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The Kelly Conflict

November 8, 2010

New York City’s Conflict of Interest Law seems pretty straightforward.

And it appears that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has violated it.

The law “prohibits public servants from using or appearing to use their City positions for their own personal benefit.”

It continues: “To comply with the law, you cannot use your City position to gain any private advantage for yourself…”

Over the past eight years, as this column reported, the New York City Police Foundation has paid more than $12,000 to cover Kelly’s dues and meals for guests at the Harvard Club,

Kelly has refused to disclose, even to the Foundation, who these guests were.

Over the past four years, as this column reported, the Police Foundation has also paid $400,000 to a publicist, whose job has been to get Kelly favorable media coverage and to introduce him to the rich and famous. All this as Kelly considered a run for mayor in 2009 and may be considering another run in 2013.

Former Mayor Ed Koch, for one, says he believes Kelly will run. The publicist, Hamilton South, remains on the Foundation payroll, earning an annual $96,000 fee, plus expenses.

In accepting these Foundation freebies, Kelly seems to be encouraging the very behavior he prevented other police-friendly organizations from doing.

Returning as police commissioner in 2002, following Bernie Kerik — who so blatantly accepted gifts that he is now serving four years in federal prison — Kelly seemed almost saintly in refusing to tolerate the slightest appearance of impropriety.

He was so sensitive to appearances that, in December, 2002, he bailed out at the last moment from a dinner honoring Chief of Department Joe Esposito, which was hosted at the Pierre Hotel by The Finest Foundation, one of the smaller police-friendly groups on the department’s fringes.

Not only did Kelly refuse to attend, he barred all the top brass from attending.

The Finest Foundation was forced to cancel the dinner. It lost its $10,000 deposit to the Pierre plus $39,000 in non-refundable expenses.

Kelly’s stated reason for bailing out was that the Finest’s invitations offered $5,000 tables for a “Lieutenant’s Package;” $25,000 tables for a “Chief’s Package” and $50,000 tables for a “Commissioner’s Package.”

As Kelly explained to the Foundation, “The invitation to the event raises a number of concerns, including the appearance that access to ranking law enforcement officials would be guaranteed based on the level of contribution.”

Now, eight years later, what has happened to Kelly?

He seems to have been “using or appearing to use” his city position for his own personal benefit, via the Police Foundation, at the Harvard Club. He also seems to have been “using or appearing to use” his city position to seek access to the city’s elite while considering a run for mayor. Those elites are potential political contributors for him.

In those eight years, something else has changed. With no one at City Hall reining him in, Kelly appears to have taken control of the Police Foundation.

He has forced out its longtime executive director, given his wife a non-paying role, created a police scholarship in his name, and convinced the foundation not to speak publicly for itself but instead to have media queries answered by the police department.

In that regard, he seems to have used, or appears to have used, his city position to turn the Police Foundation into a professional slush fund for himself.

Two cases involving former police commissioners may prove instructive in determining whether the current commissioner has breached the city’s ethical guidelines. The two cases may also prove instructive in determining whether the city will actively pursue a case against him.

Let’s start with Howard Safir’s free Oscar trip and weekend hotel comp by the Revlon Corporation’s CEO back in 1999.

“A public official, particularly a high-ranking public official such as yourself, should studiously avoid any conduct that undermines the public trust and confidence in government,” the Conflicts of Interest Board wrote.

Although Safir maintained he was vindicated because he was not charged with a crime, he was pressured into repaying Revlon’s CEO $7,100 for the cost of the trip. His spokeswoman said at the time that Safir did so to avoid any hint of impropriety.

Then there was Kerik.

Current Department of Investigation Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn nailed him for obtaining free renovations to his Bronx apartment, then referred the case to the Bronx District Attorney, where Kerik pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. The feds turned it into a felony, and he’s now serving four years in federal prison.

But there’s a huge difference between Gill Hearn’s nailing Kerik and her nailing Kelly.

Although Kelly may have violated the city’s ethical guidelines, at least at this point, he doesn’t appear to have committed a crime.

Perhaps more important, however, is that, when Gill Hearn investigated Kerik, he was no longer in office.

Will Gill Hearn aggressively investigate a sitting police commissioner, especially one as vindictive as Kelly?

Will Gill Hearn also be willing to take on Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has provided Kelly with more power and less accountability than any police commissioner in the city’s modern history?

In short, taking on Kelly also means taking on her boss.

ONE YEAR. This weekend marks exactly one year since whistle-blower cop Adrian Schoolcraft was released from his forced six-day stay in Jamaica Hospital’s psychiatric ward.

Police had dragged him there after he produced evidence that his Brooklyn precinct was fudging crime statistics.

He had secretly tape-recorded roll call meetings at the 81st precinct where supervisors had ordered cops to downgrade felonies to misdemeanors and to ignore citizens’ complaints for other crimes.

Five supervisors in the precinct, including its former commanding officer, have subsequently been charged with manipulating crime statistics.

Yet, in the past year, no one from the police department has offered an explanation for Schoolcraft’s forced incarceration inside the mental ward.

No one has been held accountable.

No governmental agency has begun an investigation.

Neither Kelly nor Mayor Bloomberg has uttered one word.

No one has even offered an apology.

Not one governmental official has called for an investigation into what may be a blatant department crime: systemic statistical abuses throughout the city’s police precincts.

So far, the only official who has reached out to Schoolcraft is Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, whose special assistant recently telephoned, asking how de Blasio might help.

But de Blasio’s interest may be ephemeral.

His spokesman said last week that Schoolcraft’s father “recently reached out to our office on his son’s behalf but he and the Public Advocate have not managed to connect.”


Copyright © 2010 Leonard Levitt