One Police Plaza

DA's Graft Probe Kept Bratton 'Out of Loop'

February 6, 1995

When Police Commissioner William Bratton fired Walter Mack, the deputy commissioner in charge of the Internal Affairs Bureau, he claimed Mack had kept him "out of the loop."

Bratton refused to specify what "loop" he meant, but law enforcement sources say it was Mack's failure to inform him of a recent investigation that the Manhattan district attorney had recently begun into an undercover cop known as "Officer Otto."

Officer Otto was the nom de guerre of an Internal Affairs informant in the 30th Precinct who, a year and a half ago, put a black hood over his head and testified before the Mollen Commission about corruption there. More recently, George Nova, one of the first of two dozen officers arrested in the "Dirty Thirty," accused one of his former partners of perjury.

What neither Nova, the prosecutors nor Bratton himself understood at first was that the man Nova had identified as his lying partner was in fact Officer Otto. Mack did, but law enforcement sources say that because of a secret agreement he and former Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly had made with Otto after his testimony not to reveal the informant's identity, he did not immediately inform Bratton - or the prosecutors.

Perhaps not coincidentally, when first arrested, Nova never mentioned Otto as a crooked cop. Prosecutors acknowledge Nova may not be a credible witness, but say they are duty-bound to pursue his allegations.

Law enforcement sources say Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau regards the investigation of this key Mollen witness as a vindication of his longstanding position that an independent commission can do as much harm as good. Morgenthau fought the formation of the Mollen commission. He and the commission's head, Milton Mollen, are staring daggers at each other as Morgenthau fights Mollen's recommendation of an independent monitor to police the police.

Bratton, who like Morgenthau opposes the independent monitor, also receives a kind of vindication if Otto is discredited. In his hooded testimony, Otto suggested that Capt. Lewis Manetta had condoned corruption when he was assigned to the 30th Precinct. Bratton disregarded Otto's testimoney and appointed Manetta the commanding officer of the newly created 33rd Precinct.

Bratton has refused to discuss Officer Otto although, law enforcement sources say, it was he, not Mack, who informed prosecutors of Otto's true identity.

Blowing In the wind. Despite what some in IAB call "nine months of prodding," Bratton is yet to reveal his long-awaited strategy for fighting police corruption.

Unlike earlier strategies, such as gun control or youth violence that were released with great fanfare, Bratton is uncharacteristically silent about this one. "It's no big deal, only an articulating of existing policy," he said last week.

But exactly what his existing policy is on fighting police corruption in light of his firing of anti-corruption prober Mack, no one seems to know. Both state and federal proscutors said last week they were shocked to read details of two corruption investigations in the newspapers. One account even named a confidential informant in Queens' 109th Precinct.

Equally troubling, say prosecutors, were the responses by Bratton and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to events in the 109th and in the Bronx's 48th Precinct, where the second corruption investigation is underway. While prosecutors maintained that the news stories short-circuited both investigations, Bratton and Giuliani said that the subsequent arrest of a cop in the 109th and the placing on modified assignment of two cops in the 48th proves the NYPD's aggressiveness and demonstrates the police can police themselves.

One veteran anti-corruption prosecutor said his colleagues in Queens and in the Bronx were "distraught" over the news stories. "They literally don't know where to go next on this."

Referring to Bratton and Giuliani, the prosecutor said, "This appears to be good public relations over good investigations."

"These cases take patience, which is not popular in the police department," he said. "While it might appear that hurrying up is an aggressive approach, in reality, hurrying up stalls investigations because it lets people know about them.

"The police say that as many as 20 officers are under investigation in the 48th and another 10 in the 109. But if the department continues its current approach, I guarantee that by the end of the year fewer than half a dozen will be arrested.

"What this says to me is to be real careful about dealing with the new Internal Affairs . . . Their message is not encouraging."

So long, Mr. Commissioner. Nine hundred people paid respects to retiring First Deputy Commissioner Dave Scott, known in the NYPD as a "gentleman's gentleman," and, as his dinner program read, as the department's first African-American four-star chief. Guests included former Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward, former Mayor David N. Dinkins and commissioner Bratton, who told Scott, "Thank you for not wanting to be police commissioner. Otherwise, I wouldn't be standing here."

Former Deputy Commissioner Walter Mack did not attend but personally contacted Scott to offer congratulations. Mayor Giuliani was a last-minute no-show.

©1995 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.