One Police Plaza

The Good Soldier

December 16, 2013

Guess who wants to return to the NYPD?

Maybe as Bill Bratton’s chief of staff?

It’s Joe Esposito, the recently retired Chief of Department, considered by many to be the glue that held the department together for the past 12 years under Ray Kelly.

As he did with just about all his top chiefs, Kelly disdained Espo and denuded him of power. He undercut him and dealt with his underlings. He ended the Chief of Department’s traditional role of promoting and transferring officers, from whence much of his power is derived.

Kelly also prevented Espo from speaking to the media. When he retired earlier this year, Kelly put an exclamation point on his feelings about him by removing that stricture for his successor, Phil Banks — whom Kelly appeared to be promoting for police commissioner.

Kelly also had Espo do his dirty work at the Stop and Frisk Trial — even though Espo was retired — because Kelly had refused to be deposed so he wouldn’t have to testify.

Good soldier that he was, Espo did as ordered and defended Stop and Frisk.

But his testimony may make it politically problematic for Bratton to take Espo back. The problem is that Bratton needs someone like Espo, who knows the joint and whom Bratton can trust.

Remember that Bratton has been away from Police Plaza for two decades.

Remember, too, that Kelly will be sniping from the sidelines, seeking to undermine him.

So toxic was the atmosphere towards Bratton created by Kelly that when Bratton returned in 2010 to attend a retirement luncheon for First Deputy George Grasso, many top chiefs — even those who had worked for him — hesitated to sit down at the same table with Bratton and his wife Rikki Klieman. Mostly they sat alone.

Although Kelly didn’t attend the luncheon [possibly because he knew Bratton was coming], his top aide, Paul Browne, was there to keep an eye out [although Browne denied he was taking attendance notes].

As for Espo, people outside the police department don’t always appreciate that most top cops are not heroes but bureaucrats, trained less to think independently than to follow orders and obey the commands of the commissioner, whoever he is.

Now those commands will come from Bratton, who has vowed to reform Stop and Frisk.

Bratton’s commands will come from Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was elected largely by making those same vows.

Let’s be clear. Thomas Dale is not Bernie Kerik.

Dale, a 40-year NYPD veteran and for the past two years the Nassau County Police Commissioner before resigning in disgrace last week, is not going to jail.

Nor has he been charged with a crime.

But, like Kerik, who parlayed a stint as the driver for Mayor Rudy Giuliani into becoming the NYPD’s 40th police commissioner before ending up in federal prison on conspiracy and tax fraud charges, Dale seems expert at ingratiating himself with his benefactors.

He was forced to resign after he ordered a politically-related arrest that reveals how closely Republican politics and the police are entwined on Long Island — and how the NYPD plays a tangential role.

Specifically, Dale had a political opponent of his boss, the Republican Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, pulled off a public bus for a misdemeanor offense.

Dale ordered the arrest at the behest of Gary Melius, the man who had recommended him to Mangano as police commissioner.

Melius is a Long Island developer with longtime ties to the Nassau Republican party and to the NYPD.

Let’s begin with this: Nassau County police officers are among the highest paid in the country. Average salaries for the 2,500-member force are well over $100,000 a year.

This is the result of herculean efforts begun in the 1970s by a half-mad police union attorney named Richie Hartman. Hartman later became the attorney for New York City’s police union, although he didn’t do as well for them. Like Kerik, he ended up in federal prison.

A second point: Nassau County police officials have a lot of time on their hands to play politics since Nassau has one of the country’s lowest crime rates.

In 1982, five black guys from the Brownsville section of Brooklyn stole a Cadillac, drove out to Long Island, broke into a Plainview house-party, raped the women and robbed the guests, then continued their rape and robbery spree at a Westbury diner. The crimes were so horrendous that Newsday devoted a full year to cataloguing every crime on Long Island, then presented its findings in a seemingly never-ending series the following year.

This reporter had just opened New York Newsday’s bureau at Police Plaza and contributed a New York story. The story was about Brownsville. It turned out there was more crime in Brownsville in a month than in all of Long Island for the past ten years.

Since 2002, Nassau County has twice turned to the NYPD for its police commissioner. In 2002, the county hired the NYPD’s Chief of Personnel James Lawrence. In 2012, Mangano hired Dale.

NYPD Confidential first ran across Dale in 2010. As an assistant chief in Queens, he allowed a well-connected captain in the 113th precinct to continue his private law practice after the Internal Affairs Bureau leveled disciplinary charges that he had engaged in off-duty employment without permission and conducted his law practice while he claimed to be on duty.

Dale allowed him to change his 8-4 day tour to 4 to midnights so he could continue practicing law during the day. [See NYPD Confidential, Aug. 16 and Sept 6, 2010.]

It turned out that Dale was a friend of the captain’s daddy, a retired big shot Highway cop who knew a lot of important people. Police sources say that, when Dale retired, the big shot Highway cop helped arrange Dale’s “walkout” and had a car ready to whisk him away.

It also turned out that Dale was a friend of Melius, who recommended him to Mangano.

Melius also owns a catering hall out in Suffolk County called the Oheka Castle, where law enforcement officials party and drink at reduced rates, law enforcement sources say. He did not return a call from this reporter.

The U.S. Secret Service, which faced a scandal over its agents consorting with prostitutes in South America, is but one law enforcement agency whose officers party there, NYPD sources say.

But they are not alone. A recently retired three-star NYPD chief had his retirement party there.

And a recently retired official in the office of Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice — who conducted the investigation into politically connected arrest — had his daughter’s wedding there, those sources say.

It was Melius’s phone call to Dale, that led to Dale’s resignation.

In a convoluted twist of Nassau County politics, Melius had donated $23,000 to the campaign of Freeport Democrat Andrew Hardwick to draw votes away from Mangano’s Democratic opponent Thomas Suozzi.

When someone named Randy White claimed in a civil proceeding that Hardwick had improperly paid him for signatures to place Hardwick’s name on the ballot, Melius called Dale, saying the Hardwick campaign was prepared to file a perjury charge against White.

At Dale’s order, Chief of Detectives John Capece conducted an investigation into the perjury complaint. This resulted in the discovery of an outstanding warrant for Hardwick’s failure to a pay a $250 fine as a result of a misdemeanor conviction. Two detectives and sergeant then pulled White off a public express bus and arrested him.

Rice, a Democrat and the county’s first female district attorney, wrote in a letter to Mangano that Dale’s decision to involve himself was not a crime but indicated “politically motivated policing within the Nassau police department.”

According to law enforcement sources, Mangano then ordered Dale to fire Chief of Detectives Capece. When Dale refused, saying Capece was merely following orders, Mangano fired Dale.

Capece then retired.

Rice’s letter appeared to absolve Mangano. “Our investigation has discovered nothing to suggest that you or members of your administration were involved in the case against Mr. White,” she wrote.

Long Island Democrats don’t believe that and have asked the feds in the Eastern District to investigate.

Mangano, meanwhile, announced that Dale would be succeeded by Victor Politi, the current Deputy Country Executive for Public Safety. Politi, a licensed medical doctor, is also a former NYPD emergency service cop.

His brother Gary was an NYPD sergeant who served on the security detail of former commissioner Howard Safir until his sudden and untimely death in 1999.

Mangano also announced that Politi’s appointment was temporary and that he would seek a permanent successor from outside Nassau County.

About 30 seconds later, a top NYPD chief, apparently nervous about his future under newly appointed Bill Bratton, put in his application for the Nassau County job.

Edited by Donald Forst


Copyright © 2013 Leonard Levitt