One Police Plaza

The dream team prepped

May 10, 1999

Even presiding judge Eugene Nickerson - who appeared to be in somnorific overdrive during opening arguments - leaned forward in his chair, eyes wide open as Abner Louima told his tale of horror to a packed and silent courtroom.

At the end, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan Vinegrad asked Louima to identify the man who'd allegedly sodomized him with a stick in the bathroom of the 70th Precinct. Rising from the witness stand, Louima's eyes roamed over the jurors on his right, then around the courtroom to the defense table. Fastening on a stocky man with black, slicked-down hair in a dark suit, white shirt and red tie, Louima pointed his finger at police officer Justin Volpe.

As it turns out, Louima's performace was just that. A few Saturdays before, prosecutors had unlocked the courthouse to bring him to the very witness stand in the very courtroom to rehearse. Nickerson criticized the tactic in court, saying he had been unaware of it.

Perhaps no one should be surprised at anything in a trial in which the victim and star witness has admitted lying and the former lead prosecutor resigned, as the Post's Murray Weiss reported in June, amidst a Justice Department probe into allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.

Joining the prosecutors that Saturday to prepare Louima were Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, who are suing the city on Louima's behalf for $150 million. Scheck and Neufeld are, of course, members of the Dream Team of attorneys who defended O.J. Simpson and who somehow convinced the jury that his wife, Nicole, was killed by Martians. Why federal prosecutors would include them in their strategems given their divergent interests (the feds presumably are seeking justice; Neufeld and Scheck, money.) has never been explained.

Nor are the feds the only ones beguiled by the Dream Team. Joe Tacopina, who represents officer Thomas Wiese, charged with beating Louima in a patrol car with Volpe and two other cops, met twice with the Dream Team, once with Neufeld and Scheck, a second time with Neufeld and Johnnie Cochran.

According to court documents and a file memo by "JC and PN" and posted on the Internet at, Tacopina told the Dream Team that Wiese stumbled upon Volpe alone inside the bathroom with Louima, holding a stick covered with feces, while Louima lay face down on the floor, underpants around his ankles. Wiese said he tried to pick up Louima to help.

Tacopina, who says he's "personal friends" with Scheck and Cochran, explained he met "to see if there was a chance their clients story coincided with ours" so he could make a deal with the government and could also obtain a a release from civil liability. Tacopina says he thought the conversation was off-the-record. But somehow prosecutors learned of the conversation - some say from Neufeld.

The Young Howard. From the archives of Anne Arundel County, Maryland's district court, we bring you part three of the life of Police Commissioner Howard Safir - by Howard Safir. The information comes from a 1993 lawsuit filed by Safir's ghostwriter, to whom a jury awarded $17,500 because Safir failed to tell him a dozen publishers had already rejected his story.

Because no U. S. Treasury jobs opened up, 23-year-old Safir joined the Customs Service in New York on Aug. 16, 1965. "I expected that the agent in charge would give me a pep talk and tell me what date to report to the Treasury agents training academy in Washington," he writes. "Instead, a short fat black man pointed to a grey metal desk and said, 'Sit there until we figure out what to do with you. "

Safir's first assignment came three days later. "I had hoped to be tracking down heroin smugglers or diamond importers but I found myself standing at the end of a pier checking passenger ships crew members packages for untaxed bottles of liquor." With another rookie agent, Ronald Caffrey, Safir "stopped and searched everyone. We emptied seabags and opened suitcases and soon had two in custody: one for three untaxed bottles of liquor and one for a suspected marijuana cigarette, our first bust!"

Then their customs team supervisor appeared. "He smiled and said, 'Look, kid, you guys don't understand the way the game is played. We have an understanding with these guys. " 'Understanding? " says Safir. " 'Boss, these guys broke the law. We have to arrest them. His smile evaporated and he said to the two seamen, 'You guys are free to go. Without a word, he picked up the bottles of liquor and the cigarette, turned and walked out the door, shaking his head. I turned to Caffrey and said, 'Do you believe this ? "

Next week: Pursuing Robert Vesco.

©1999 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.