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The Harvard Club Defense
October 3, 2016
Captains Endowment Association president Roy Richter used Manhattan's posh Harvard Club to try to reduce fines by the Conflicts of Interest Board against three NYPD chiefs. The chiefs had accepted free meals, totaling about $600 for each, at high-end steak joints from Thomas Galante, the former head of the Queens Public Library, in violation of the city charter.
Richter said he told the board that “the public library selected the forum, which happened to be a high-end restaurant, no different from our police commissioner selecting the Harvard Club as a forum for a meeting.”
“I never used [Ray] Kelly’s or [Bill] Bratton’s name” before the board, Richter said, referring to the city’s last two police commissioners. The non-profit Police Foundation, which had been established as an anti-corruption measure, paid for Kelly’s and Bratton’s Harvard Club membership and entertainment.
It’s unclear whether Richter’s argument influenced the board’s decision to fine each of the NYPD officials — now-Chief of Personnel Diana Pizzuti, Housing Chief James Secreto and retired Transportation Chief James Tuller — $1,500 for accepting the freebies.
The city charter bars civil servants from accepting gifts over $50. The meals included a $200 birthday cake for Pizzuti’s husband at Quality Meats, a midtown steakhouse, on Nov. 14, 2013, paid for by Galante, who’s been accused of using library funds to pay for personal expenses.
On Friday, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill promoted Pizzuti to chief of personnel, saying he had considered “the totality” of her career.
In the past, the board fined two commissioners for violating ethics rules. In 2000, the board fined Howard Safir $7,000, which was the cost of a trip for him and his wife to the Academy Awards. An executive of the Revlon Corp. paid for the trip, which included a private jet and a five-star hotel stay.
In 2002, the board fined Bernard Kerik $2,500 for having a detective and sergeant take five trips to Newark, Ohio, on department time to research his autobiography.
The board took no action against Kelly, who had strong-armed the Police Foundation into paying nearly $40,000 for him at the Harvard Club between 2002 and 2013.
“The schedules indicate he was invited to enough Broadway openings to qualify as a theater critic,” the Daily News wrote in 2015, following a Freedom of Information suit by the Civil Liberties Union, initiated by NYPD Confidential in 2011.
The News reported that Kelly “welcomed scores of guests — including some members of the media — to share a table at the Harvard Club. His high-profile companions included federal prosecutor Preet Bharara, a table of 10 four-star generals, conservative columnist Peggy Noonan and [then] Fox News impresario Roger Ailes. There was billionaire Carl Icahn, astronaut Mark Kelly, Brian Williams of NBC News, former Sen. Bob Kerrey and author Fran Lebowitz.”
No one inside or outside the NYPD seemed aware, or had the guts to tell Kelly, that what he was doing bordered on unethical behavior that would set a precedent. “If they were aware, no one told Kelly, said a top chief under him. “If they did, it would have been in private.
“A police commissioner needs a place to take guests,” added the chief, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak freely about Kelly and the foundation. “You can’t expect a civil servant to put their hand in their pocket. If it’s police business, that’s OK. If family and friends, I have a problem with it. It’s a slippery slope.”
According to Bratton’s 2014 financial disclosure form, the foundation had paid up to $47,999 for him at the Harvard Club in that year. “Customary practice of Foundation to underwrite these costs for NYPD commissioners,” he wrote on the form to justify the foundation payments.
Fortunately for the city, new Commissioner O’Neill has shown no inclination to become a Harvard man. Not yet, anyway.
Copyright © 2016 Leonard Levitt