik: Thief or Victim?
March 30, 2009
Impeccably dressed in a blue pinstriped suit, Bernie Kerik looked like he was still rolling in dough while portraying himself as a victim.
Striding into the White Plains federal courtroom, he looked neither right nor left as he sat down with his attorneys. When the proceedings ended, he marched out without a word or a glance at the small knots of spectators.
He won a strategic, albeit minor, victory last week when U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Robinson dropped a couple of the 15 counts in his indictment, ruling that the statue of limitations time period had passed and that one of the charges was too vague.
Robinson also agreed to Kerik’s lawyers’ request to separate Kerik’s case into three trials: the first on corruption charges involving $165,000 in free renovations to his Bronx apartment while he served as city Corrections Commissioner; the second on tax evasion charges for allegedly failing to disclose a $250,000 loan and rental income on an Upper East apartment while serving as police commissioner; and the third on perjury charges, stemming from his nomination as Homeland Security Director.
Still, three separate trials means three six-figure lawyers’ fees. And one of those trials is designated for Washington, D.C. which will cost Kerik even more. Add to that the millions of dollars his indictment has cost him in lost business opportunities in the Caribbean and the Middle East and you can see where this is all going.
Robinson scheduled the first trial — the big, corruption one — for October 13, which is nearly two years after Kerik was indicted. At issue is Kerik’s receiving the $165,000 worth of free apartment renovations from two allegedly mob-connected contractors in return for Kerik’s attempt to get them city business.
The contractors, Frank and Peter DiTommaso, were indicted in the Bronx on perjury charges for denying they had paid for Kerik’s renovations after Kerik admitted in a plea deal that they had. The smart money says they have probably cut a deal with the feds to testify against Kerik in return for state perjury charges being dropped or lessened.
Then there’s Kerik’s former lawyer and former best friend Joe Tacopina, who, it appears, will testify that Kerik allegedly lied to him about the renovations’ costs, lies that Tacopina passed on to Bronx prosecutors in negotiating Kerik’s plea deal.
While Kerik’s circle of supporters has shrunk, he has found new and strident
ones who, like Kerik himself, view him as a victim. One of those supporters, Anthony Modaferri III, sent an email last week saying, “KERIK WAS SET UP. … WHAT DO YOU NEED TO TELL THE TRUTH?”
Kerik himself sent an email a couple of months ago that he labeled “Personal and Off the Record,” the gist of which was that he no longer considered this reporter a friend because of a recent column he felt had demeaned his patriotism.
In the e-mail he quoted an unnamed interviewer who said of himself, “Whatever this man did or didn’t do, he gave many years of his life to public service, helping to keep the rest of us safe from harm. … From what I can tell, the issues now are between him and the government — which is to say, they involve private areas of Kerik’s financial circumstances and the accounting of same, that one might construe as ‘victimless.’ This isn’t Enron or AIG. This isn’t Bernie Madoff. …to my mind, this does not wipe out the person he was between his birth and 2005 and the service he gave as cop, commissioner and the reassuring presence in the days after 9/11.”
Victimless? Private areas of Kerik’s financial circumstances? That may be Kerik’s view but contrast it with that of David Cardona, special agent in charge of the FBI’s New York Criminal Division, who at Kerik’s indictment in November, 2007, said of him: “Moral relativism is not an appropriate yardstick for our public officials. The only acceptable level of corruption in a trusted government office is zero. A beat cop accepting a free cup of coffee or a meal ‘on the arm’ is properly viewed by the public as wrongdoing. If the free cup of coffee is wrong, Kerik’s long list of alleged crimes is repugnant.”
Cardona then cited the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt, who served as police commissioner at the turn of the 20th century. “He was the embodiment of rectitude, a man who held himself to a higher standard than he expected of others,” said Cardona. “A century apart, Teddy Roosevelt and Bernie Kerik held the same job. There the similarity ends.”
Next, he receives an e-mail from the Post’s book editor, Abby Wisse Schacter, reading, “The review’s just fine. We are holding it until we are a little closer to the book’s release date, March 17. Meantime if there is something else you want to review let me know and I will see what I have to offer you. Also, please tell the publicist working on your own book that I want to get galleys when they are available.”
Your Humble Servant is now certain he is dreaming. Ms. Wisse Schachter’s email suggests she is unaware his review has been appropriated by Cynthia R. Fagan, her editor or an unknown word thief.
“Let me find out what’s going on,” Wisse Schacter adds.
The next day she writes to the Post’s Sunday editor, Stephen Lynch, saying:
“Leonard Levitt has written to me to complain about Cynthia's story yesterday. As he points out, the opening is the same as his review. Besides that the quotes she took from the book are the same.”
The same day, Your Humble Servant receives an e-mail from Lynch. “Mr. Levitt, this is my fault and I apologize. I wanted to run an interview with Bacon [the book’s author, Paul Bacon], but it was bland and needed to be beefed up with stuff from the book -- of which you had rightly picked all the best stuff. I should have added your byline to the piece; it was a bad oversight. We'll of course pay your fee for the story. If you’re interested in altering the review for publication, closer to the release date, I’d be happy to print it and pay for that piece as well…”
Well, we all make mistakes. Your Humble Servant could do no less than accept his apology. Not only was the Post promising to run my review but to pay me for its apparent plagiarism.
Now Your Humble Servant knew he was dreaming.
[To be continued.]