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Even from Behind Bars, Bernie Kerik Passes Along His Infection

Rose Gill Hearn has been the city’s top municipal corruption investigator for more than a decade. As commissioner of the Department of Investigation since 2002, the former federal prosecutor, who favors pearls and conservative suits, has caught corrupt contractors, bent tax collectors, bribe-taking plumbing inspectors, an extortionist city councilman, and a housing commissioner using city funds as a personal piggy bank. She has earned a reputation as an antidote to the poisons that seep into City Hall.

But not even Hearn is immune to the forces of entropy that roil this town. The Voice has obtained documents that are part of an ongoing lawsuit that suggest that Hearn, early in her days in office, made some decisions that still haunt her. And the specter in question is none other than Bernard B. Kerik, the now-imprisoned police commissioner under Rudy Giuliani. Eight years after Kerik’s plunge into infamy, Hearn may be forced to testify in open court about how she handled one of the most controversial issues of her tenure: the uncomfortably close relationship between Kerik and one of her direct reports, correction department inspector general Michael Caruso.

The details of the case are emerging as part of a wrongful termination lawsuit against Hearn filed five years ago by Caruso. Due to the federal and state criminal probes of Kerik—and a gag order in the suit itself—documents in the case had been locked behind a veil of confidentiality. But in December, a trove of memos, e-mails, and depositions were entered into the court file as part of the bitter, ongoing dispute. The records, obtained by the Voice, offer the most detailed portrait yet of how Hearn and her aides struggled for years to deal with the allegations that Caruso covered up wrongdoing to protect Kerik. And they open a window on the secretive operations of the Department of Investigation (DOI), the agency tasked with policing corruption across the city. DOI’s website reads, “We get the worms out of the Big Apple.” But the story of Hearn, Caruso, and Kerik reminds us that corruption can be a far subtler thing than we sometimes assume. And it’s a story that may unhinge Hearn’s scrupulously maintained reputation as a defender of the public trust.

“I think it damages her legacy,” says Richard Steier, editor of the Chief-Leader, the city’s civil service newspaper, and an expert on the Kerik scandals. “You’ve got this tough DOI commissioner who is supposed to have a clear-eyed view of what is going on in city government, and in this case, she ignored things that should have been obvious to anyone.”

Bernie Kerik was a creature created in Rudy Giuliani’s underground laboratory. He was a rough-hewn former narcotics detective with no college degree, a street guy with a burly physique and a booming voice who talked his way into a job driving Rudy around town and organizing his security during the 1993 mayoral campaign. When Rudy won, he rewarded Kerik with a job in the correction department, and quickly promoted him to first deputy commissioner, vaulting him over a number of more qualified people.

According to Kerik’s book, The Lost Son, when Rudy promoted him in 1995, the mayor shared a bottle of wine with him, then took him into a room where top City Hall aides kissed him on the cheek. Kerik later wrote it was like becoming a made man in the Mafia. And he acted the part: “I am a hunter of men,” he once declared to a room full of junior commanders.

While Kerik won praise for reducing violence in the jails, his stints as correction commissioner (1998-2000) and then police commissioner (2000-2001, after Rudy picked him over the more qualified chief Joseph Dunne) were loaded with questionable decisions: He had an affair with a subordinate. He used correction officers on overtime to staff his wedding. He created a foundation that collected more than $1 million in tobacco-industry money, which then disappeared. He made a deal to sell scrap metal from Rikers Island to garbage haulers, and that money disappeared. He spent city money on custom-made busts of his own image. He also borrowed money and took favors from people who had business with the city, or who wanted to. He even used a free apartment near the still-smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center for trysts with two different women—one of whom was Judith Regan, his publisher. When Regan thought her phone had been stolen, Kerik dispatched five detectives to investigate. Most murders don’t get five detectives.

And then there was the rogues’ gallery making up his crew of cronies at both the Department of Correction and the NYPD. From Anthony Serra, a chief who forced correction employees to fix up his house and staff Republican campaigns on city time, to Deputy Commissioner Fred Patrick, who raided the Correction Foundation of $137,000 in part to pay for phone sex with prison inmates, to Chief of Staff John Picciano, who was accused of tax fraud and beating his girlfriend with a handgun.

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Kerik, though, got a pass, mainly because he had Rudy’s backing and because of his supposed heroism during and after the 9/11 attacks. And then, in December, 2004, the street guy reached the apex of his career: President Bush nominated him for the top job at the Department of Homeland Security.

Starting in 1989, and through all the years of Kerik’s rise, Michael Caruso was the inspector general for the Department of Correction. Beefy and pale, with a brush cut, a cop’s mustache, and a slight limp, Caruso first met Kerik in 1994. After Kerik became first deputy commissioner, Caruso would go through him when he needed access to investigate one of the city’s jails.

The entire mission of an inspector general is to be immune to outside influence, and city rules required Caruso to be independent of the agency he oversaw—Kerik’s. But Caruso just couldn’t resist Bernie. He attended Kerik’s wedding. He prepped Kerik for his interview with Giuliani. He partied in Kerik’s apartment when Rudy named him police commissioner. In his book, Kerik calls Caruso one of his closest friends, a man who “shared the battleground” with him.

If there was any sense between the two men that their relationship was inappropriate, they didn’t work very hard to conceal it. And given how close they were, it is hard to believe that Caruso had no idea of the questionable things Kerik was doing. Indeed, as early as 1995, DOC insiders were accusing Caruso of covering up Kerik pal Serra’s use of staff to pretty up his house. To this day, Sidney Schwarzbaum, the leader of the deputy warden’s union, insists that Caruso “squashed” Kerik chief of staff Picciano’s 1998 arrest for beating his girlfriend. “I would testify to it under oath,” he says.

But it was a 1999 meeting with trade waste commissioner Raymond Casey that would come back to torment both men—and now, possibly, DOI’s Hearn.

Casey, who is also Rudy Giuliani’s cousin, was investigating whether a company called Interstate Industrial Corp., which was owned by brothers Frank and Peter DiTomasso, had ties to organized crime. The DiTomassos had already hired Kerik’s brother, Donald, as well as the best man at his wedding, Larry Ray, so there was an atmosphere of mutual support among the men already. The DiTomassos couldn’t bid for any city business without a clean bill of health from Casey, so they naturally turned to Kerik, not only a favorite of the mayor’s but one of the city’s top law enforcement officials, to put in a good word for them. Kerik, as it happened, was in the market for a remodeling job on his apartment that his government salary couldn’t cover. He agreed to assuage Commissioner Casey’s concerns in exchange for the $200,000 he needed to fix up the place.

In July 1999, Inspector General Caruso joined Kerik and Casey at Walker’s Restaurant in Tribeca. With Caruso—the government watchdog—at the table, Kerik assured Casey that Interstate would cooperate fully with the investigation. Of course there was no legitimate reason for the correction commissioner to be touting some contractor, nor was there any legitimate reason for Caruso to attend such a meeting. His mere presence was unethical.

When Caruso’s boss, then DOI commissioner Edward Kuriansky, found out about the meeting a few months later, he did nothing.

In 2002, Hearn was appointed by Mayor Bloomberg as DOI commissioner. A blonde Hamptons habitué whose dad was tight with Ed Koch, Hearn had most recently been a federal prosecutor working for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan.

She came aboard at a time when Kerik was having the time of his life. Although he had stepped down as police commissioner at the end of Rudy’s tenure, he was still basking in post–9/11 fame and holding down a cushy job at Giuliani Partners chasing lucrative federal security contracts. But it didn’t take long for allegations about the Caruso-Kerik alliance to come across Hearn’s desk. When some of these claims ended up in the newspaper—most of them planted by sources in the correction department—Hearn publicly defended Caruso, saying she had “full faith and confidence in him.” She even personally vouched for Caruso with Mayor Bloomberg, according to a deposition by one of her aides.

Hearn may have been concerned about angering two of the most prominent figures in the post 9/11 world—a possible presidential candidate and his henchman. “They realized Bernie could mess with them, and they wanted to stay on his good side, so they stuck with Caruso,” says one retired correction official.

Steier agrees with this assessment. “To the extent that an investigations commissioner is attuned to the mayor’s feelings, she had to know acting against Caruso would have drawn complaints from Kerik and Giuliani,” he says. “It politically may not have made sense.”

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A DOI official, who could not speak for attribution, disputes this characterization of Hearn’s motives: “The record just doesn’t support that impression. DOI investigated Serra, two top Giuliani officials, and opened the Kerik investigation.”

But Hearn knew she had a problem. A year into her administration, she ordered her general counsel, Marjorie Landa, to examine all the allegations against the IG, referring to the investigation as the “Mike Caruso project.” The inquiry concluded that there was no basis to any of the claims.

That conclusion seems questionable, given the abundant evidence of Caruso’s involvement with Kerik. And it seems even more so given that when Bush nominated Kerik to run Homeland Security in December 2004, Caruso immediately started telling people he was leaving DOI to go to Washington with Bernie. Rather than let him go—and for reasons the documents don’t explain—Hearn asked him to give her a chance to match the offer.

And then, the whole thing went off the rails. Kerik withdrew his name from nomination. The newspapers disclosed his extramarital affairs and his Ground Zero love nest. The Bronx District Attorney was probing the apartment renovation and his ties to Interstate and the DiTomassos. And Rudy Giuliani was running away as fast as possible.

“We have a problem with Mike Caruso on our hands,” Hearn told an aide on Dec. 20, 2004, about a week after Kerik withdrew his name. “A big problem.” Outwardly, Hearn was still publicly supporting Caruso. Privately, she was struggling. The court records portray her as complaining about Caruso even as she was insisting that he stay on.

Hearn was now trapped between her prior support of Caruso and the impending fallout from Kerik’s inevitable indictment. “Kerik gets whacked, and at that point they had already broken bread with Caruso, so now they had to go easy on him,” the retired correction official says. At one point in 2005, about six months after Kerik’s career imploded, she begged him not to resign. “I need people who are loyal to me,” she told Caruso when he offered to step down. “If you resign, that means you’re not loyal to me. You better not resign.”

As the investigation into Kerik gathered steam in February, 2006, Hearn offered Caruso additional duties, more office space, and a raise. It was as though her aides were trying to build a record that somehow legitimized the relationship. In early March, DOI concluded that Caruso’s past contacts with Kerik were clean. In a March 7 e-mail, Landa, the agency’s general counsel, called the media’s criticism of Caruso “largely unfair.”

With the Kerik grand jury just a couple of weeks away, Hearn finally decided to move Caruso out of correction and put him in charge of sanitation and parks. “Knowing that the criticism which had rained down on Mike for two to three years was going to get worse, I decided that if he were out of [correction] that would be an acceptable way of dealing with the criticism,” she said in a deposition. The move was presented to DOI staff as a promotion.

The main concern in DOI was not Caruso’s unethical behavior and possible misconduct involving Kerik, but how it would look in the press. According to a memo from Landa, “The move away from DOC would blunt the criticism . . . The motive to move him right then was to [pre-emptively] avoid anyone saying the transfer was because of Kerik’s indictment.” In fact, Landa came very close to suggesting that the DOI spokesperson had been intentionally misleading reporters about how close the two men were. “[The spokesperson] could no longer say that Mike was not really Kerik’s friend when she provided the press with her other explanations for why the substance of any allegation against Kerik was not reasonably known to Mike and DOI,” she wrote.

Michael Caruso testified before the grand jury in March, 2006. The centerpiece of that testimony was the troubling 1999 meeting he attended in which Kerik lobbied Ray Casey on Interstate’s behalf. It was clear that if Kerik was indicted, the meeting—the quid pro quo for the apartment renovation, a bribe—would be crucial to the foundation of the criminal complaint.

On March 21, the very morning of Caruso’s testimony, Hearn was still planning to avoid bad press by transferring him to sanitation and parks, rather than firing him. “Hurricane Mike/Kerik will have hit within/before three months,” Hearn wrote in an e-mail. An aide replied, “I would move Mike without any big announcements. In the meantime, you can . . . quietly look for his replacement.”

Three days after he testified, Hearn decided to fire Caruso. “He was terminated because he didn’t sign on to the version of events they wanted him to,” says Caruso’s lawyer, Marc Bogatin. Caruso is seeking back pay and a better pension, and claims Hearn fired him because she didn’t like the way he testified in the Kerik grand jury. He claims that he was told to perjure himself, and when he refused, Hearn retaliated.

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Hearn was not available for an interview, and her spokeswoman Diane Struzzi was limited in what she could say because of pending litigation. But she did offer this defense of the agency’s handling of Caruso: “DOI is an agency that investigates and acts on facts, which is what we did in this matter now almost seven years ago, and even then we were reconstructing events that happened six years prior to that.”

Yet in their depositions, Hearn and her aides deny that the grand jury testimony was the reason for Caruso’s firing, but they contradict one another in offering other explanations. Some of Hearn’s aides say Caruso was fired because he attended Kerik’s 1999 meeting with Casey—but by that point DOI had known about the meeting for six years.

Other aides say Caruso was tossed because he kept talking to Kerik. But Hearn had known about those calls for at least two years.

Hearn offered still a third explanation in her own deposition. She claims she fired Caruso because he whined about being moved out of correction during a meeting with her. “My idea to transfer him was thrown back in my face and imploded right there and then,” she stated, adding that Caruso had become a “disruption” in the office.

The trouble with that account of the meeting is that a memo written by Landa contradicts it. She writes that Caruso said he would do whatever was asked of him, and that “he never felt so supported by DOI executive staff as he feels under this administration.”

Even after deciding to fire Caruso, Hearn tried to keep it quiet. While one aide looked into other jobs for him, another helped him update his résumé. The plan was to give him good references, and a send-off with, according to Hearn’s deposition, “the traditional thanks and well wishes.”

Bernie Kerik is now on the short end of a four-year bid in federal prison. And Caruso is edging ever closer to a final result in his stubborn, quixotic six-year legal battle to clear his name—or at least to get paid.

“They handled him with kid gloves,” says the retired correction official, “and now it’s probably going to end up costing the city a lot of money.”

As for Hearn, she’ll probably follow Bloomberg out the door next January, bringing both of their long tenures to a close. Caruso’s lawsuit won’t cost her a dime, but it could leave a nasty blot on her reputation—and that might well be even worse.

grayman@villagevoice.com

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Rudy Giuliani and Bernie Kerik: The Final Chapter

The main events in the always fascinating saga of Rudy Giuliani and his once-beloved lawman, Bernie Kerik, came to a close late last year. Kerik copped a plea in November in federal court to fraud and tax charges stemming from favors he collected from a mob-tied contractor.

Giuliani finally ended his own tease just before Christmas, taking himself out of the running as a candidate for statewide office, at least for the immediate future.

All of which tended to lower the often-feverish temperatures of those of us who have closely followed the career paths of the volatile ex-mayor who tried to become president, and his one-time sidekick, the former police commissioner who nearly became the nation’s Homeland Security secretary. But buried in court legal papers that were not released until weeks after Kerik’s guilty plea are some strong hints of the lumps that the reputation of New York’s legendary former chief executive might have taken had the Kerik case gone to trial.

Giuliani, who started out as a rackets-busting prosecutor, has always been fuzzy about his own knowledge of Kerik’s ties to Interstate Industrial Corp. The contractors were desperately trying to convince city regulators that their business dealings with organized-crime figures were incidental, and that they should not be denied lucrative city contracts worth some $30 million. The city’s concerns had been sparked after Interstate bought a large waste-transfer station on Staten Island from a Gambino crime family soldier named Edward “Cousin Eddie” Garafola, and then kept the gangster’s wife and sons on the payroll as mob-owned trucks rolled through the gates.

Kerik helped contractors Frank and Peter DiTommaso relay their side of the story to city officials. The grateful builders in turn secretly funded a quarter-million-dollar renovation of Kerik’s new Bronx apartment. All of this happened even as Giuliani was promoting his former driver and bodyguard from head of the city’s Corrections Department to police commissioner.

When Kerik’s Homeland Security nomination blew up in a tempest of scandal in 2004, the ex-mayor insisted that he knew nothing about his top cop ever going to bat for the mob-tainted contractors. But back in 2007, the Times‘ William Rashbaum got hold of a transcript of Giuliani’s April 2006 testimony before a Bronx grand jury that was the first to probe the episode. Giuliani, the transcript showed, admitted that he was briefed more than once by his own top investigations chief—but then forgot all about it.

It took a lot of forgetting. Among the exhibits that prosecutors were prepared to introduce as evidence in the federal case were three pages of never-released notes that Kerik typed out in March 2000 regarding his involvement with Interstate. The memo—in detective-style jargon of initials and free-form punctuation—was written, prosecutors explained, for then city investigations commissioner Edward Kuriansky, who was regularly briefing Giuliani about his agency’s activities.

The notes show someone who, as the government said in its motion, was “peculiarly well-informed about the nuances” of the investigation that city officials were then conducting:

“FD [Frank DiTommaso],” typed Kerik, “believes that perception about [the transfer station] emanates because of acquisition from EG [Edward Garafola] he was EG’s primary customer when NYCTWC [the city’s Trade Waste Commission] cancelled EG’s license. EG contacted him, explained that his license was pulled and that he needed to sell the company. FD’s analysis reveals that it’s beneficial to acquire based on their needs and structures deals within 30 days to avoid losing license. Part of agreement is that EG’s wife and two sons stay on for 4 weeks to familiarize incoming team with business. NYCTWC makes request to interview EG’s relative, they walk out. $2M to $1,750,000 w/ 5 year payout.”

City officials had good reasons to be concerned that a top law-enforcement officer was involving himself with a contractor doing business with a gangland figure like Garafola. At the time, Garafola was in charge of the construction division of John Gotti’s crime family, overseeing union shakedowns and contractor extortion. He later pled guilty to racketeering in a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme aimed at the MTA and to having helped murder one of his cousins. Garafola was also indicted in a mob stock fraud case in Brooklyn in 2000; among his co-defendants was Lawrence Ray, Kerik’s then best friend who had been hired by Frank DiTommaso as a consultant on Kerik’s recommendation. It was that indictment, prosecutors stated in court papers, that prompted investigations chief Kuriansky to quiz Kerik about his complicated relationships with Interstate and its associates.

In his discussions with Kuriansky, prosecutors noted, Kerik also told the investigator about a controversial 1999 lunch at Walker’s Restaurant in Tribeca with the head of the city’s Trade Waste Commission, which was overseeing Interstate, and a Corrections Department investigator. Everyone present agreed that the subject was Interstate’s ongoing licensing problems, although just how heavily Kerik advocated for the company later became a matter of dispute.

The important issue for city investigators, however, had to be just why Kerik—then the city’s Corrections Department commissioner—was involved in any of this. Kuriansky, the key figure at the time, has since died. But prosecutors and FBI agents who participated in the federal probe quizzed city investigators closely about how things worked. One of those they questioned was Walter Arsenault, who served as first deputy commissioner for the Department of Investigation (DOI) from 2003 to 2008.

“During the Giuliani Era at DOI,” Arsenault told the FBI, according to a memo compiled for the case, “Edward Kuriansky had to inform the Mayor of the details of what was going on at DOI. During this time, Kerik provided details to Kuriansky about the Walker’s meeting, and other aspects of what Kerik was involved in, yet no one did anything to look into it further.”

The opportune moment to look into it further was in the late summer of 2000, as Giuliani was preparing to name Kerik the city’s 40th commissioner of police. But no one did. As was later acknowledged when the Kerik scandal broke full-bore in late 2004, the new commissioner wasn’t told to fill out a new background questionnaire, a standard city procedure.

Even at that point, four years later, Interstate was still battling hard to overcome city objections. To help make their case, the DiTommaso brothers hired as their lobbyist one of Giuliani’s most stalwart political supporters, former Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari. As their attorney to testify that they’d cleaned up their act, they brought on another veteran Giuliani loyalist, former deputy mayor Randy Mastro. As a City Hall aide, Mastro had helped create the Trade Waste Commission and served as its first chairman where he helped produce the tough scrutiny that it used on private waste carters. It was all part of the mayor’s avowed crackdown on mob influence in the industry.

In December 2004, as the scandal was breaking, the Voice asked Mastro if he’d learned about Kerik’s role at Interstate. “At some point, I was told by people at the company,” he said. Had he shared that knowledge with Giuliani? “No,” he said. “It wasn’t an issue that I ever discussed with anyone.”

For his part, Kerik is currently under house arrest at home in New Jersey, an electronic ankle bracelet monitoring his movements. He’s due to keep it on until his sentencing on February 18 by Judge Stephen Robinson in court in White Plains. Prosecutors have agreed to a prison term of 27 to 33 months. The judge could go higher if he chooses.

trobbins@villagevoice.com

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Giuliani’s Rudy-in-Nylons Skit Starred Some Witless Crooks

The genius of the CompStat anti-crime system launched by the Rudy Giuliani administration here in the 1990s was that it didn’t believe in coincidence. You would take all those apparently random crimes, put them in a computer mapping program, and—poof!—instant and brilliant results: crime trends to be snuffed out; hot spots to be monitored; repeat offenders otherwise invisible to the naked police eye.

This dazzling program has inspired many imitators and is key to the great fortune Giuliani and his team have since reaped in the private sector as they apply the CompStat method to everything from faulty pharmaceuticals to the sheikhs of Qatar.

The bad news is that I have now applied CompStat to a program listing of the cast of Giuliani’s last skit for the annual Inner Circle political roast in March 2001, and the results are not good. This is regrettable because Giuliani loved performing in these events. Once, he famously appeared in a platinum wig, pink gown, and balloon-like breasts, squealing all the while in delight.

The title of his 2001 skit was “The Godfather: The Musical.” For this performance, Giuliani happily shaved his legs and pulled on dark nylon stockings so that his character, “Don Giuliani,” could high-kick with the Rockettes.

Unfortunately, CompStat, which never lies, reveals that this little satire was a hub of felonry. Already, three of the cast of 27 who appeared onstage with the mayor have been indicted for serious crimes. This is an 11 percent incidence of criminal activity, a rate of wrongdoing higher than the city’s roughest neighborhoods. In other words, exactly the kind of non-coincidence that gave precinct commanders sweaty chills when confronted in the war room at police headquarters.

Most notorious of these is Bernie Kerik, who was then the police commissioner. Kerik played a role listed in the program as “The Enforcer.” He already stands convicted by his own plea of guilty to lying about a mobbed-up contractor who renovated his apartment. He awaits trial on federal charges for taking other undisclosed gifts.

Then there is Anthony Seminerio, the rascally, roly-poly Queens assemblyman who played himself in Giuliani’s “Godfather” send-up. Even though he is a Democrat, Seminerio gave and received enormous love from the Republican Giuliani. Unfortunately, another federal indictment, filed in September, holds that Seminerio engaged in his own serious felonies, exacting bribes totaling $500,000 from those seeking his legislative assistance.

A third cast member from the spoof is now on trial in the Bronx, accused of being the police department’s single worst nightmare: a cop killer. At the time of his Inner Circle performance, Lillo Brancato, 32, had the perfect pedigree. He had just finished a short stint on The Sopranos TV show, playing a drug-addled mob wannabe. In the Giuliani skit, he portrayed Rick Lazio, the hapless Long Island politician recruited to fill Giuliani’s shoes after the mayor bowed out of the Senate race, citing severe health and divorce problems.

By all recollections, Brancato performed well. Unfortunately, he really was a drug-addled mob wannabe. He lived his life as though he were the character in his biggest role—the confused but earnest son of bus driver Robert DeNiro in the movie A Bronx Tale—gone wrong. His earnings went for cocaine, heroin, and nights in the company of beautiful women at fashionable clubs.

Back then, he impressed with his winning smile, if not his brains. Anthony Marini, a former nightclub manager, remembers the young actor insisting that he came from Avellino, Italy, the southern Italian locale cited as Tony Soprano’s ancestral homeland in the fictional series. “He’d say, ‘I’m from the same town as Tony Soprano.’ I don’t think he realized this wasn’t a real person,” says Marini.

Another brain shortage led directly to Brancato’s current troubles. In the pre-dawn hours of December 10, 2005, after a night of drinking and drugs at a strip club, Brancato and his girlfriend’s father, an ex-con named Steven Armento, went looking for more narcotics. Brancato drove his silver Dodge Durango to a two-family brick home at Arnow Place and Westchester Avenue in the Pelham Bay section where he thought they’d be able to score from another drugged-up buddy who had been generous with his prescription meds in the past. When the friend didn’t answer, Brancato kicked in a window, waking a 28-year-old off-duty cop next door. Daniel Enchautegui calmly called 911, put on his police shield, and went outside to investigate.

In one of those ugly and stupid incidents that The Sopranos captured so well, when Enchautegui encountered the duo, Armento pulled a .357 Magnum revolver and shot the cop just below his heart. Before he collapsed, the officer squeezed off several rounds, wounding the two intruders.

In the Bronx Supreme Court last week, Detective Paul Maldonado, one of the first on the scene, described arriving at a snow-lined residential street lit by Christmas lights. He said he found Enchautegui lying face-up with his head hanging over a small ledge, beside a large snowbank. “His shield was around his neck. His hands were out. A 9mm was near his right hand; a gray cell phone by his left. His eyes were open. I was telling him to hang in there. He just gave a deep breath.” Enchautegui was declared dead a half-hour later at Jacobi Hospital.

Armento, 51, was convicted in October of first-degree murder while committing a felony and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Brancato’s defense is that he never knew Armento had a gun. He makes this claim even though the murder weapon, introduced as evidence last week, appeared to have the size and velocity of a small cannon. He also insists that he never broke into anyone’s home.

“He didn’t commit burglary. He didn’t commit murder,” Joseph Tacopina, Brancato’s lawyer, told the jury last week. Instructing the eight men and eight women on the panel as though they were in a high school physics class, Tacopina told them: “Just follow the bouncing ball on the evidence in this case. It will all come together. Trust me.”

Tacopina is as nice-looking as his actor-client and has been on television even more than Brancato. But he has had some trouble with the trust part. In one of those great Giuliani coincidences, he also represented Kerik for a while. That ended badly when the lawyer told the feds that he had given prosecutors what turned out to be inaccurate information at his client’s behest. Tacopina may now be a witness against Kerik if the federal charges go to trial.

That is another indication of how tangled and messy the world of Rudy Giuliani has become. The ex-mayor’s presidential bid didn’t do as well as he had wished, but his supporters now hope he runs for governor. If so, his problems as a casting director may become an issue.

No one faults Giuliani for including Brancato in the cast of his skit since the actor’s brainless and abominable crime occurred almost five years later. But you still have to wonder how it is that this top lawman comes to be surrounded by so many dumb crooks, enough of them to light up the scoreboard at one of his own CompStat sessions. For someone who boasts of having smashed the Mafia as a prosecutor, and of having reduced city crime to nothing as mayor, Giuliani seems to have a strange proclivity for those with a criminal bent. It is almost as strong as his penchant for donning tights and makeup in front of large audiences.

trobbins@villagevoice.com

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‘No Skeletons in My Closet!’

The Democrats who questioned attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey at his recent Senate confirmation hearing outdid one another in a frustrating effort to get the former judge to assert his independence from the Bush White House. With his predecessor, Bush pal Alberto Gonzales, finally forced from office, the senators were hoping for a nominee with fewer complicating relationships.

Fat chance. The question for Mukasey is not what he’ll do at Justice for the soon-to-be- departing Republican president, but what he’ll do for the putative next one, his lifelong friend Rudy Giuliani. Mukasey and Giuliani were young federal prosecutors together in the early 1970s and then practiced at the same Manhattan law firm, Patterson Belknap, where Mukasey returned in 2006 when he retired after 18 years on the federal bench in New York. Giuliani chose Mukasey to swear him in at his inaugurals in 1994 and 1998.

The question of Mukasey’s strong ties to Giuliani got the light touch from Senator Pat Leahy, the Judiciary Committee chairman who opened the two-day proceeding by saying that he assumed Mukasey would “totally recuse” himself from “any involvement with Mr. Giuliani or any other candidate for president.” Mukasey laughed at the question, as if the answer was obvious, and quickly agreed. But that chuckle rings a little hollow when you look at who had come with him to the hearing: his wife Susan, who volunteered almost daily in the Giuliani mayoral campaigns; his stepson Marc, who was a staff assistant in one campaign and currently is a partner at the Texas-based law firm that Giuliani recently joined, Bracewell & Giuliani; and Louis Freeh, the former FBI director who recently endorsed Giuliani and worked closely with him as a federal prosecutor. Marc Mukasey is currently representing Giuliani Partners in the federal probe of Bernard Kerik, a onetime member of the consulting firm. Freeh’s appearance, sitting beside the family, was a stark indication of just how unconsciously political Mukasey’s key relationships are. (For Democrats on the committee, the sight of Freeh, who led multiple probes of both Clintons, might have been an indication of Mukasey’s partisanship. In Freeh’s recent autobiography, he concluded that “the presidency hit an all-time low” under Bill Clinton—who named him to head the FBI, only to wind up as the target of multiple Freeh probes—adding that if he were Clinton, “I might never show my face in public again.”)

Mukasey has so far indicated that he will recuse himself in the ongoing probe of Kerik, the ex–police commissioner and onetime Giuliani-backed nominee for homeland security secretary, who has already pleaded guilty in a state case and is facing a mountain of federal charges. But Mukasey’s recusal shouldn’t really be a problem. The Justice Department agreed months ago to extend the statute of limitations on the case against Kerik to November 17, when his expected indictment may suddenly emerge as a national story haunting the Giuliani campaign. The case is so layered in conflict that Alberto Gonzales is a likely witness. It was Gonzales who vetted Kerik for the homeland-security post in 2004 and was swamped by false claims about him emanating from the fax machines and computers at Giuliani Partners’ Times Square headquarters. The Washington Post reported in April that Kerik was “likely” to be indicted for “bald-faced lies” during the White House clearance process, including possible misstatements on forms filled out with the assistance of Giuliani’s firm.

The Daily News has more recently reported that Kerik may also be indicted on bribery charges connected to a 1999 meeting in a Tribeca bar with Giuliani’s cousin, Ray Casey, who ran the city’s trade-waste commission. Kerik was pressuring Casey on behalf of an allegedly mob-tied contractor, which was then seeking a license from the commission to develop a waste-transfer station. The company was already involved in the extensive renovations of Kerik’s apartment.

But Kerik is just one of the possible Giuliani-tied cases that Mukasey might be faced with as the new head of Justice. The list of Giuliani connections could also include the California proportional-representation ballot initiative financed by vulture-fund billionaire Paul Singer, which is designed to split up California’s 55 electoral votes—the single largest state total—which are routinely won by Democratic candidates. Singer assumed a formal title in the Giuliani campaign-finance committee and became his biggest early fundraiser, with Giuliani embracing him despite worldwide condemnations of his dunning of debt-ridden third-world countries. Giuliani has even been flying around the country on Singer’s corporate jet, yet his campaign insists that it played no role in the California initiative, which appears designed to benefit Giuliani, the only Republican who polls well in the state. If Giuliani’s campaign was involved, the scheme would violate federal campaign laws. That’s why a complaint has already been filed with the Federal Election Commission and why the campaign is currently trying to distance itself from Singer, even as a second effort to place the initiative on the state ballot—this one headed by Anne Dunsmore, a former Giuliani finance-committee staffer—is getting underway.


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Mukasey might also have to deal with a Justice investigation of Ken Caruso, a Giuliani and Mukasey friend who was allegedly involved in the bilking of a prominent Texas Republican donor of millions, according to a recent story by Politico.com. Caruso, who apparently refused to cooperate with a U.S. Senate investigation of the banking scam, is a partner with Marc Mukasey at Bracewell & Giuliani. Both were hired by Giuliani, who set up the firm’s Manhattan office in 2005. Caruso is represented by Patterson Belknap, Michael Mukasey’s current and Giuliani’s former firm.

In addition, one of Giuliani’s closest allies in New York politics, State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, is under federal investigation, and the chairman of Giuliani’s South Carolina campaign, Thomas Ravenel, is awaiting sentencing on federal charges of possession with intent to distribute cocaine. The government will have to make a sentencing recommendation late this year in the Ravenel case, and the Justice Department would have to approve any Bruno indictment. Bruno announced his endorsement of Giuliani in May, and Giuliani recently made comments strongly supporting Bruno in his ongoing battle with Democratic Governor Eliot Spitzer.

The client list at Giuliani Partners is just as inviting a target as Giuliani’s friends and political associates, with his consulting role for Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, already provoking public questions. A Justice Department prosecutor told reporters this spring that Purdue hired Giuliani to block a probe that she was conducting with other investigators into Purdue’s aggressive advertising of the morphine-like painkiller. Giuliani arranged meetings with the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, ultimately negotiating a favorable deal. Remarkably, Giuliani Partners was simultaneously retained by Justice on a million-dollar contract to advise it on how to improve the Drug Enforcement Task Force, which was investigating, among other things, OxyContin abuse. In other words, at the same time that Giuliani’s firm was a paid consultant for Purdue, it was also a consultant for the DEA on how to deal with issues that concerned Purdue. The settlement that Giuliani worked out permitted the company’s top brass to plead to misdemeanors and pay a $640 million fine to compensate for the lives ruined by the aggressively promoted drug. The DEA also decided not to limit the right to prescribe OxyContin to doctors who specialized in pain management, a proposal that Purdue had fiercely opposed.

Even the recent ruckus about Verizon and its cooperation with the National Security Agency’s domestic-surveillance program may put Mukasey in a Giuliani-connected bind. The company has admitted that it turned over 94,000 customer records to federal and state authorities—including hundreds without any court order—since January 2005, and a Justice Department inspector general’s report in 2006 found that similar potentially improper record transfers occurred for years before that. Verizon is a prime client of Bracewell & Giuliani. In addition, Paul Crotty, the respected federal judge who joined Mukasey on the Manhattan bench in late 2005, was the regional president of Verizon, which is based in New York. Crotty was Giuliani’s corporation counsel and contributed $5,500 to his federal campaign committees before he became a judge—$1,000 more than the legal limit (the excess was returned). When Crotty left, a Verizon press release stated that he was “responsible for government relations and regulatory affairs for Verizon’s largest telephone operations company,” but a company spokeswoman declined to answer questions about his possible involvement in the surveillance decisions, and Crotty did not return telephone calls from the Voice. Justice has already filed lawsuits in an attempt to protect Verizon from the subpoenas served on it by several states, and Mukasey will clearly be faced with a multiplicity of issues arising from the surveillance program.

Mukasey told the Senate that he believed the president may have acted appropriately in ordering the warrantless wiretapping.

Even Mukasey’s current clients at Patterson have connections to both Giuliani and the Justice Department that raise disturbing questions. He represents the Renco Group, the private holding company that owns 40 percent of the joint venture that manufactures Humvees and has seen its profits soar in Iraq. Renco chairman Ira Rennert and his wife have maxed out their donations to the Giuliani campaign at $4,600 apiece. The Justice Department is suing a Renco affiliate for a magnesium plant that has polluted the Great Salt Lake in Utah, and federal prosecutors have been described in news accounts as “determined” to make Rennert “personally pay for the way his companies conduct business.” Rennert recently refused to meet with a religious delegation from Peru, led by the Catholic archbishop, which was pressing the company to clean up its metals smelter in La Oroya, where 97 percent of the children have lead poisoning. A smelter near St. Louis has provoked lawsuits and similar protests.

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Mukasey also represents Linda Lay, the widow of convicted Enron CEO Ken Lay. (Since Ken Lay’s primary law firm was always Bracewell, Mukasey’s representation may have come on a Bracewell referral.) When Ken Lay died last year while his conviction was on appeal, a Texas judge dismissed the case against him, despite a Justice Department warning that the dismissal could lead to the “disgorgement of fraud proceeds” in the tens of millions. The Justice Department is now involved in efforts to obtain restitution for Enron’s victims; meanwhile, Mukasey mediated an estate dispute between Linda Lay and Goldman Sachs. Mukasey’s other clients include Winston & Strawn, the Chicago-based law firm whose managing partner, Dan Webb, is also on Giuliani’s judicial advisory committee. The firm’s partners have given at least $18,950 to the Giuliani campaign.


There’s no way to know, given the secrecy that grips Justice, how many cases directly or indirectly involving Mukasey clients or Giuliani interests might wind up before Mukasey. Would he distance himself from such matters, especially those regarding Rudy? He didn’t as a judge. While he stepped aside on several matters involving the Giuliani administration, he did uphold the mayor’s policy of seizing the cars of drunk drivers and was reversed on appeal. In any event, recusals are an imperfect way for an attorney general to separate himself from such probes, law-enforcement officials acknowledge, because the prosecutors who work for Mukasey may see his withdrawal on a case as a signal of the preferences at the top of the department.

At the confirmation hearing, Mukasey made it clear that there’s one kind of case that could impact the election that he would not recuse himself from—that favorite GOP and Giuliani bugaboo, voter fraud.

A New York Times editorial observed that Mukasey “seemed unduly focused” during the confirmation hearing “on the nonexistent problem of voter fraud and not focused enough on the real problem of eligible voters being prevented from casting ballots.” In fact, Mukasey assured Republican Pete Sessions that he would prosecute vote-fraud cases, and he corrected Democrat Ben Cardin, who tried to stress the importance of protecting and extending the franchise. One timely voter-fraud case in New Mexico next year might tilt a state usually too close to call, and could decide a closely contested presidential campaign. Voter-fraud cases factored prominently in the recent scandal over Gonzales’s dismissal of U.S. Attorneys and have long been a Giuliani preoccupation, making the issue a predictable controversy confronting Mukasey. Giuliani blamed his 1989 mayoral loss on illegal minority voters in Harlem and Washington Heights and pushed unsuccessfully for investigations. When Giuliani won his narrow 1993 mayoral victory, he was aided by a massive voter- suppression campaign targeting black and Latino voters, with Dominicans warned that immigration officials were at the polls. Democrats are likely to be asking Justice in 2008 to guard against similar suppression tactics, which have become a GOP staple in key states.

Is it too soon, however, to make judgments about Mukasey’s ability to separate politics from probity? Maybe not. In 1993, Mukasey served as a secret adviser to Giuliani’s mayoral campaign while he was on the federal bench in Manhattan, according to sources who were involved at the time. Mukasey was one of the close Giuliani friends who gathered at a house that the mayoral candidate rented for the summer in Oyster Bay, Long Island. That’s what two people present at the house for these weekend sessions in the middle of the ’93 campaign vividly recall. Asked about Mukasey’s attendance at these sessions and any advisory role he might have played in other Giuliani campaigns, White House press aide Tony Fratto limited his response to the summer get-togethers. “Judge Mukasey has never attended any campaign-strategy meetings for Mayor Giuliani in Oyster Bay,” he said.

But the people who were at the gatherings say they were not “meetings” per se. Giuliani and then wife Donna Hanover hosted the sessions, usually on weekends, with their key friends and “kitchen cabinet.” The talk was often about the campaign, and Mukasey was there, according to these sources. The group was a mix of old friends and top campaign staff, like Richard Schwartz, who was policy director for the campaign and had only recently come to know Giuliani. Mukasey did not participate in large group discussions, but was seen with Giuliani in a three-person “cluster,” as one participant put it, or in one-on-ones with Giuliani. Mukasey’s stepson Marc Saroff (he has since changed his name to Mukasey) is listed on the 1989 campaign filings as a “staff assistant,” and Mukasey’s wife Susan also worked at the campaign headquarters in 1989 and 1993. The judge himself was seen around the headquarters in 1993, and joined Giuliani in his election-night suite in 1989, swapping stories with him about Al D’Amato, the then U.S. senator who was viewed with great hostility by Giuliani partisans.

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Mukasey’s role with Giuliani became more formal in 2007, after his retirement from the bench in 2006. He and his son were named to the Giuliani campaign’s judicial advisory committee. The family contributed at least $10,000 to the presidential campaign. In his Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire, Mukasey was asked if he had “ever played a role in a political campaign,” and he listed only the current Giuliani presidential campaign and his activities as part of the New York Jewish Coalition for Reagan/Bush in 1984, both of which occurred when he was not a federal judge. But his involvement in the Giuliani’s 1993 race, and even his appearance at the 1989 victory party, appear inconsistent with the judicial rules of conduct, which bar a judge from “engaging in any partisan political activity” or “attending any political gatherings.” While Mukasey’s role as a casual campaign adviser, and his appearance at a campaign event like a victory party, may seem benign, they are troubling signs of political involvement that take on larger dimensions only because of the great power to influence an election that he will soon enjoy. And if he went beyond the strict interpretation of the guidelines as a judge, might he not do the same as attorney general?


Even the Democratic senator guiding Mukasey’s nomination though the Senate, Chuck Schumer, has his own Giuliani connections. As associate attorney general in 1983, Giuliani rebuffed Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Ray Dearie, who had recommended Schumer’s indictment based on allegations involving his initial election to Congress in 1980. Schumer’s wife, Iris Weinshall, held several top posts in the Giuliani administration, and was ultimately his transportation commissioner. Mayor Bloomberg has said that Giuliani asked him to retain only two of his top aides when he left City Hall, and one was Weinshall. Before Weinshall took over the transportation job, she was a deputy commissioner under Giuliani at another agency, where she oversaw the construction of the bunker at 7 World Trade Center.

Schumer pushed the White House to nominate Mukasey, just as he did with Paul Crotty. He was impressed, no doubt, by Mukasey’s intellect and judicial service. But Schumer has not only championed Giuliani associates like the well-regarded Crotty and Mukasey; he also rushed to endorse Kerik when Bush nominated him for the homeland-security position, praising Kerik’s “strong law-enforcement background” and predicting that he would do “an excellent job” at the giant agency. Schumer and the other committee Democrats did interrogate Mukasey about his views on detention, interrogation, torture, and related terror issues and found that they are
largely indistinguishable from the views of President Bush. The committee is now awaiting Mukasey’s more expansive answers to written questions, and some members are saying that their votes are in doubt, though Schumer was publicly predicting a unanimous vote for Mukasey after the first day’s hearing.

If Mukasey is in agreement with his potential boss in the White House, he also appears to be on the same page as Giuliani, who has come out in favor of “enhanced” and “aggressive” interrogation techniques. Like Mukasey, Giuliani has also refused to rule out waterboarding. Asked recently if the aggressive technique was torture, Giuliani invoked Mukasey: “I don’t believe the attorney general designate was in any way unclear about torture.” Reminded that Mukasey said he didn’t know whether waterboarding was torture, Giuliani replied: “Well, I’m not sure it is either. . . . It depends on how it’s done. It depends on the circumstances. It depends on who does it.” Similarly, Mukasey’s suggestion that the president could violate a federal statute if he deems it necessary to defend the country is in sync with Giuliani, who repeatedly ridiculed Mitt Romney for indicating that he might talk to lawyers before going to war with Iran.

Mukasey tried to distinguish himself from Gonzales by declaring that he would sharply restrict the number of Justice officials who could discuss cases with “elected officials or their representatives”—a limitation, of course, that would still leave the door wide open to the unelected Giuliani. He also refused to commit to reinstituting the “red book,” which required prosecutors to “refrain” from announcing cases that might affect an election, mandating that they “await the end” of the election cycle.

If Mukasey’s sudden rise to prominence, and his placement at Justice, is something of a boon to Candidate Rudy, another of his old cronies is likely to have the opposite effect. The badly timed implosion of Bernie Kerik may remind the public of all the unsavory characters that Giuliani, as mayor, drew like a magnet.

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A onetime white-knight prosecutor who scorned unethical insiders, Giuliani is now surrounded by them, and has as long a history of attracting sleaze as he once did for prosecuting it. The revelations last week that two Mafia godfathers voted to have him killed in 1986 recall a Giuliani who doesn’t exist anymore, a former self at his ethical apex that is a fading memory now that Giuliani’s former trusted top cop is about to be indicted for his dealings with a mob-tied contractor.

The question for Giuliani regarding Kerik
is how he spent years ignoring alarms about the man he placed in one top law-enforcement
job and then tried to install at the helm of our national defense. While some elements of what Giuliani knew about Kerik have come out in previous news accounts, what follows is an untold chronology that could haunt the presidential candidate, particularly if Kerik goes to trial before Election Day.

Giuliani was momentarily down and out when he met Kerik, a third-grade NYPD detective, at a New Jersey gathering of a small police organization in early 1990. He’d lost to David Dinkins a few months earlier and, already a kind of mayor in exile, was busily plotting a career-salvaging second run in 1993. Kerik was starstruck: “As someone who is constantly told that people want to follow me,” he later wrote in his autobiography, “I think I understood what people meant the minute I met Giuliani.” By 1991, Kerik was Giuliani’s volunteer driver and bodyguard, accompanying him everywhere during the two-year prelude to the election and even putting together an unofficial detail of other off-duty cops to protect him.

A few months into Giuliani’s first term, the mayor summoned Kerik to Gracie Mansion and, over a bottle of red wine that was a gift from Nelson Mandela, asked him to become the first deputy commissioner of the city’s vast correction department. Once Kerik, who had virtually no city correction experience, agreed, Giuliani opened the door to his private library and welcomed the members of his cabinet. “In this dark sitting room, one by one,” Kerik recalled, “the mayor’s closest staff members came forward and kissed me. They all knew. I know the mayor is as big a fan of The Godfather as I am, and I wonder if he noticed how much becoming part of his team resembled becoming part of a Mafia family. I was being made. I was now a part of the Giuliani family, getting the endorsement of the other family members, the other capos.”


Of course, that was just the beginning for Kerik, whose personal relationship with Giuliani ultimately put him at the helm of the world’s largest police department, even though he’d only been a cop for eight years, never passed a promotional exam, and was
24 credits shy of the college degree required of mere lieutenants. Giuliani likened his selection of Kerik—over Joe Dunne, a widely
respected 31-year veteran who was the department’s highest-ranking uniformed officer—a moment of personal inspiration, almost
a mystical revelation. “It all of a sudden occurred to me that this was the right person,” he proclaimed. The only person he told about his final choice was his then newly disclosed girlfriend, Judi Nathan—on a Saturday night at 11 p.m., at the cigar bar where they’d first met, just minutes before he phoned Kerik. In Giuliani’s memoir, Leadership, he ascribes the selection of Kerik in August 2000 to “factors of chemistry and feel,” saying that it helped to “have someone who feels that their loyalty is not just to the department, but also to the mayor and the citizens of New York.”

We have since learned that Ed Kuriansky, the city’s investigations commissioner, warned Giuliani, during the selection process, about Kerik’s disturbing connections to a mob-tied contractor who employed Kerik’s brother and best man. Giuliani said as much during his artfully forgetful testimony before the state grand jury that indicted Kerik on charges of accepting gifts from the contractor, who was then seeking city work. Kuriansky had known Giuliani since their days together as young prosecutors in the 1970s, and he went to his death early this year with whatever he told Giuliani, rejecting reporters and investigators even as he battled cancer. He was never questioned by the DA’s office, either in front of a grand jury or in an interview at home, according to a source close to Kuriansky, who says he was “too sick” to be put through any difficult interrogation.

Kuriansky’s appointment diaries, first unearthed by WNBC TV’s Jonathan Dienst, showed that in the days preceding Kerik’s appointment, the commissioner met repeatedly with Giuliani and Denny Young, Giuliani’s counsel, who moved with him to Giuliani Partners. A Voice reading of the diaries and interviews with the people identified in them leaves little doubt that Kuriansky briefed City Hall about Kerik’s troubling relationships. The logs refer to three Kuriansky meetings with Giuliani, Young, or Young’s deputy regarding Kerik’s background investigation. The diaries also refer several times to Larry Ray, the best man at Kerik’s 1998 wedding, who had been indicted in a stock case involving a Gambino crime-family figure just weeks earlier. Ray was placed on the payroll of the mob-connected contractor on Kerik’s recommendation, and the company and Kerik appear in some of the same meeting entries as Ray’s name.

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What is perhaps most surprising about the logs is that Kuriansky also participated on the screening panel of top Giuliani aides that interviewed Kerik and Dunne and made a recommendation to the mayor—a role inconsistent with the independence that most mayors, including Mike Bloomberg, expect of their investigation commissioners. One participant in these high-level internal discussions says Kuriansky never mentioned Kerik’s ties to the company or Ray, which suggests that even as Giuliani and Young were briefed, the mayor did not want the larger group of deputy mayors told about Kerik’s dark side.

Giuliani testified that, in the end, Kuriansky didn’t regard whatever he had on Kerik as disqualifying information. But on the other hand, Kuriansky also allowed Kerik to avoid filling out a detailed questionnaire required of major appointees. Giuliani’s first meeting with Kuriansky about the background probe preceded that decision.

As clear as it is that Giuliani was on notice about the questions surrounding Kerik when he made him police commissioner, he had even better reasons not to recommend him for the homeland-security post four years later. Giuliani says now: “I think I should have done a better job of investigating him, vetting him, however you want to describe that. It’s my responsibility, and I’ve learned from it. I’ll make sure that I do a much better job of checking into people in the future.” All Giuliani had to do by December 2004, however, was read the newspapers about his own partner to see that Kerik was carrying too much baggage for a cabinet-level job.

The city’s Conflict of Interests Board, consisting mostly of Giuliani appointees, had already fined Kerik $2,500 for using three police detectives to do research for his lucrative autobiography. One of Kerik’s top aides at the correction department was indicted in 2003 for running political campaigns out of his office at Rikers Island and for using department workers to renovate his home. Kerik was also accused of covering up an assault charge against his chief of staff, John Picciano, who allegedly attacked a female correction officer he was having an affair with and threatened her with a gun. A 2003 Daily News story quoted a top correction official who detailed how Kerik had personally tried to keep the incident quiet. (Picciano, who had also taken 99 exemptions on his tax returns but avoided prosecution when many other correction department employees were penalized for similar conduct, was working at Giuliani Partners when the stories about him ran.)


A federal judge ordered Kerik in 2004 to help repay $142,733 that was embezzled from a correction-department charity that Kerik chaired. Fred Patrick, the treasurer of the foundation, which received a million dollars in department revenue diverted by Kerik, pleaded guilty to looting it to cover the cost of the kinky collect-call phone conversations he was having with jail inmates. Kerik was required to jointly repay the money because he appointed Patrick to the post and was supposed to oversee the finances of the nonprofit. William Fraser, who was Kerik’s top deputy at the correction department and was elevated at Kerik’s behest, resigned in the early years of the Bloomberg administration when it was revealed that department workers had renovated the pool at his home. Kerik was also a defendant in a lawsuit accusing him of retaliating against a correction official who disciplined a female prison guard with whom Kerik was having an affair, and was scheduled to testify in a deposition around the time of his nomination.

And finally, the Daily News was on the verge of breaking the story of Kerik’s relationship with the mob-tied company, and its reporter left messages detailing the gist of the allegations with Giuliani Partners press secretary Sunny Mindel two days before Kerik was nominated as homeland-security secretary. Everything Ed Kuriansky had whispered years earlier to Giuliani and Young was about to explode.

Knowing all of that, Giuliani went ahead with his support for Kerik’s nomination. Neither he nor Kerik could resist the prominence—and presumably the business—that would come with this ascent to the highest levels of the Bush administration, where Kerik would oversee billions in contracts for just the kind of clients attracted to Giuliani Partners. It was a brazen decision rooted in the same rationale as Giuliani’s presidential campaign, namely that Kerik’s 9/11 hero image would transcend the messy sideshow of his actual life. Of course, Giuliani knew that even Kerik’s 9/11 heroism was a hoax. A study by McKinsey & Company, which was completed in 2002 at the behest of the Bloomberg administration, had taken apart Kerik’s 9/11 performance without naming him. McKinsey found a “perceived lack of a strong operational leader commanding the NYPD response” that day, the “absence of a clear command structure and direction on 9/11 and days after, leading to inadequate control of the NYPD response,” and “no central point of information regarding the incident, with leaders acting largely on personal observations.”

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By Kerik’s own admission, his No. 1 job that day was to protect the mayor, and he literally wrapped himself around Giuliani, reverting to the bodyguard role of 1993. But Giuliani obviously believed, as he does in his own campaign, that the visuals of Kerik on 9/11 were so etched in the American mind that they would trump the facts. Even Kerik’s disastrous stint in Iraq—he was dispatched by Bush in 2003 to train the Iraqi police, only to return three scandalously ineffective months later—wasn’t seen as an obstacle to his appointment. Giuliani apparently believed that Gonzales’s vetting of Kerik could be fixed, just as Kuriansky’s had been. But while Kuriansky could waive the voluminous questionnaire usually filled out by high-level appointees, the White House couldn’t. In 2000, Kuriansky and Giuliani wanted no paper trail and left none. Gonzales couldn’t do that.

Still, Kerik was nominated, meaning he managed to get past Gonzales, and he would have become homeland-security secretary but for a deluge of news stories. The not-so-secret life of Bernie Kerik suddenly burst onto the national scene, and the stream of headlines went beyond his bumbling advocacy for the
sleazy contractor. His love shack overlooking Ground Zero—in an apartment ostensibly
designated for the use of exhausted firefighters—was so busy that one mistress found a love
letter from another there. That story, more than any other, sealed his fate. The revelations were so sudden and damaging that it remains the most peculiar paradox of a very paradoxical presidential campaign that the Republican front-runner, whose calling card is counterterrorism, wanted the security of the country turned over to a friend and partner whose career literally exploded before our eyes, and Giuliani, miraculously, has suffered almost no collateral damage.

Kerik is the prime example of how circumscribed Giuliani’s circle of trust became over time. His first police commissioner, Bill Bratton, was a top-flight professional, just like Giuliani’s first emergency-management director, Jerry Hauer. But Bratton eventually morphed into Kerik and Hauer into Richie Sheirer, a former dispatcher who helped deliver the dispatchers’ union to Giuliani in the 1993 mayoral election. Giuliani’s inner circle, by the end of his mayoralty, consisted almost entirely of what’s become known as the “Yes, Rudies,” or the “Musketeers,” people whose careers were the consequence, by and large, of their ties to him. It wasn’t so much the Bush pattern of loyalty displacing competence as the primary measure of an adviser or aide. In the end, Giuliani’s table of organization had an upside-down quality to it—the less competent someone was, the more dependably loyal they were perceived, and the surer they were to rise to the top or get invited to join Giuliani Partners. In such a circus, it’s hardly surprising that the clowns around Giuliani were also making darkly serious mischief.


The presidential front-runner has been living on the edge in his personal, political, and corporate relationships for years, even conducting a semi-public affair with Judi Nathan as he prepared to run for the Senate in 1999 and 2000—his first, but perhaps not last, head-to-head match-up with Hillary Clinton. What few understand is that these bold and tawdry ties haven’t been some incidental subplot to Rudy Giuliani’s life. They are part of the main narrative, and, as Kerik proves, they provide a revealing look on the character and judgment that he would bring to the White House.

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Rudy’s Grand Illusion

When Rudy Giuliani looks back to September 11, he relies not upon the memory of the day itself, but on his memory of the telling of the tale, which he has recounted over and over. That is always the way for people who have lived through a complicated, high-adrenaline event. We sort it out in our minds, assigning order to the confusing rush of images. But there are invariably other realities—sights and sounds and irrefutable facts that we failed to notice at the time, or that we edit out later to give some order to the story in our own minds.

His vision filtered by the years of retelling, Giuliani remembers an order beneath the chaos of falling debris and jumping victims. The city’s emergency services were functioning as they were meant to, with him at the helm. “The line of authority is clear,” he told the 9-11 Commission. “The mayor is in charge. In the same way the president of the United States is commander in chief, the mayor is in charge. That’s why people elect the mayor, so they get the choice of whether they get a strong captain or a weak captain or a lieutenant or whatever.” Praised for heading toward danger rather than away from it, Giuliani replied, “That was my job. I was mayor. Part of my job description was to coordinate and supervise emergencies. The agencies that were the primary responders were all agencies that worked for the mayor. We had a format for how we did it, and part of that included my being there, so that I could coordinate and make sure everybody was working together.”

Rudy Giuliani’s performance on 9-11 is legendary, but for most people, the story boils down to one image: the mayor walking north from the disaster, covered with dust. Afterward, in his greatest achievement, he was able to give voice to all the things the rest of us needed and wanted to hear. He articulated our grief, shored up our confidence, and insisted on a level- headed response that gave no berth to intolerance. We resist knowing anything more—about the eight-year history of error and indifference that preceded that moment, or the toxic disengagement that followed it.

We also actually know very little about what the mayor really did before he stood up, covered in the remnants of the World Trade Center, and began to speak to the world. Giuliani has been allowed to be his own solitary storyteller, and his unexamined 102 minutes transformed him into an international brand of public courage.


Shortly after the second plane slammed into the twin towers, Giuliani’s car pulled up slightly northeast of 7 WTC, where his extremely expensive and ultra- sophisticated Emergency Operations Center was perched high up above many large tanks of combustible fuel. Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik, who was waiting to meet him, decided it was too dangerous to bring the mayor up to the command center he had so carefully and expensively built. Instead, Kerik pointed out a nearby office building at 75 Barclay Street and said they were “taking people out and setting up a command post” there.

“Is this going to be our main command post?” Giuliani asked Kerik in his own account of the day’s events, and Kerik said yes. Then the mayor wanted to know where the fire department was set up. Kerik told him that the top chiefs had their command post two blocks away, on West Street, and the two men headed over there.

Looking back with serene hindsight, it’s easy to see what the mayor’s most important mission should have been at that critical moment. He needed to make sure the proud and fractious police and fire departments were working together. The fire officials were clearly at the center of the action. Chief of Department Pete Ganci, First Deputy Commissioner Bill Feehan, and search-and-rescue chief Ray Downey had begun the day in the North Tower. Then, looking for a location with a better view of the fires, they set up an impromptu command post on the far side of the eight-lane West Street, where they would manage the total incident, working with the board that locates all department resources involved in fighting a fire.

When Giuliani arrived at 9:20, Ganci and the chiefs told the mayor that “they had already gotten some people out above the plane,” that they’d been “lucky enough to have a stairway that they could come down.” Giuliani thought the chiefs were talking about a stairway in the North Tower, where, in fact, none were ever passable. But he may have misunderstood the chiefs, and they may have been talking about Stairway A in the South Tower, the single passageway to survival that, in the end, only 18 people found. Neither fire dispatch nor 911, which handled countless calls from people stuck above the South Tower fire, were ever told about an open stairway, though the chiefs apparently knew about one.

[

“What should I tell people? What should I say?” Giuliani asked.

“The message has to be: ‘Get in a stairway and come down. Do not stay there,’ ” the mayor recalled Ganci saying. Of course, the city’s emergency operators never stopped giving precisely the opposite advice.


Kerik and Ganci talked briefly. It was the only time the two leaders of these often dueling departments would speak that day. Uncomfortable about the exposed location, Kerik then said, “Mayor, we’ve got to get you out of here and set up a command post.” Hector Santiago, a member of Kerik’s detail, heard the false alarm of a third plane over the radio and yelled, “Boss, we have to go. There’s a third plane coming. We’re underneath the building. We have to go.” With chunks of the towers falling on West Street, Giuliani urged Ganci to move the command post. They exchanged God-bless-you’s.

Then the mayor, Kerik, Deputy Police Commissioner Garry McCarthy, and other top cops all left. The chief of the department, Joe Esposito, was on his way to the fire command post when Giuliani left. Informed by radio that the group was leaving just as he approached, Esposito, the highest-ranking uniformed officer, was also diverted to Barclay Street. Joe Dunne, the first deputy police commissioner, arrived shortly after Giuliani departed and was told to turn around and join the mayor. Deputy Mayor Joe Lhota, who also met Giuliani on Barclay and went to West Street with him, said, “There were no police officials at the command post when we got there and none when we left.”

After presiding over endless turf battles between the two proud departments, Giuliani knew how critical police-fire cooperation was, and he knew it wouldn’t happen automatically. Yet in his book Leadership, Giuliani wrote: “I turned north and headed to the Police Department command post.” In his 9-11 Commission testimony, he said, “I then walked up with, at this point, the police commissioner, the deputy police commissioner, and the chief of the department. I was really brought into 75 Barclay and told this would be our command post.”

The “our” was the police and the mayor. Yet the fire department was responsible for managing the city response to any fire—a series of interagency directives that Giuliani had signed only a few months earlier said so. Giuliani’s role at that moment was to do everything he could to put police and fire commanders at the same post, not participate in setting up a police command post at Barclay that would be separate from Ganci’s. If the mayor felt that he needed to go to Barclay—for reasons of safety or to get hard phone lines and hold a press conference—why did he bring all of the top police commanders with him? Why did he never raise the subject of a joint response while at West Street? And since Ganci said he was moving his post, why was there no discussion of a new joint location that would include some of the top police decision makers?

Everyone agrees that a critical problem that day was that the police and fire departments could not communicate; that’s one of the reasons the lack of inter- operable radios became such a focus of fury. If the top brass of the two departments were at each other’s sides, they could have told each other whatever they learned from their separate radio systems. Many of the command and control issues that might have saved lives could clearly have been better dealt with had Giuliani stopped, taken a deep breath, and pushed Kerik and Ganci to fully and effectively join forces. Insisting that Kerik, McCarthy, Esposito, or Dunne stay at the incident post would have established a joint operation.

Even Fire Commissioner Tom Von Essen, who also left West Street to join the mayor, said later: “There should be a representative from the Police Department there; there should be a high-level chief from the Fire Department there. They should be controlling the operation from that command post. That day the police did not hook up with the Fire Department. I don’t know why.”

The National Institute of Standards and Technology found that “functional unified operations were diminished as a result of the two departments’ command posts being separated.” In fact, said NIST, there’s no record that “any senior police department personnel” were assigned “to provide liaison or assist” with Ganci’s incident post. The longtime head of Giuliani’s emergency management office, Jerry Hauer, pointed out the most dire consequence of the split command posts: “Had there been a senior police liaison at the command post, information about what the police were observing in the air could have been relayed to the ground.” He, the 9-11 Commission, and NIST agree that at a joint post, the fire chiefs would have gotten the warnings of collapse issued by police helicopters that they otherwise missed.

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Giuliani had the opportunity to make that kind of unified direction happen—and, by his own description, the obligation to make it happen—but he didn’t. In his first detailed post–9-11 television interview he recalled that he “walked away” from Ganci’s post “and took my people with me.” But they were not just “his” people, meaning his City Hall deputies. Included in his entourage was the entire police command.


In that same September 22 interview, Giuliani offered a different explanation for his initial decision to go to the FDNY post on West Street: “I wanted to join the Fire Department and the Police Department together at one command post, so I asked where the Fire Department command post was.” He had inadvertently described what he should have done, indeed what his own protocol required him to do. But obviously, that story didn’t fit the facts. So by the time he appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show on September 27, he remembered things differently. “And then when I got there,” he said, “I wanted to make sure that the police department had a command post so that we could communicate with the White House, and the fire department had one so they could actually focus their attention on fighting the fire and the rescue.”

By the time he wrote Leadership in 2002, he’d come up with a detailed rationale. He said the separation of command posts was “absolutely necessary” because “the Fire Department had to lead the rescue and evacuation,” while the Police Department “had to protect the rest of the city.” Since the departments were “performing different tasks,” he argued, they had to have different command posts. Of course, the departments have some different duties in virtually all emergencies, but that reasoning flew in the face of not only all modern understanding of how to coordinate responses to epic catastrophes, but also all the plans Giuliani’sown government had put in place. If it were true that different emergency functions required a separation of command, there would have been no rationale for a coordinating Office of Emergency Management. Everybody could just do their own thing. Unified command is now such accepted wisdom that the Department of Homeland Security requires it.

And of course, as the mayor well knew, the police department was deeply in-
volved in the rescue and evacuation on 9-11. That’s why 23 cops died. Five emergency service units were sent in to climb the steps just like firefighters, as were other plainclothes and patrol cops. Kerik recounts in his book how “our ESU guys were pulling on their masks and marching off toward the buildings” just like the “brave firefighters.”

The real, and obvious, explanation for why Giuliani left things as they were at West Street was that he was as unnerved as everyone else. The fire and police departments were acting on long-held instinct by staying apart, and the mayor shied away from interfering with men who were busy making life-and-death decisions. It was as human a response as his calming and compassionate statements later that day. But it was also a mistake with consequences, and if New York and the nation actually examined Giuliani’s unified-command dysfunction that day, both might be better prepared the next time. Unfortunately, admitting all this would not square with Time‘s salute: “When the day of infamy came, Giuliani seized it as if he had been waiting for it all his life, taking on half a dozen critical roles and performing each masterfully. Improvising on the fly, he became ‘America’s homeland-security boss,’ as well as its ‘gutsy decision-maker’ and ‘crisis manager.’ ”

There was another reason for the Barclay command post, and Kerik hasn’t been as shy as the mayor about mentioning it: security. “I was worried about the mayor and making sure we didn’t put him in harm’s way,” he said later. Kerik’s “immediate problem” was finding space “far enough removed that the mayor wasn’t in danger.” As sensible as protecting Giuliani was, it’s a far different explanation from the mayor’s rationale for the two posts.

Whatever the mix of reasons, Giuliani has never been forced to explain, by investigators or reporters, how he squares the two-post decision with his own rules for how the police and fire departments were supposed to behave. John Farmer, the 9-11 Commission’s top investigator for the city response chapter of its report, says Giuliani can’t. “I don’t know if he thought of it that day, but yes, it was not consistent with the protocol he established,” Farmer says. “I think what he would tell you is that he thought coordination was occurring. He had Kerik with him, and the reality of these situations is that the coordination has to be not just two guys at the top; it has to be more integrated.” Asked if Giuliani should be held accountable for this and other disarray that day, Farmer said, “Of course, the answer is yes. If you’re the top official, you’re accountable.”

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The 9-11 Commission members reached conclusions similar to Farmer’s, but so quietly that no one noticed. The commission report never described Giuliani’s step-by-step actions that day, though it chronicles just about everyone else’s, and it certainly never mentioned his role in creating two posts. But when it reached its ultimate conclusion that the fire department was not “responsible for the management of the City’s response as the Mayor’s directive would have required,” the very next line was “the command posts were in different locations.” Thus, the commission’s best example of the violation of the mayor’s directive was the mayor’s own action.


The National Institute of Standards and Technology added: “Unified command was hampered by the fire department and police department setting up separate command posts.” It also found that the governing fire department protocol that day—issued in 1997 when Von Essen was commissioner—said that at a fire like this, “the departments act as ‘one organization’ and are managed as such.” Instead of “several posts operating independently,” the department circular provides that “the operation is directed from only one command post.” Daniel Nigro, the only top fire chief at West Street to survive, said, “I think there should have been one command post. It should be run according to the incident command system, and that system puts one person in command and all the other agencies are there and they work from a single location.”

Ray Kelly, the police commissioner who preceded and followed the Giuliani years, said in an interview, “Sure, the separate command post was a violation of the protocols. The radios would have been no problem if they had been at the same command post, if they’d been face-to-face. The Office of Emergency Management was supposed to make that happen under the protocols, but Jerry Hauer wasn’t there any-more. OEM had the power to direct that to happen. Giuliani had the power to direct that to happen.”

The mayor’s main mission, as he has put it in repeated accounts, was to gather the information he needed to tell a television and radio audience what they should do, especially people in jeopardy. By the time he talked directly to an audience, however, both towers had collapsed, and the message Ganci asked him to give occupants was moot. The mayor was, in the end, just one more dispatcher who failed to relay useful information. He said he went to Barclay for hard phone lines, but once he got there, his most pressing concern was reaching the vice president and that went nowhere—someone’s phone line went dead, although it’s unclear whether it was Giuliani’s or Dick Cheney’s.


Right after the Cheney call disconnected, the South Tower collapsed. No one in the police department had apparently considered how Giuliani and, by then, a very large entourage would get out of the building in an emergency. So when the tower knocked out windows and drove rubble and ash into their first-floor safe haven, the group ran through the basement until they found a way into a neighboring building and out onto the street. They walked up Broadway and then Church, finally hooking up with cameras and press, searching again for a command post, with Giuliani pointing everyone north.

Even the mayor eventually acknowledged that it might have been a mistake that his entire 25-member inner circle, including three deputy mayors, the police, fire, and Office of Emergency Management commissioners, was marching with him on this hazardous pilgrimage, a vulnerability that hardly reflected strategic thinking. This time, Giuliani’s preference for the comfort of a huge entourage had disconnected the city’s management and its fighting force at a crucial moment.

The only time this confounding management choice took the form of a critical media question was on Fox the day after Giuliani’s commission testimony in 2004, when John Gibson asked Hauer’s successor at OEM, Richie Sheirer, about it. Gibson referred to “the worry” about how the Giuliani entourage had operated, questioning whether it was “fortuitous” that a single “chunk of concrete” hadn’t fallen “on Rudy Giuliani, you, or somebody else,” causing “the whole thing” to have “fallen apart.” Gibson appeared to be questioning the wisdom of the fact that “all of the leaders of the city’s emergency structure got together and had this little command center that moved around.” Sheirer’s answer was pure bluster. “No, there was nothing fortuitous about it,” he said. “It was well planned. Our succession plan for the highest levels of government, the mayor and people like me, is very well in place and embedded. That was implemented to the degree that it needed to be.”

[

Kerik was actually a prime example of this managerial dysfunction all morning. For the 102 minutes when the city most
needed a police commissioner orchestrating an overall response with an embattled fire department, Kerik became Giuliani’s body
guard, just as he had been in the 1993 mayoral campaign. His own account of what he did that morning contained no indication that he was actually managing the police response to this emergency. The command center at 1 Police Plaza wasn’t opened until 9:45, an hour after the attack, a decision that led the independent consultants commissioned by the Bloomberg administration, McKinsey & Company, to raise questions about why it was “underused.”


McKinsey also criticized the “number and continual movement of command posts,” and the absence of any “clearly identifiable, main command post,” errors associated with the top brass including Kerik, who, unlike Von Essen, is an operational chief. “Many leaders of the Department,” the independent consultant found, “indicated that they operated primarily from instinct and experience during an emergency rather than according to a prioritized or structured set of objectives.” Only 45 percent of the 557 cops who were surveyed by McKinsey said they “received clear instructions regarding my role on 9-11,” with 34 percent saying they didn’t and the rest undecided. A meager 24 percent said they were “confident” that the police department had adequate emergency plans. Remarkably, 89 percent had no training in building collapse, 84 percent had none in counterterrorism, 73 percent none in fire rescue/evacuation, and 70 percent none in bio/chem. Of the few who had training in any of these areas, less than a third found it “useful.”

The McKinsey report faulted virtually everything Kerik did that day without naming him or anyone else in top management, criticizing a “perceived lack of a strong operational leader commanding the response” and the “absence of clear command structure and direction on 9-11.”

Instead of dealing with any of these complex tactical issues on 9-11, Kerik’s decisions—at 7 WTC, West Street, Barclay, and the basement—all revolved around the mayor’s safety. Chris Marley, the building engineer at Barclay who guided the Giuliani group out, said, “Kerik had his arm around the mayor to protect him.” Kerik was later asked what his priorities were that day and he told NPR, “Well, the first thing to do was to get the mayor out of there and get to a secure site.” With Kerik, Esposito, Dunne, and McCarthy guarding him at points, Giuliani was protected by the highest-ranking detail in the history of the New York City Police Department. Yet not once did he look around and ask the question: Who’s running the shop?

“I don’t know de facto who was in charge,” Kelly said. “The police commissioner was the head of the organization. I don’t know who was directing. I literally don’t.”

Kerik was with the mayor because Giuliani wanted him to be. “I need the police
and fire commissioners with me,” Giuliani said when he summoned Von Essen. He also reached out to Richie Sheirer—the third member of the team who would be at his side for every 9-11 press briefing, then go with him to Giuliani Partners. All three had no real management credentials until Giuliani promoted them. Von Essen and Kerik went from the lowest ranks of their departments to the very top without ever passing a promotional exam. Giuliani had begun his mayoralty with a circle of managers, like Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and OEM’s Hauer, who had track records elsewhere. He was ending it with a cult of personality. When he chose Kerik over the seasoned professional Dunne, he told reporters that the decision had come to him in a moment of personal inspiration. Not surprisingly, all Kerik could think about in a moment of great crisis was protecting the leader, even if it meant leaving a void in the department he was charged with commanding.

Despite all these missteps, Giuliani was depicted almost immediately as the calmest man in the eye of the worst storm—decisive, self-sufficient, ironhearted. “It was so well orchestrated that you would have thought he had prepared for it forever,” his lifelong secretary Beth Petrone-Hatton told Time. His own Time comments set the subsequent television interview tone: “There were times I was afraid. Everybody was. But the concentration was on. If I don’t do what I have to do, everything falls apart. Something I learned a long time ago, from my father, is that the more emotional things get, the calmer you have to become to figure your way out. Those things have become a matter of instinct for me at 57 years old. I didn’t have to invent them.” He told CNN, “When it’s an emergency, I’m very, very calm and very deliberate.”

[

If Giuliani had actually been doing all the things he now sees himself as having done that day—prioritizing, making strategic decisions about deployment of personnel, command centers, and communications—it would have been a superhuman performance. But actually, in those first hours, Giuliani was doing what most of us, in his place, would have done—struggling, stumbling, and even making a weighty mistake, in the case of the two command posts. His decision to try to get on the air as quickly as possible was sensible, as was his hunt for phones and, later, an alternative command center. But as unforgettable a visual as he was, roaming the canyons of Lower Manhattan, he did not do one thing in those 102 minutes that had any impact.

And it isn’t just his own story that he has hyped. Giuliani has repeatedly contended that 25,000 people were rescued, though government investigators determined that there were actually 15,000 survivors and that most of these people were able to make their own way to safety. While these facts do nothing to dim the magnificent bravery of the firefighters, police officers, and other responders who saved many lives that day, they do turn Giuliani’s claim into just one more self-serving boast.


The centerpiece of Giuliani’s experience on 9-11, his dust-covered march uptown, was truly important to the city and the nation. His ordeal was not about management or even leadership—it was the sight of the mayor sharing that terrible experience with so many other fleeing New Yorkers. The symbol of the city was on the ground with his constituents, dirty and determined, conscious of the fact that there were many others who had been less fortunate. He did not have to save any lives to be important that day. Imagine how different our memories of Hurricane Katrina would be if Mayor Ray Nagin had been out in the water with the dispossessed, splashing his way toward the Convention Center.

We rely on our leaders to behave well in such a moment, to set an example of calm and compassion. But we do not expect them to manage the intricacies of the rescue operation. For that, we hope there are men and women throughout the government who have been preparing and training just so that if a crisis comes, they can operate on instinct, yet automatically make the proper decisions. If the mayor of New York had made sure that the city’s emergency headquarters was securely located and had put in place communications and command systems that worked, he would have been of greater service on 9-11—even if he had spent the whole day cowering under his desk.

Giuliani has never acknowledged a single failing in his own performance. Yet he did nothing before September 11 to alleviate the effects of a terror attack. He embodied his city’s lack of preparation on West Street that morning. And he did not do anything later that matched the moments of grace and resolve he gave us the day we needed him most. What we have left is this: At a moment when the public needed a hero, Rudy Giuliani stepped forward. When he assured New York that things would come out all right, he was blessedly believable. It was a fine thing. But it was not nearly as much as we, at the time, imagined.


The original version of this article omitted the name of co-author Dan Collins.

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Court Date for Bernie’s Pals

It was an overwhelming voter turnout on conservative Staten Island back in 1993 that first propelled Rudy Giuliani into City Hall—thence on to fame and fortune. But the political ambitions of the man they call America’s Mayor could now be at risk, thanks to the criminal indictment last week of two of the island’s favorite sons.

Giuliani has made it clear that he would very much like to be president, or if that seems like a stretch for a pro-abortion, pro-gay-rights Republican, he would certainly appreciate the national spotlight such a campaign would be accorded. The spotlight is clearly his for the asking: A Gallup poll last week put the ex-mayor as the top choice of three out of four Republicans.

But an even bigger potential obstacle to Giuliani’s presidential hopes than his liberal New York baggage appeared on July 19 in a Bronx courtroom in the form of a pair of broad-shouldered former football stars for Monsignor Farrell High School on Staten Island’s east shore.

Frank and Peter DiTommaso, who built their Interstate Industrial Corporation into a regional construction powerhouse in the 1990s, stood before Supreme Court Judge Steven Barrett and pled not guilty to first-degree- perjury charges lodged against them by Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson, setting the stage for a trial that is bound to raise troubling questions for the would-be presidential candidate.

The charges against the contractors came just two weeks after Giuliani appeared to have dodged that particular bullet, when his friend and former police commissioner Bernard Kerik admitted in the same courthouse that he had allowed the DiTommaso brothers to secretly pump $165,000 into the renovation of the former top cop’s palatial Riverdale apartment.

While the sumptuous remake of his home was under way, Kerik acknowledged, he had gone to bat for the DiTommasos—who were then fighting allegations of mob ties—with other city officials. He did so, as the ex–police commissioner told the judge, “thinking they were clean.”

Kerik’s admission spared Giuliani what would have been a major embarrassment—the prospect of a criminal trial for the man he had named to head the city’s police force. Kerik, after more than a year of denying all wrongdoing, accepted a no-jail plea, a $221,000 fine, and the burden of a criminal rap sheet for the rest of his life.

But for the DiTommaso brothers, it was nothing doing. The contractors adamantly denied lying to the Bronx grand jury when asked if they had paid for the renovations to Kerik’s home. “Under no circumstances did me, my brother, anyone from my company have a conversation and/or authorize payments for work done on that apartment,” was what Frank DiTommaso, 47, told the grand jury on March 30, the indictment states. Three months later, his younger brother Peter, 45, gave the same response to the same jurors.

Those statements were blatantly untrue, said D.A. Johnson and city investigations chief Rose Gill Hearn, whose office helped conduct the probe. “Those who would subvert the grand jury’s truth-seeking function and the integrity of city government will be held accountable,” said Hearn.

Standing in dark suits before the judge last week, the brothers let their attorney, an influential New Jersey practitioner named Thomas Durkin Jr., enter their pleas of not guilty. The men face up to seven years in prison if convicted at trial.

Even though Giuliani may never have to put in an appearance at such a trial, it is bound to shed an unflattering light on one of his administration’s murkiest episodes.

“It’s not as heavy as a Kerik trial would have been,” said George Arzt, a lobbyist and City Hall veteran who served as press spokesman for Mayor Ed Koch, “but any negative gets picked up. It snowballs. It erodes his strength, which is integrity. He is supposed to be Mr. Clean, the tough guy with a law enforcement background for treacherous times. When you are eating away at that it hurts. It raises the aura of hypocrisy.”


In the Bronx courtroom, the preliminary back-and-forth about production of documents for the defense was already under way. Bronx rackets bureau chief Dennis Consumano, who will handle the case, said the government’s records in the matter were “substantial.”

Included in those records will be the grand jury testimony of Giuliani, who was reported to have become testy and annoyed under questioning by prosecutors. But key questions about the events remain unanswered, at least for the public.

What, for instance, was then mayor Giuliani told about the startling testimony that Frank DiTommaso gave to the city’s department of investigation in June 2000, when the DiTommasos were trying to persuade city officials that their numerous dealings with mobsters in the construction and supply business were no fault of their own.

They had good cause to want their names cleared. Records show that their companies won more than $100 million worth of contracts for work, including a new concrete foundation at Kings County Hospital, the building of storm sewers, and—the project that kicked off the controversy because of the many gangsters on the scene—providing dirt covering at the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island.

Frank DiTommaso came to that deposition well armed with City Hall connections: His lead attorney was from the law firm of Fischbein Badillo Wagner & Harding, whose partners included Giuliani’s friend and political mentor, former Liberal Party boss Ray Harding. But that wasn’t the builder’s only hook with the administration, the deposition revealed.

DiTommaso told officials that he had not only become good enough friends to do drop-in visits to Kerik’s city office, he had also hired one of Kerik’s closest buddies as a top adviser to his company and put Kerik’s brother on the payroll as an $85,000-a-year manager at the same Staten Island waste transfer station that was then under scrutiny for mob contacts. DiTommaso told his questioners that he had hired Kerik’s pal, a man named Larry Ray, after Kerik (then the corrections commissioner) told him Ray was “a top-shelf guy.”

Within the administration, Kerik’s assistance for the contractor wasn’t much of a secret. The commissioner went so far as to allow his friend Ray to use his corrections office for a meeting with investigators from the city’s Trade Waste Commission, which was then examining the DiTommasos’ application. Kerik made sure to be there at the start of the meeting so Ray could introduce the investigators to the high-ranking city aide.

In an even more open gesture of support, Kerik spoke to the head of enforcement at the Trade Waste Commission, a man named Raymond Casey, to tell him that his friend Larry Ray was going to be assisting the DiTommasos. Casey, who happens to be one of several Giuliani cousins who worked in the administration, has said Kerik never tried to influence him, but that really wasn’t the issue. More to the point, what was the city’s corrections commissioner doing with this crowd in the first place?


That question became even more urgent after Kerik’s pal Ray was indicted in a mob stock-fraud case, together with a high-level Gambino soldier who happened to be one of the characters with whom the DiTommasos were alleged to be doing business.

Less than three months after Frank DiTommaso’s deposition, Giuliani named Kerik as his new police commissioner. Under a standing mayoral executive order, any significant promotion—and Kerik’s bump up from corrections to One Police Plaza certainly qualified—required a new background check by the Department of Investigation. But agency officials have said that while the information about Kerik’s ties to the DiTommasos and Ray was relayed to City Hall by DOI, it was done so orally, and that no written report was ever prepared or delivered to Giuliani. “He got a ‘soft vet,’ ” said one source, referring to the normally rigorous vetting process applied to high-level city appointees.

Durkin, the DiTommasos’ attorney, refused to talk about his defense strategy. After his clients were released without bail, the silver-haired lawyer guided them past reporters on 161st Street as it filled with fans gathering for an afternoon game at Yankee Stadium a block away. But the Bronx D.A. isn’t the contractors’ only problem. In New Jersey, the head of the state’s division of gaming enforcement, Thomas Auriemma, whose industrious probe rekindled the questions about Kerik’s ties to the DiTommasos, said last week that he will seek again to have Interstate banned from doing work at Atlantic City casinos.

“From our perspective, we have consistently believed that Interstate and the DiTommasos are unqualified to be associated with our casino industry,” said Auriemma. “This indictment is further evidence of that.”

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Kerik Cops a Sweet Plea

The findings of the Bronx grand jury that probed ex–police commissioner Bernie Kerik’s dealings with an allegedly mobbed-up contractor are secret, but at a press conference following Kerik’s June 30 guilty plea prosecutors offered some tantalizing snippets:

Back in 1999 and 2000, at a time when New Jersey–based Interstate Industrial Corporation was desperately seeking clearance to hold lucrative city contracts, it paid for $165,000 worth of free renovation work on Kerik’s apartment in Riverdale, prosecutors found. The job included demolition work, architectural services, plumbing, electrical wiring, painting, carpeting, woodwork, built-in cabinets, custom mouldings, marble and granite work, along with hardwood floors in the dining room, kitchen, and living room. The company paid for three bathrooms, the kitchen, a master bedroom suite, a Jacuzzi, and a rotunda with a marble entryway. The rotunda, noted city investigations commissioner Rose Gill Hearn, required “a special bending of the sheetrock that is particularly time-consuming and expensive.”

On his mandatory financial disclosure forms filed with the city’s Department of Investigation, Kerik swore that his rehab costs were just $30,000. “I bet most people would like to get all of that for $30,000,” said Hearn.

A terse, no-nonsense former federal prosecutor, Hearn stood next to Robert Johnson, the soft-spoken Bronx district attorney who negotiated the plea for Kerik, which called for fines of $221,000 with no jail time. The deal’s lenient terms allowed Kerik’s voluble defense attorney, Joseph Tacopina, to spin the story that his client wasn’t even admitting to having committed a crime. That was nonsense, of course—the prosecution’s formal complaint clearly cites criminal acts. But the boast was in line with what Tacopina has been claiming all along.

Ever since Kerik’s nomination by President Bush to serve as Homeland Security secretary first derailed, and then careened into a criminal investigation, Tacopina has insisted the allegations against his client were bogus. That was the steady line of defense adopted by all of Kerik’s allies, even as the investigation opened a window into an ugly and sloppy underside of the administration of former mayor and now presidential wannabe Rudolph Giuliani.

“Much ado about nothing,” said Tacopina when reports of the firm’s ties to Kerik first surfaced in late 2004. “He is unaware of any free gifts,” the lawyer insisted when his client took the Fifth Amendment last year rather than discuss his relationship with Interstate with New Jersey’s attorney general, who wanted to keep Interstate out of Atlantic City’s casinos.

“Once the evidence comes out, and people testify under oath, Bernie will be vindicated,” Tacopina told the Times when it informed him that the chief subcontractor on the apartment rehab was prepared to testify that he was hired by Interstate, which told him to bill it for the costs.

Even as the clock on the criminal probe ticked down in late May, Kerik’s lawyer maintained that he was looking forward to a courtroom joust for justice on behalf of his client. “We’re locked and loaded and ready to go,” the intrepid Tacopina told WNBC-TV reporter Jonathan Dienst.

And then on a hot and humid Friday morning in the Bronx, there was Kerik, his able attorney at his side, finally in that courtroom, and finally allowed an opportunity to speak the truth of the matter. Which he then did.

“Guilty,” said the former police commissioner. “Guilty,” he repeated a moment later when the judge asked about a second criminal charge.

Bald, burly, and wearing a tailored dark suit, Kerik paused briefly on the sidewalk outside, offering a wounded look as the press clustered about him.

He had spent 30 years fighting crime and injustice, and now all anyone wanted to do was pick him apart, he lamented. They’ve “tried to destroy everything I’ve ever done.” As for the criminal violations he had just admitted in a court of law, the ex-lawman allowed that he should have “focused more,” been “more sophisticated” about financial matters.

Someone asked, Was he sorry? Kerik turned to Tacopina. “Let’s go,” he said as they clambered into a chauffeured limo and drove away.


Even if we never get a look at the record of the grand jury—it heard some 150 witnesses, including Giuliani, who was said to have grown prickly and annoyed during the session—the question will always linger as to why tougher criminal counts were not brought. Johnson cited the statute of limitations as a significant barrier, since the law is vague as to whether the clock on the criminal acts began ticking when Kerik left his job as corrections commissioner in August 2000 or when he finished up as police commissioner on December 31, 2001.

There was a potential roadblock to bribery charges as well, since Kerik never had authority to affect Interstate’s efforts to win the city contracts that, in any event, were never awarded. Those facts, prosecutors feared, took away much of the ammunition to assert a quid pro quo between Kerik and the firm.

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Yet it’s hard not to suspect that part of the problem was a failure of will. In Brooklyn, former Democratic boss Clarence Norman was convicted last year of multiple felonies for offenses that pale alongside those attributed to Kerik.

Despite the legal obstacles, there is an awful lot of information already in the public record suggesting that Bernie Kerik pushed as hard as he could to help his pals at Interstate at the same time they were paying for the extravagant renovation job in Riverdale. Much of that record comes from the relentless digging of Daily News reporter Russ Buettner, who found himself two years ago, after reporting on other scams at the corrections department under Kerik, in frequent and lengthy discussions with a man named Larry Ray, who was the best man at Kerik’s wedding, but later soured on his pal after Kerik dropped him following his indictment in a federal mob case.

The record has also been compiled in a separate probe by the New Jersey attorney general’s office as part of its efforts to bar Interstate from state casinos because of its alleged dealings with Gambino and Genovese mobsters. Interstate’s principals, brothers Frank and Peter DiTomasso, have always strenuously denied any intentional mob contacts, and the state’s Casino Control Commission granted them a license, over the attorney general’s objections. Last November, however, the state’s Division of Gaming Enforcement issued a civil complaint, publicly laying out its case against Interstate, much of it based on the revelations about the firm’s dealings with Kerik.

Right from the start, according to the complaint, Interstate’s relationship with the Giuliani aide was premised on the notion that he could assist the firm in surmounting the city’s objections to it. “Maybe he can help us,” were the words Larry Ray, an old acquaintance of Frank DiTommaso, used when he introduced the contractor to the then recently appointed corrections commissioner in 1998.

Kerik returned the compliment, telling DiTommaso that Ray was a “top-shelf guy.” DiTommaso himself described to investigators how Ray had brought him to Kerik’s office, where the commissioner and Ray embraced. With his arm around his pal, Kerik told DiTommaso: “I want to tell you, I trust this guy more than my own brother.”

That was a telling statement, since in short order DiTommaso had hired Ray as a $100,000-a-year adviser to help him with his “law enforcement” matters, along with Kerik’s brother Don, who was put on the Interstate payroll as an $85,000-a-year yard manager at the Staten Island facility that Interstate had purchased from Gambino mobsters.

In November 1998, the New Jersey complaint states, Interstate sent a 46-page fax to Kerik’s office, containing the firm’s application for a city permit to operate the waste transfer station that city officials had flagged as mob-controlled. A few weeks later, Frank DiTommaso attended Kerik’s office Christmas party, and the contractor took to dropping in on the commish when he was in the city.

In July 1999, Kerik met with Raymond Casey, a cousin of Giuliani who was then serving as enforcement chief for the city’s Trade Waste Commission, telling him that “Ray could be helpful to the TWC in alleviating its concerns about Interstate.” A few weeks later Kerik let Ray use his office to meet with commission investigators.

Throughout that period, the complaint states, Kerik regularly complained to Ray and others that he was broke and needed money to complete the purchase and renovation of the Riverdale apartment. In September 1999, the same month that Kerik closed on the apartment, the New Jersey authorities said that a subcontractor named Woods Restoration was hired by Interstate to handle the apartment renovations. Woods went on to complete the sumptuous project, allocating its billings for the work, allegedly at Interstate’s direction, into other, separate projects.

It wasn’t the only secret aspect of the job. Records show, and sources familiar with the criminal case confirm, that no permits were ever filed for the vast bulk of the work at the apartment. Even though the job included merging two separate apartment units, no architecture plans were filed, the sources said. Under rules established by the Giuliani administration for self-certification of most building projects, all the contractors had to do was file the plans. Without the filings, however, there was no paper trail of the work.

Kerik attorney Tacopina, exhausted after his extensive defense work, took a well-earned vacation with his family, his office said. He did not return Voice calls.

At the press conference after Kerik’s guilty plea, investigations commissioner Hearn took one more stab at deflating the defense attorney’s insistence that the proceeding was de minimis. “A plea bargain is a settlement,” she said. “It balances the risks of litigation, but it also in this case has brought to light the now undeniable truth of Mr. Kerik’s conduct in a criminal record that he will have to live with for the rest of his life.”

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Rudy to the Rescue

As the World Trade Center collapsed around him on that violent Tuesday morning four years ago, as thousands were dying or about to die, with the nation and the city under unprecedented attack, Rudy Giuliani claims that he grabbed Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik by the arm and said, “Thank God George Bush is our president.”

If it actually happened that way, it must have sounded bizarre to Kerik at the time, as it did to most people when Giuliani recalled the exchange at last year’s Republican National Convention, and as it certainly seems now that the president’s handling of Hurricane Katrina has pundits wishing Rudy were in charge.

“You can’t tell who’s running anything,” complained David Gergen on CNN as the scope of the disaster unfolded. “I mean there’s no Rudy Giuliani in this story.” On the same network, political analyst Bill Schneider said one of the problems was “a simple lack of leadership.”

The Katrina criticism certainly targets officials besides the president, like New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco, but Dubya is the one facing the highest waters. For a guy whose strongest political and personal asset is supposed to be his ability to relate to what common folk are feeling, Bush seemed way out of touch when he slapped failed FEMA director Mike Brown on the back (“Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job”).

Giuliani has refused to publicly criticize the disaster response. But members of Congress might call on him to testify in their probe of the Katrina mess. And whether Giuliani speaks up or not, every time a talking head invokes his name as the master of disasters, it boosts Rudy’s chances of succeeding Dubya as the guy who hands out the ice and the blankets.


In his lengthy testimony to the 9-11 Commission last year, Giuliani mentioned few details of actual command decisions he made on the day of the attacks four years ago. Most of the operational judgments were made by Kerik or fire officials. According to his own telling of the story, Giuliani’s decisions were limited to where the city’s leaders would locate themselves, whether to bring in the National Guard, and how to mesh city and state governments in the days following the crisis.

Perhaps Giuliani was being stingy with the details to avoid getting blamed. Or perhaps his testimony accurately reflected his style. “Rudy would look at the big picture, the big issues, and that’s one of the reasons he did so well on 9-11: He looked at the big picture,” says Jerry Hauer, Giuliani’s onetime head of emergency management. “He looked at what was confronting the city now and what was confronting the city down the road.”

In fact, Giuliani did make concrete decisions that day: canceling the mayoral primary, evacuating Battery Park City, threatening to arrest anyone caught south of 14th Street without permission, telling people to stay away from Manhattan. But those moves aren’t what people remember about the mayor on 9-11. Instead, it was what he said, and how he looked, that mattered, his delivery of lines like “I have a sense it’s a horrendous number of lives lost” and that the death toll would be “more than any of us can bear.”

“He showed understanding of the magnitude of the disaster, and he showed a compassion. And he also was very willing to talk about what was known, what was not known, what was possible, what wasn’t possible,” Hauer said. “I don’t think FEMA came close to showing they understood the magnitude of the [Katrina] situation.”

Not everyone admires Giuliani’s performance as much as Hauer. “I’m not quite sure he got his hands dirty so much on 9-11 as he did stand in front of the cameras and say everything was OK,” says Monica Gabrielle of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign, who lost her husband in the attack. “I have to give him this: He did keep calm in this city. Those of us who were looking for our missing loved ones had hope of finding them alive because he kept it a rescue operation for so long. It could have turned into complete anarchy if we had known the extent of the devastation down there.”

In other words, Giuliani fibbed when he called the efforts at ground zero a “rescue operation” for so long. But it was a good thing. “That lie I accept because of the state I was in. And that lie I forgive,” Gabrielle says. “What I don’t forgive is the perpetuation of myth after myth as questions were being asked, as an opportunity to be critical of what happened on 9-11.”

That’s a reference to the 9-11 Commission, which lobbed laurels and softball questions at Rudy during his appearance last year. In its report, the 9-11 Commission avoided any broad conclusions about the mayor’s performance. It found that his emergency management plan was followed “to some degree” on the day of the attacks, but also that “the response operations lacked the kind of integrated communications and unified command contemplated in the directive.” It also noted that some disagreed with the mayor’s earlier decision to locate his emergency operations command center at 7 World Trade Center.

Those fuzzy findings only stoked the anger of some 9-11 family members, who feel that the lessons of the 1993 attack, the problems with responder radios, the risks of putting the command center at 7 WTC, were all pooh-poohed by the commission. “When you have a system by which no one is held accountable and the mantra that comes out of an investigation is there was a lack of imagination, everyone’s at fault so no one’s at fault, and you don’t have accountability for decisions that were made that were either right or wrong, and naming names,” Gabrielle says, “what you have is a perpetuation of failed leadership, failed responses, and thousands more walking in the same shoes as the 9-11 victims, which we tried so very hard to change.”


Giuliani’s status as a national figure with a rep based on crisis management is rare. Most potential presidents represent an idea or philosophy; Rudy’s asset is that he’s considered a good guy to have around when things go wrong. Dwight Eisenhower had a similar appeal. So did Herbert Hoover, who gained fame for coordinating food aid to people around the world in the 1920s, saving thousands of lives. “People don’t remember that because, of course, as president he was a disaster,” says University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato.

The beauty of being known as a crisis manager is that it has bipartisan currency, which is why 9-11 could be a big asset for Giuliani—and a big target for his rivals.

“The Democrats would have to try to tar him with some of the points made by the 9-11 Commission, even about some of the events on the day of the chaos that ensued, the lack of communication,” Sabato says. Like what happened when John Kerry made Vietnam Exhibit A in his case to the voters. “We’ll be his Swift Boat,” vows Gabrielle.

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Rudy’s Kerik Problem

Sometime soon, if they haven’t gotten there already, the Republican and Democratic pols looking to derail Rudy Giuliani’s likely presidential bid will dispatch their researchers to look into his City Hall records. One stop will be the voluminous proceedings of the investigations into the allegedly mobbed-up construction company whose owner was befriended by Giuliani’s former corrections and police commissioner, Bernie Kerik.

Once Kerik’s nomination by President Bush to be Homeland Security secretary imploded, the fierce focus on Kerik’s past quickly faded. Kerik quit Giuliani’s consulting firm, and the former mayor insisted he never heard anything about his ex-aide’s alleged wiseguy pals. But records of the city’s inquiry into Interstate Industrial Corporation, the reputedly mob-tied firm where Kerik’s brother worked and where a close Kerik friend with his own mob links was also employed, show the mayor’s investigators were told in detail about Kerik’s relationships.

In June 2000, when Giuliani was still in office, Frank DiTommaso, who owns Interstate along with his brother Peter, spent hours answering questions from city investigators about his contacts with alleged associates of organized crime.

One of the people the investigators pressed DiTommaso especially hard on was a man named Larry Ray, a former insurance salesman, nightclub owner, and such a close pal of Kerik’s that he served as best man at the commissioner’s wedding. Ray was indicted early in 2000, along with several organized-crime members, charged with racketeering in a mob stock-fraud case. The indictment came about a year after DiTommaso had hired Ray to help his firm with two ultra-sensitive license applications, one that would allow him to do business with Atlantic City casinos, and a second from the city’s tough Trade Waste Commission to operate a facility on Staten Island.

How, attorneys for the city’s Department of Investigation wanted to know, had DiTommaso come to hire Larry Ray of all people?

“It just happened by accident,” DiTommaso answered in a lengthy deposition. He and Ray had known each other off and on for years, he said. Ray had once handled some insurance matters for him, and the two would occasionally go out and ride their motorcycles together. Ray just happened to be present one day, DiTommaso explained, when the contractor got a call from one of his many attorneys regarding his problems with the regulators.

“He saw that I was somewhat frustrated and upset and said, ‘What’s the matter?’ ” DiTommaso recalled. The contractor explained to Ray about the scrutiny he was undergoing from various law enforcement agencies.

” ‘Look, I have a lot of experience in law enforcement,’ ” DiTommaso said Ray told him. ” ‘I think I can probably help you.’ ”

At that point, DiTommaso told the investigators, “It was like, you know, I wanted to kiss him.”

Had Ray offered him any specifics about his law enforcement background? asked DOI attorney Norman Dion.

“He didn’t get detailed with me,” said DiTommaso. “But he did tell me he was doing work overseas for the government, which I knew and was able to validate. He had a strong relationship with [former Soviet president] Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife.”

How did DiTommaso know that? he was asked.

“He told me he provided full security for Gorbachev when he traveled to the United States,” DiTommaso said. Ray had proved the claim by taking him to see his friend Kerik at his city office. There, Ray showed him some framed photos. “It was a picture in Commissioner Kerik’s office with Mikhail Gorbachev, and Larry Ray with the mayor.”

“Which mayor?” burst in one of DiTommaso’s own attorneys at that point in the deposition.

“Our mayor,” said DiTommaso.

“I’m asking a serious question,” continued his lawyer.

“Mayor Giuliani,” the contractor confirmed.

Another DOI attorney, Dyana Lee, cut in to make sure she was hearing him correctly. “You saw pictures in Commissioner Kerik’s office with Mr. Ray and Mayor Giuliani?”

“Yes,” said DiTommaso.

“And Mikhail Gorbachev?”

“Yes.”

There’s no audiotape of the session, but the transcript of the deposition, obtained under a Freedom of Information request, suggests a room full of stunned lawyers.

DiTommaso went on to say that he and Kerik quickly became friends. Kerik had personally extended an invitation to DiTommaso to attend the commissioner’s Christmas party in December 1998 at his old correction department office. There, DiTommaso said, he encountered a room packed with law enforcement officials in suits. It was all “hugging and kissing,” he said. “That just validated whatever [Ray] was doing with his law enforcement involvement,” said the contractor.

A week after the Kerik Christmas party DiTommaso said he decided to hire Ray as a $100,000-a-year adviser overseeing his company’s security. The builder’s relationship with Kerik also grew. DiTommaso hired Kerik’s brother for his company, and took to dropping by the commissioner’s office. “When I would be in the city I would call him, see if he was in, stop by,” he said.

When he hired Ray, DiTommaso was strenuously trying to persuade investigators that his business dealings with a notorious Gambino crime family member named Eddie Garafola—the brother-in-law of John Gotti’s former right-hand man, Salvatore “Sammy Bull” Gravano—were completely unintentional. Under a contract with the city’s Department of Sanitation, Interstate used Garafola’s company to supply dirt at the Fresh Kills landfill. Later, DiTommaso agreed to buy Garafola’s firm. Officials quickly flagged those transactions, setting in motion probes by New Jersey’s casino regulators and by city authorities.

But Ray’s hiring only added more fuel to the government’s suspicions. At the time, Ray himself was under investigation for the mob stock scheme, a scam that included Garafola. According to court papers, Garafola had put out a contract on Ray’s life.

All that, DiTommaso maintained, came as a complete shock. Ray was fired when the indictments were announced. Kerik stopped talking to him as well. Ray eventually pled guilty to fraud and was sentenced to nine months’ home confinement and five years’ probation.

Interstate was later denied approvals for city contracts; the New Jersey Attorney General is still seeking to bar the firm from working for casinos there.

Asked last week about the photo of Giuliani, Gorbachev, and Ray that had so impressed DiTommaso, Giuliani’s spokeswoman, Sunny Mindel, said she knew nothing about it.

Joe Tacopina, Kerik’s lawyer, confirmed the photo: “There is a picture. Ray really knew these people. That’s the weird thing. That’s why Bernie was duped by this guy.”

Kerik had considered Ray his best friend, Tacopina said, leading him to “some judgment errors on his part.”

As for DiTommaso, Tacopina insisted the two men were never close. “He was someone Bernie met through Larry Ray. The common denominator is Ray.” Later this month, Tacopina said, Kerik is to be deposed by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement regarding his dealings with the contractor.

For his part, Ray denies duping anyone. But he also confirmed the photo with the mayor and the former Soviet leader. “Yeah, I was there at City Hall,” he said. “Gorbachev, the mayor. Bernie was proud of a lot of photos. He had bunches of them.”

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Debt Collection

Ex-police commissioner Bernie Kerik’s two top aides were so delinquent in paying for hundreds of dollars in personal calls, made on their city-supplied cell phones, that the Department of Investigation had to force them to pay up, records show.

DOI officials confronted John Picciano, Kerik’s longtime assistant, at the offices of Giuliani Partners, where both men were then employed, in order to get Picciano to ante up the unpaid charges, a memo obtained by the Voice states.

Picciano, who was chief of staff to Kerik at the police department, and L’Tonya Meeks, who served as special assistant to the NYPD commissioner, were each sent copies of the outstanding bills by certified mail in March 2002 and told to repay any personal charges. For Picciano, the total bill was $4,412; Meeks’s total was $9,903.

But the bills went ignored until a year later when a tipster told DOI about the problem. Investigators tracked down Meeks in June 2003 and obtained payment for $781.94. In Picciano’s case, DOI met with him on July 25, 2003, at Giuliani Partners. Picciano, the memo states, “acknowledged that he had not paid for his personal charges and assured DOI that payment would be forthcoming.” Three days later, Picciano’s check for $522.98 was received.

Kerik and Picciano both left Giuliani’s firm in the wake of Kerik’s ill-fated nomination as Homeland Security secretary. Picciano was widely blamed for 19 special high-tech security doors purchased by the NYPD for $50,000 apiece. The doors, built by a company that later put Kerik on its board of directors, never worked and last month were auctioned off for $1,100 each.