One Police Plaza

The Applebee Connection

December 17, 2012

It must have been a slow day on the crime and terrorism fronts because there was Police Commissioner Ray Kelly up in Harlem last Monday at an Applebee restaurant ribbon-cutting ceremony, shilling for its local franchise guy, Zane Tankel.

Consider the inappropriateness of a police commissioner appearing at a commercial event that not only has nothing to do with policing but is promoting a friend’s business enterprise.

Increasingly, Kelly resembles his predecessor Bernie Kerik who, while fawning upon certain rich people, accepted their financial quid-pro-quos. [Then again, not even Kerik, currently a resident of Cumberland, Md. Federal prison, strong-armed the Police Foundation to pay for his meals and membership at the Harvard Club.]

Kelly’s appearance at the Applebee ceremony is the epitome of high-level law enforcement cronyism and hypocrisy.

“Zane and I go way back,” Kelly told the NY Times’s J. David Goodman, explaining that Tankel was “very supportive of law enforcement organizations.”

Kelly was apparently referring to the Federal Law Enforcement Foundation, whose membership comes with a $30,000 entrance fee and of which Tankel is a board member along with other rich law enforcement buffs with whom Kelly has grown increasingly cozy.

They have included the billionaire Ronald Perelman, the realtor Sheldon Solow, SONY head Tommy Mottola, and the public relations guru Howard Rubenstein.

Honorees at its luncheons have included former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, General Colin Powell and past New York Governors Pataki, Spitzer and Patterson.

The foundation’s founder is Anthony Bergamo, a former vice president of the Milstein real estate empire. Its stated purpose was to provide financial support to the families of FBI agents killed in the line of duty. [The FBI lists 19 agents “who lost their lives in the performance of a law enforcement duty.”] The foundation now provides similar support to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

“They do a lot of good,” says a retired NYPD chief.

But with great wealth come great egos — and great abuses.

Take Kerik. The Milsteins owned Liberty View, the Battery Park City building facing Ground Zero. After 9/11, Bergamo offered 20 to 30 apartments there to top police officials, including Kerik and his coat-holder John Picciano.

Pitch, as Picciano is known, had a terrace. Kerik had a penthouse with a harbor view. He used it to rendezvous with his girlfriends, including his publisher Judith Regan.

Meanwhile, Federal Law Enforcement Foundation board members sought something in return for their largesse: shields, badges, honorary commissionerships and federal parking placards. These were designed to resemble NYPD placards, allowing their users to park in spaces reserved for trucks and other commercial vehicles.

But the buffs wanted the FBI seal on their badges. The Bureau’s legal counsel said no. “They did it anyway,” said a former FBI official. “They promised to stop, but they didn’t.”

Then the foundation suffered a great embarrassment. One of its board members was arrested by two undercover female cops for what we’ll call an “indiscretion.”

That board member was Zane Tankel.

OK, these things happen. We all make mistakes. But Tankel told people he had connections. He mentioned the name Patrick Kelleher, then the NYPD’s First Deputy Commissioner, an “advisor” to the foundation.

The word got back to Kelleher that Tankel was spouting his name. Kelleher’s response: No special treatment for Tankel.

The New York Post prepared a story on the arrest. But then something equally embarrassing happened.

Enter Howard Rubenstein, the politically skilled public relations operative, who was also a Federal Law Enforcement Foundation board member. Somehow. Rubenstein was able to kill the story.

A Post employee informed this reporter, then working for Newsday. Rubenstein, saying he represented Tankel, begged me not to run the story because, he said, it would devastate Tankel and his family.

Stupid, naïve me. In a moment of idiocy, Your Humble Servant bought Rubenstein’s line. It wasn’t just Tankel and his family that Rubenstein sought to protect. It was the Federal Law Enforcement Foundation.

Rubenstein did not return emails and a phone call last week, seeking comment from him and Tankel. Dara Busch, an employee of Rubenstein’s son Stephen, whose sister’s firm, Rubenstein Communications, represents Tankel, said she knew of no arrest and did not return subsequent phone calls seeking comment from Tankel.

Then in 2003, the newly appointed head of the FBI’s New York office, Pat D’Amuro, disassociated the Bureau from the foundation.

D’Amuro never publicly revealed his reasons. Law enforcement sources said it had to do with foundation members inappropriately using their replica FBI plaques and badges.

But Bergamo proved to be resilient. Two years later, D’Amuro’s successor, Mark Mershon, returned the placards to the group on their promise that they be used “only on foundation business to raise money.” [See NYPD Confidential Oct. 21, 2005.]

Bergamo was apparently so persuasive that Tankel was allowed to remain on the foundation’s board.

Now let’s turn back to Kelly. Returning as police commissioner in 2002, he started off attacking what he saw as abuses by longtime NYPD buffs, even those he had long known.

In December 2002, he killed The Finest Foundation’s “Chief’s Night” annual black tie dinner held at the Pierre Hotel, because the invitations advertised a $50,000 “commissioner’s table.” Kelly gave as his reason that the invitation’s wording suggested that access to him could be purchased.

The Finest had to forfeit its $40,000 down-payment to the Pierre. Kelly acted despite the fact that he had been a regular Florida house guest of The Finest’s longtime Chief’s Night master of ceremonies, Dr. Richard Winter. [See NYPD Confidential Dec. 2, 2002.]

The following year, Kelly ordered the lights and sirens removed from the cars of the chairman, president and treasurer of another group of buffs, the Centurion Foundation.

Kelly did so after the mayor spotted Centurion Chairman Al Fried’s NYPD-lookalike black Crown Victoria with lights and siren blaring.

Kelly acted despite the fact that Centurian president Joe Dippell Jr., a regular traveler to Russia, had helped Kelly’s wife Veronica prepare for a trip, including introductions, that she and a friend were taking to Russia. [See NYPD Confidential, Sep. 10, 2004.]

While discarding old friends, Kelly was making new ones. In 2005, for example, he was the speaker at the Federal Law Enforcement Foundation luncheon at the University Club.

Besides enjoying his new fat cat friends, Kelly may have wanted to pay back D’Amuro, with whom he had been feuding over an unrelated terrorism matter.

In 2004, D’Amuro had criticized Kelly for publicly identifying an NYPD detective who was part of the FBI/NYPD Joint Terrorist Task Force, who had helped arrest the radical Muslim preacher Abu Hamza Al Masri, a high-level terrorism suspect, in London. After reporters camped outside her Long Island home, the detective’s wife became so upset that she contacted headquarters and the detective was recalled home from London. [See NYPD Confidential, Jun. 4, 2004.]

Which brings us back to last week’s Applebee ribbon-cutting ceremony.

As the Times’s Goodman reported: “The event on Monday was among the more banal in Mr. Kelly’s recent public schedule, a smile-for-the-cameras photo opportunity that prompted the question: Why was he there at all?”

. Following the Newtown elementary school shooting, it looks like the nation might actually begin a dialogue about guns and gun control, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg might just be the person to lead it. Mayor Mike, a political voice in the wilderness on the issue, is basically a decent guy with decent instincts. Beyond giving away his money, he truly wants to do good. When his ego doesn’t over-power him, he sometimes does.

But leading a dialogue on guns and gun control won’t be easy as Bloomberg probably learned after he spoke out after the Aurora Colorado movie massacre, criticizing President Obama for failing to lead. He said about the same thing of Obama after the Newtown massacre, saying his call for “meaningful action” is not enough.

By taking positions outside the political mainstream, he will be mocked and denigrated, marginalized and demonized — much as this column initially was. But if he is true to himself and to his beliefs — and he is strong enough to take the heat for going against the established grain — he will not only succeed, but his words will become recognized as truth.

Edited by Donald Forst


Copyright © 2012 Leonard Levitt