One Police Plaza

Lawyer friend waives Safir fee

October 15, 1997

Police Commissioner Howard Safir has received what appears to be thousands of dollars in free legal services from a top celebrity divorce lawyer to settle a lawsuit in which Safir allegedly cheated a relative out of $88,000.

This appears to violate police guidelines.

Safir's lawyer, Raoul Felder, settled the suit against Safir and his wife, Carol, yesterday for what he described as "nuisance value," and said in a phone interview that he was waiving his customary $450-an-hour fee for Safir.

"It's not because he's the police commissioner. It's because he is a friend," Felder said. "I'd do it for any friend. It's not a gift. I do it all the time. Rather than reduce the fee, I don't charge friends at all. It's like he goes to the doctor and the doctor is a friend of his and doesn't charge him."

In 1996, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani forced the resignation of Safir's predecessor, William Bratton. At the time, he expressed concern about Bratton's acceptance of free plane trips with such figures as billionaire Henry Kravis and Johnson & Johnson executive Robert Johnson. Bratton subsequently sent checks totaling $12,000 to Kravis and other wealthy friends.

Giuliani also ordered Corporation Counsel Paul Crotty to investigate Bratton's free trips, but the results of that investigation have never been disclosed. Yesterday, Lorna Goodman, a spokeswoman for Crotty, could not be reached for comment.

Safir's spokeswoman Marilyn Mode said, "I have nothing for you. That's final."

Section 104.3 of the NYPD's Patrol Guide prohibits department officials from accepting "any reward, gratuity, gift or other compensation for any service performed as a result of or in conjunction with their duties as public servants . . . This policy applies regardless of whether the service was performed while said members of the Department were on or off-duty. Members of the service also shall not solicit any gift, gratuity, loan, present, fee or reward for personal gain . . .

"To insure that the justification for these gifts is not misinterpreted by the general public, the following procedure has been established," the Patrol Guide continues. "Whenever a member of the service is offered a gift or becomes aware that a gift will be offered in appreciation of police service," he should "notify his commanding officer PRIOR to acceptance of the gift." The Patrol Guide puts the word "prior" in capital letters.

Safir's commanding officer, so to speak, is Giuliani. Neither Giuliani's spokeswoman, Colleen Roche, nor Communications Director Cristyne Lategano returned telephone calls seeking the mayor's response.

So far as is known, Felder does no business with the city, but he has received a pistol permit from the police. Under the law, it is the police commissioner who approves such permits, although it was not known yesterday when Felder received the permit.

Felder declined to reveal the number of hours he worked on Safir's case but said that "it was only for two weeks."

Rose Ferraro, the widow of Carol Safir's older brother, had sued Safir and his wife over a home in Mattituck, which was purchased by the Safirs in 1986 as a favor to Ferraro's husband, who could not make the downpayment.

"The case is a living embodiment of the phrase that no good deed goes unpunished," Felder said. "Originally, she sued for $150,000. . . . We were ready to pick a jury. Then the widow suddenly became realistic about what the case was worth." Felder declined to specify the amount of the settlement.

Ferraro's attorney, Arnold Goldstein, did not return a call for comment.

Felder - who has represented such celebrities as actress Robin Givens, then the wife of boxer Mike Tyson; and Larry Fortensky, then the husband of Elizabeth Taylor - said of Safir: "I've known him for years. I've known him since he was fire commissioner. He has had a very distinguished career in law enforcement. When he was a drug agent, he was in shoot-outs. Once a guy put a gun to his head."

©1997 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.