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Troubling Questions for Foundation Freebies

February 14, 2011

So Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has amended his financial disclosure forms after this column revealed last October that the Police Foundation had paid his dues and meals at the Harvard Club for the past eight years.

Kelly now acknowledges he spent $30,000 at the Harvard Club between 2006 and 2009, according to the Daily News.

He spent more than half that amount — $15,148 — in 2008, the year he was seriously considering running for mayor.

Kelly has stated that all those Harvard Club expenses concerned police business but he has refused to reveal — even to the Foundation — the names of those he entertained, citing “privacy” concerns.

“The foundation was not provided with that information,” said a person familiar with the arrangement.

There’s no question that some Kelly luncheons at Harvard Club involved police business, such as those with Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence David Cohen and others brought in to enhance the department’s overseas spy service.

Perhaps even Kelly’s lunch with the Daily News editor from Boston, Kevin Convey, could be construed as police-related. Maybe Kelly asked Convey about Kelly’s favorite Boston native — Bill Bratton.

Convey didn’t return a phone call from this reporter seeking to learn whether Bratton — or any other police matter — was discussed.

But did Kelly also take his friends to the Harvard Club, say J. Lo and Marc Anthony, or his sons or wife Veronica?

If so — if some of those meals for which the Police Foundation reimbursed him did not involve police business — they are considered gifts. That could impact his federal and state income tax returns.

Usually when public officials refuse to disclose information, they’re hiding something. That’s not necessarily true with Kelly, whose secretive nature hides just about everything.

Police Plaza is more locked down now than even under Rudy Giuliani. [Someone in the department’s Public Information Office actually had a sergeant from Building Security inform Your Humble Servant that he can no longer enter the Public Information office without a prior appointment.]

Despite Kelly’s amended disclosure forms, filed with the city’s Conflict of Interest Board, questions remain unanswered.

First, was Kelly testing the waters for mayor with Police Foundation money?

This column previously reported that, since 2006, the foundation has paid a consultant $96,000 a year to market Kelly as the face of the foundation.

By 2008, when Kelly was seriously considering his mayoral run, the consultant, Hamilton South, had morphed into Kelly’s personal public relations man.

Besides getting him favorable press coverage at social events, South was introducing Kelly to the city’s rich and famous — possible future contributors for a mayoral campaign.

Kelly aborted his bid after Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced in late 2008 that he would seek a third term.

Second, does Kelly now control the supposedly independent non-profit Police Foundation, which, ironically, began as an anti-corruption measure following the Knapp Commission police scandal of the early 1970s and now raises $5 million annually in private donations for the NYPD.

Has the foundation become a professional slush fund for Kelly?

Consider that, last year, Kelly forced out its longtime executive, Pam Delaney, after grousing that her salary was higher than his.

Although she accepted a pay cut, he continued to press for her removal. At the same time, sources said, Veronica Kelly was telling people at the foundation that she could do Delaney’s job.

The stated reason for ditching Delaney was a supposed change in the foundation’s fundraising goals, the sources said.

But instead of hiring an executive director with fundraising expertise, the foundation replaced Delaney with her timorous assistant, Greg H. Roberts.

Roberts is now forbidden to speak to the media — or to Delaney, for whom he worked for two decades.

Meanwhile, the foundation’s chairwoman, Valerie Salembier, refuses to answer media queries, referring calls to the police department.

 
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If that’s not Kelly’s control of the Police Foundation, what is?

Third, does the foundation pay other expenses for Kelly that he may not have reported? Neither Roberts nor Salembier returned a call about that from this reporter. Kelly’s spokesman, Paul Browne, did not return an email message.

A prosecutor with expertise in municipal corruption says that both Kelly’s and the foundation’s lack of disclosure are troublesome.

“Any time you have somebody giving money to the Police Commissioner, you have to be concerned, even if it comes from a non-profit foundation,” he says.

“Did Kelly get an opinion from the Conflicts of Interest Board before accepting the money?” the prosecutor asked rhetorically. Apparently he did not.

“So we don’t know who or what he was using the money for,” the prosecutor continued, “and that doesn’t pass the smell test.

“When you talk about ethics in government, the Police Commissioner in particular must be above that.”

Other police commissioners in the recent past have also tried to hide their freebies.

Remember Howard Safir and the Oscars? In 1999, he traveled to the awards ceremony with his wife, a secret trip, care of the Revlon Corporation, which flew the Safirs to California on its private jet and paid for their four-star hotel for two nights.

To attend the Oscars, Safir had cancelled his Monday morning appearance at a key City Council hearing about the fatal shooting of the unarmed African immigrant, Amadou Diallo, by four police officers. The shooting had roiled the city. Safir cited a “scheduling conflict” to explain why he couldn’t attend the hearing.

The Sunday night of the Academy Awards, Safir was spotted on television in a tuxedo, standing next to the actress Helen Hunt. Mayor Giuliani forced him to take the red-eye back to New York so he could attend the hearing.

The Conflicts of Interest Board then began investigating. Safir ultimately repaid Revlon $7,100, the estimated cost of his Oscar excursion.

Then, there was Kelly’s predecessor, Bernie Kerik. He didn’t disclose a $28,000 loan from a real estate developer and a $165,000 renovation to his Bronx apartment, paid for by a construction company with alleged mob ties.

A Department of Investigation probe led Kerik to plead guilty to two misdemeanors. A Bronx State Supreme Court Judge fined him $221,000.

The feds then indicted for him for a litany of crimes, and he is now serving four years in prison.

The question now is what, if anything, the city will do to get answers from Kelly.

Let’s see if the Conflicts of Interest Board has the courage to demand Kelly answer who he entertained at the Harvard Club.

Let’s see if DOI Commissioner Rose Gil Hearn, who was so vigorous in pursuing Kerik, has the courage to ask the same.

A second prosecutor also with ethics expertise put it this way: “Who is looking to make sure he [Kelly] is not doing anything improper?

“Omitting the filing is usually enough for the Conflicts of Interest Board to investigate. Remember, he didn’t come forward with it voluntarily. The press caught him.”


THE FBI’S NEWFOUND VOICE: SILENCED
. FBI agent Rich Kolko’s name was not on the Bureau’s most recent press release on Friday, a further sign that his temporary departure from the New York press office is now permanent.

Officials in Washington who had bristled at Kolko’s swashbuckling media manner, were especially irked that he had announced the Bureau’s recent mob bust to favored reporters, then allowed a WNBC television crew into the area where the arrestees were processed — without Washington’s permission.

Sources say Kolko will be returning to Washington, where he worked in the press office before coming to New York. The sources add that he won’t be working in the press office there.

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Copyright © 2011 Leonard Levitt