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How Well Do You Know Bernie Kerik?

October 26, 2009

To see Bernard Kerik transformed into a inmate inside a White Plains courtroom, hands shaking as he silently removed his tie, his jewelry and his belt sent chills down the spine of this reporter, as it would anyone who has followed the world of the New York City Police Department.

Those in that courtroom witnessed a sorry first for the modern NYPD — a commissioner turned jailbird.

The federal marshals who surrounded Kerik — who is also a former city Corrections Commissioner, self-proclaimed 9/11 hero, and one-time buddy of President George W. Bush — spared him the final indignity of handcuffs as they led him out a side door.

Kerik is now Inmate 210-717 at the Westchester County jail in Valhalla, awaiting his corruption trial. And he has only himself to blame.

Kerik had infuriated a federal judge, who revoked his $500,000 bail after spending 3 ½ hours blasting him in fury and amazement.

Judge Stephen Robinson called Kerik a “toxic combination of self-minded focus and arrogance… that leads him to believe that the ends justify the means … that rules that apply to all don’t apply to him in the same way…”

Robinson found that Kerik had leaked sealed information about the case to the media in order to create public sympathy for himself and poison the jury pool

He blamed Kerik for the actions of his buddy, attorney Anthony Modaferri, who had stated –— falsely — on the internet that the government threatened to destroy Kerik and his family if he didn’t plead guilty.

While Kerik’s jailing may be a black mark for the NYPD, it is yet another reminder of the poor judgment of former mayor Rudolph Giuliani. It was Giuliani who on August, 21, 2000, appointed Kerik the city’s 40th police commissioner despite his obvious lack of qualifications.

In selecting Kerik, Giuliani ignored the advice of many, including outgoing police commissioner Howard Safir, whom the mayor had called “the greatest police commissioner in the history of the city.”

Safir and others had urged the mayor to appoint Chief of Department Joe Dunne, a highly-regarded 30-year NYPD veteran.

In contrast, Kerik had only eight years in the NYPD, earning the lowest detective grade and lacking a college degree, a requirement for all top brass above the rank of lieutenant.

But Kerik had been Giuliani’s bodyguard and driver and that, apparently, trumped all.

As Giuliani lamely explained in his best-selling book “Leadership,” published in 2002 as he prepared to run for president, “The reasons boil down to factors of chemistry and feel. Also I saw the years that Bernie spent away from the NYPD as an advantage.” (Following his election in 1994, Giuliani had whisked Kerik off to City Hall and in 1998 appointed him Corrections Commissioner.)

For such nonsense, Giuliani has already paid dearly — his presidential ambitions among the toll. During the Republican primaries, Sen. John McCain used the Kerik mess to say that Rudy lacked the judgment to be president.

Initially the odds-on Republican favorite, Giuliani garnered but one delegate.

Should he run for governor next year, Giuliani will pay again. Besides having to answer whether his children are still not speaking to him, he will have to defend his appointment of Kerik.

Kerik’s jailing is further vindication for current police commissioner Ray Kelly, who earlier than most (including this reporter) realized that something with Bernie was amiss.

Remember those four $50,000 security doors for Police Plaza that Kelly maintained in 2004 were ordered with no paperwork by Kerik’s chief-of-staff John Picciano? Although two investigations went nowhere, Kelly was on to something.

Leonard Levitt's new book, NYPD Confidential: Power and Corruption in the Country's Greatest Police Force, will be out in stores July 21. Preorder it today by clicking on the book at right.

A couple of years later, Pitch high-tailed it down to Brazil, a step ahead of his creditors.

Kerik’s jailing also provides further vindication for Judith Regan, Kerik’s publisher and former lover, who has maintained that after she ended their relationship — realizing that Kerik had lied about leaving his wife — Kerik began stalking her and her children.

Regan doesn’t scare easily. She has taken on some of this burg’s toughest nuts, winning a reported $10 million settlement from her former boss, Rupert Murdoch. But Kerik terrified her.

While dining at a West Side restaurant, she said that Kerik had sat outside in his car and phoned her repeatedly. He had so frightened her, she summoned a private detective to escort her home.

She had even flown to California to get away from him. Los Angeles security consultant Rich Di Sabatino said he had tried to find a safe house for her after Kerik had sent a couple of his guys out to California after her.

At first, I scoffed at her concerns because as police commissioner Kerik had befriended me, as he had other police reporters.

After his indictment, we continued to correspond, meeting for dinner at Cipriano’s at Grand Central Station. He arrived in dungarees, a leather jacket and an NYPD hat, unrecognized by the public and seemingly without a worldly concern.

Last January, Kerik ended our relationship, objecting to a column that, in the face of his corruption indictment, questioned his public posturing about 9/11, Iraq, national security and patriotism.

He emailed his displeasure. “Without entertaining you more than you deserve, perhaps your demeaning tone comes from your inability to admit that people all over this country still want to hear my voice or opinion on issues that matter to them ….”

In 2002, a year after she broke it off with Kerik, Regan asked me, “How well do you know Bernie Kerik?” While he had charmed me, she knew him as a liar, a fraud, a money-obsessed user who saw rules as applying to everyone but him.

Sounds a lot like the impression Kerik made on Judge Stephen Robinson.

TWO OLD-TIME REPORTERS. Gabe Pressman and I were happy to receive the following unexpected compliments from the Village Voice this week:

“You can't get more old-school tabloid than reporters Gabe Pressman and Leonard Levitt, but these days, they're both found mainly in cyberspace, where they're still pounding away at wrongdoers and the abuses of the permanent government with some of the toughest prose around. Pressman started out in the '50s at the old World Telegram and the Sun before becoming the city's leading television newsman at WNBC (he's in the Woodstock movie!). Levitt was Newsday's ace cop reporter and drove several police commissioners around the bend with his insider exposés (he's got a great new tell-all, NYPD Confidential, St. Martin's Press). Levitt's online column (nypdconfidential.com) is still one-stop shopping for those who want to know what's going on in New York criminal justice. Pressman's often daily drubbings of city officials who don't measure up are found at nbcnewyork.com. The Internet is supposed to be the graveyard of newspapers, and it may well be, but that doesn't mean you'll find the tombstones of great reporters there.”

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