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Ray Kelly’s French Connection

May 30, 2011

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s tepid response to allegations that the NYPD has leaked damaging information about the sexual assault case of International Monetary Fund ex-leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn is so out of character it makes one wonder.

“I certainly hope that’s not the case,” Kelly said of the alleged police leaks, after Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers complained that the disclosures were damaging his right to a fair trial.

Such a meek response from the police department’s micromanaging commissioner raises this question: Could Kelly be deliberately seeking to discredit Strauss-Kahn?

While this column disdains conspiracy theories, we might point out that Kelly has been known to do a favor or two for powerful and influential people who he feels can be useful to him.

And one of those people — who has been especially useful to Kelly in the past — has a tremendous interest in Strauss-Kahn’s fate.

That person is Strauss-Kahn’s political rival, French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Kelly and Sarkozy? Hold on, readers. Don’t laugh.

Here is some background. Both Kelly and his wife Veronica are Francophiles. Veronica Kelly travels regularly to France on business. Ray Kelly has traveled to France more than most people are aware.

Interpol, the international police force, is based in Lyons, France. Kelly does anti-terrorism business there.

In 2006 Kelly was awarded France’s Legion of Honor, an order established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte. This is considered France’s highest decoration.

Who awarded Kelly the honor? Nicolas Sarkozy, then France’s Interior Minister.

It’s rare for Americans to receive this honor. Those who have are very distinguished. They include Julia Child, Walt Disney and Dwight D. Eisenhower. That’s pretty impressive company.

Kelly was inducted at the French consulate here in New York. Sarkozy, who did the honors, said France was honoring Kelly for his contributions to fighting terrorism.

Over the years, their relationship has apparently thrived.

Last summer, Sarkozy invited Kelly to Paris to celebrate Alain Bauer’s induction into the Legion of Honor. Bauer is a French criminologist and national security expert.

According to the N.Y. Post, Bauer paved the way for NYPD detectives to be permanently assigned to Paris police headquarters to guard against terror threats.

Until Strauss-Kahn was accused of trying to rape a hotel maid, a 32-year-old single mother from the African country of Guinea, he was considered the only man in France capable of defeating Sarkozy for the French presidency.

Those alleged NYPD leaks about Strauss-Kahn to the media were devastating. They involved reports that he supposedly attempted to flee to France after the alleged rape, and other reports that his DNA matched semen found on the maid’s clothing.

While this column would never suggest that Kelly might do anything unethical or improper [other than accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in freebies from the non-profit Police Foundation or having detectives from his detail chauffeur his wife around town], it is interesting to contrast his response to the Strauss-Kahn leaks with his draconian reaction to leaks in another high-profile sexual assault case, which occurred a few months before he received his Legion of Honor award.

That was the murder of Imette St. Guillen, a graduate student found raped and bound off the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn after she left a SoHo bar.

Then, Kelly was so disturbed over leaks that he launched a sweeping probe of the NYPD’s entire Detective Bureau.

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Unprecedented in scope, the investigation became a witch hunt and reached the highest levels of the department.

Kelly approved the “dumping” of detectives’ cell phone records so that he could learn of their contacts with reporters.

Internal Affairs questioned at least two dozen detectives under oath, including the number two man in the Detective Bureau as well as Detective Borough Brooklyn’s entire top command, including a deputy chief, an inspector and two captains.

At the time, many saw the investigation as evidence that Kelly sought personal control over all information released by the department.

More than ever, that’s the case today. That’s why his mild response to the Strauss-Kahn leaks seems so curious.

Has Ray Kelly, the boy from Hell’s Kitchen on the West Side of Manhattan, become so overwhelmed by his associations with the rich and famous that he has lost all sense of responsibility and public service?

How else to explain his dumping of Deputy Chief James Shea from the Joint [FBI and NYPD] Terrorist Task Force.

Two months ago, Shea, the NYPD’s Number One gun on the JTTF, refused a possibly unlawful order from his NYPD superior, Deputy Commissioner for Counter Terrorism Richard D’Addario, to remove classified FBI documents.

Kelly ordered Shea transferred, but later changed his mind and kept him there.

Until this week.

Last Thursday, Kelly included Shea in a department shake up. Instead of heading the hard-charging JTTF, he will now head the Police Academy, which is something of a department backwater.

His transfer follows that of the JTTF’s Number Two, John Nicholson, who earlier this month also refused a possibly unlawful order from Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence David Cohen. Cohen ordered him to remove classified FBI documents concerning the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Kelly can, no doubt, claim that Shea’s transfer puts him on a promotion track to Assistant Chief as the head of the Police Academy has become a two-star position. [In the NYPD, Assistant Chief is a rank above Deputy Chief, which is a one-star spot.]

In addition, Kelly solves an internal problem as the past head of the academy, George Anderson, had some absentee problems with subordinates, most notably at the pistol range. Furthermore, Shea is long known to be a favorite of Anderson’s boss, Deputy Commissioner for Training Wilbur Chapman, with whom Anderson had been feuding.

Still, what about the “It’s OK-to-break-the-law” message that Kelly’s transfer of both Shea and Nicholson sends to the FBI, its so-called partner in fighting terrorism — Kelly’s stated top priority?

Put another way, how do these two transfers help the fight against terrorism when they further damage the relationship between the NYPD and the FBI?

Deputy Chief Matthew Pontillo, the Intelligence Division’s executive officer, will succeed Shea at the JTTF.

This will ensure that Cohen has someone he knows and trusts in this key spot. The question is whether Pontillo is pliable enough to get Cohen the information he wants, even if it involves breaking the law.

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Copyright © 2011 Leonard Levitt