Categories
CRIME ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Violence

White Line Fever

I. PROLOGUE

Miami is one of those cities with its own peculiar odor and you smell it most distinctly during the hours before dawn. There is salt in the air, of course, a nod to the abiding presence of the southern sea. But on certain nights when a desultory breeze blows east from the Everglades, a more powerful essence soaks the dark air: the ancient memory of the swamp. It’s as if all the tar and concrete, all the gleaming hotels and banks and shopping centers, the tract houses, schools, churches, and restaurants are some dull afterthought. In those humid after-midnight hours, the modern city is overwhelmed by a primeval compost of decaying vegetation, rioting flowers, fetid water, the remains of beings that die with thrashing suddenness in the night.

And on almost all such nights, it does not take much imagination to detect something else drifting on the Miami wind: the sweet rotting stench of corruption.

No other American city has melded its natural odor so perfectly with the dailiness of its human activities. If you move around the city, you sense the pervasiveness of the corruption: the cop smoking a cigarette in a doorway, like a supporting player from Red Harvest; the chaotic sprawl of weather-stained commercial architecture, evoking deals and variances and the purchased approval of second-rate materials; young men driving Porsches and Mercedes and Caddies as if they owned the nightside streets. Corruption is most tangible, as blunt as an ax, in the bars, discos, marinas, that sleek urban scape so accurately reflected in Miami Vice. This world is not fiction; its treacherous glamour is an undeniable element of modern Miami. And the citizens of that world, adorned with Naugahyde-like tans and encrusted Rolexes, rubbing their eroding noses in unwilled salute, are walking symbols of the city’s deepest reality. The truth of a time and place is, of course, always illusive; but no historian can tell the story of Miami in the last decade without acknowledging one gigantic fact of municipal life: cocaine.

In the late 1970s, the Miami Herald estimated that drugs had become the largest single industry in southern Florida, accounting for a billion dollars a year. Today, in spite of numerous photo opportunities starring George Bush, increases in various antidrug budgets, and some hard dangerous work by the more than 800 state and federal antidrug agents, there is no reason to believe that anything much has changed. Drugs are to Miami what cars are to Detroit. As opium was for some Brits in the 19th century, cocaine has been the essential building block of great Miami fortunes. Narcobucks have erected shopping centers, financed housing developments, built vast mansions, stocked racing stables, paid for boats, cars, and more fleshy trinkets, created and maintained banks (some law enforcement people believe that there isn’t a clean bank in the state), and so worked their way into the fabric of life here that nobody will ever be likely to separate the clean money from the soiled.

[related_posts post_id_1=”719755″ /]

In almost every way, cocaine dominates the culture of Miami. It is part of the city’s power structure, the engine of its economy, the unacknowledged grease of its politics. In Miami, as Christine Evans of the Miami Herald has written, “drugs are cheaper, purer and more abundant than anywhere else in the country. Doctors use them. Lawyers use them. Data analysts use them. Rich kids get them from their parents’ secret drawers. Poor kids score cheap on the street.”

One recent study estimates that the citizens of Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties spend $1.69 billion a year on illegal drugs. Employers spend $744 million a year on health care for their druggies or for repairing the messes made by people who go to work loaded. Cocaine — 75 per cent of which enters this country through Florida — is at the heart of a vast capitalist enterprise, a rude democratic industry that follows the most primitive laws of supply and demand while promising great rewards to those willing to take risks. The odds are almost all in favor of the outlaw. Since its inception in 1982, the federal South Florida Crime Task Force has racked up more than 9500 arrests, seized tons of drugs. The result? Drugs are more available than ever before and cheaper by half at $30,000 a kilo. Few street-level dealers are ever touched because the courts and jails are jammed; crack houses operate openly almost everywhere. And the big dealers — the importers and wholesalers — are virtually immune in their Brickell Avenue condos and Coral Gables mansions. The drug business is a very successful American enterprise. Everybody knows this: ordinary citizens, reporters, politicians, schoolchildren.

But the cops know it better than anyone else. And in this world of dirty money and deep cynicism, it is no surprise that some of them have eaten the forbidden fruit. These notes are about some of those cops.

[related_posts post_id_1=”725621″ /]

II. DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE

The Miami River meanders out of the interior, sluggish and dense and hidden from view, crawling to the sea for 5.5 miles under the city’s bridges like a huge, flat worm. It passes through a wilderness of boat yards, docks, skiffs, houseboats; it eases past areas full of twisted, anonymous steel, past rusting gas pumps and sun-blasted soda machines, past tiny stores selling shrimp and cigarettes and cold beer, past bars where tattooed whores arrive before noon to service the fishermen. Miami is never thought of as a river town, but its river serves admirably as municipal metaphor: dirty, furtive, lawless.

Sometime after midnight on the river last July 28, six men were unloading 300 to 400 kilograms of cocaine from a beat-up old 40-foot scow called the Mary C. This was in itself not unusual; the river is sparsely patrolled by police, whose jurisdiction is split between Miami and the larger Metro-Dade police forces, along with 30 other agencies charged with its regulation (Dade County alone has a bewildering 27 separate police departments totaling 4500 police), and the river is frequently used by smugglers of everything from drugs to Pakistanis. The six men worked quickly, moving their precious cargo from boat to waiting van. It seemed like another smooth night’s work in Miami.

Then, at the entrance to the boat yard, an unarmed night watchman named Bob Downs was suddenly brought to attention by an urgent banging on his door. He was told to open up. He did, and saw at least six men, two of whom were wearing police uniforms and caps. They said they were police and that this was a raid. Downs let them in.

The new arrivals hurried into the yard with guns drawn. Someone among them yelled, “Kill them!” Panicked, cornered, afraid, the men who were unloading the drugs dove into the filthy river. Downs then was ordered to unlock the padlock on the cyclone fence gates, which he did, and the loaded van was driven away. Three of the men who leaped into the river — Pedro Martinez (described later as one of Dade County’s biggest coke dealers, with a fleet of five steel-hulled boats operating from the Bahamas to Florida), Adolfo Lopez-Yanes, and Juan Garcia — never were seen again alive. Their drowned bodies were fished out of the river the next afternoon.

[related_posts post_id_1=”725990″ /]

The following December, arrests were finally made: Armando Estrada, Roman Rodriguez, Osvaldo Coello, Arturo de la Vega, Ro­dolfo Arias, and Armando Garcia. All were young. All were Latin. All were, or had been, Miami cops.

Estrada, Rodriguez, and Garcia were arrested at dawn, each charged with three counts of first-degree murder; under Florida’s felony murder law, anyone who kills another in the process of committing a felony can be charged with first-degree murder. The others were picked up later. In addition to the murder charges, all five were charged with cocaine trafficking, racketeering, and aggravated battery; individual charges included armed robbery, conspiracy and solicitation to commit a felony, and possession of marijuana. Two of the surviving civilians who were unloading the boat were also arrested and charged. But the cops got all the attention. When four of them were brought to court, the whole country saw them blowing kisses, giggling, rolling their eyes, sniggering at their pictures in the newspapers. They flexed their muscles as they moved, looking like bags of bowling balls held together with steroids.

Within days, details about these men began to emerge. All were weight lifters, all made the disco scene, both in Little Havana and in the anglo joints out at the beach. They liked to adorn themselves with gold chains, spend money on expensive clothes, women, flashy cars, all the props of Miami Vice. And in police jobs paying $10 to $14 an hour, they apparently supported this lifestyle in the only way possible: through crime. They started small, taking drugs from motorists stopped for traffic offenses, and keeping them. A few openly muscled small-time peddlers. And eventually, investigators believe, about 10 cops bonded themselves together into a group the prosecutors call “The Enterprise.”

The major target of The Enterprise was the drug dealer. As cops, they would learn on the street (or from straight cops) who was dealing, when big buys were taking place, and then they would go in with shields and guns and take the goods for themselves. Some simply invaded the homes of suspected dealers at gunpoint, a variation of the old crap game stickup. Obviously, if you’re not supposed to be doing something, it is very hard to call the cops when you’re robbed. It’s even harder if the cops are doing the robbing.

[related_posts post_id_1=”721023″ /]

When they weren’t robbing drug dealers, the rogue cops were working for them. The key man was a short dapper 42-year-old Ma­riel refugee named Luis Rodriguez, who had gone from two 1982 arrests for possession of burglary tools and firearms, and four arrests in two years for possession of narcotics (for which he did no time) to the obligatory Mercedes, beeper, and cabin cruiser of the successful drug dealer. Like many drug dealers, he moved around a lot, seldom staying at his Coral Gables apartment, spending nights in various hotels, traveling on occasion to New York.

But Rodriguez was not exactly a master criminal, some Cuban wedding of Professor Moriarty and Meyer Lansky. In fact, he was pretty damned dumb. An example: on March 1, 1984, while driving south on the Jersey Turnpike, Rodriguez and another man were stopped by a trooper for driving 70 miles an hour. The trooper searched the 1981 Chevy and found two bags of cocaine, $14,000 in cash in the trunk, $5000 in the glove compartment, and $44,000 under the dashboard. Rodriguez pleaded guilty to cocaine possession then changed his mind, decided to fight the case, and went back to Miami to wait for trial. He obviously preferred the warm embrace of the Miami legal system to the chill vastness of the North. After his last period of probation in Florida, for example, Rodriguez asked the judge to give him back his 9 mm. Browning. I mean, what is a drug dealer without his piece? And Miami being Miami, Circuit Judge Ted Mastos agreed.

Rodriguez ran a joint called the Molino Rojo Bar, on 3084 NW 7th Street, where drug deals were often made (according to court documents) and where Rodriguez himself was once nabbed with two bags of cocaine. The bar was usually packed (even a brutal double homicide one night in December 1984 didn’t keep the customers away) and among those who came around were the young cops.

[related_posts post_id_1=”715893″ /]

Luis Rodriguez had a 49-year-old assistant, a hustler off SW 8th Street known as Armando Un. In the bar, Un got to know the cops and apparently he was a good judge of character; in 1984 he suggested they work for Rodriguez. And they were willing. In an affidavit, Un said that the drug thefts began in September 1984, the period cited by prosecutors as the beginning of The Enterprise. Soon the young weight lifters were moving drugs around the city for Rodriguez, often in patrol cars, sometimes peddling on duty. They didn’t always work in combination. Officer Estrada, Un said, once gave him a kilo of cocaine in mid-1985 and took a $2000 down payment; that sounded like a private deal. Some other jobs were small; The Enterprise even helped collect gambling debts, the public servant functioning as private muscle. But according to Un, in mid-1985 be helped plan a successful 300-to-400 kilo ripoff at the Tamiami Marina, with six cops doing the heavy lifting. And then they started going after even bigger deals. In the anarchic world of Miami drugs, business was good, although Metro-Dade homicide detective Alex Alvarez later told reporters that business wasn’t always very smooth; there were, for example, too many men involved — at least 10 — and they began to squabble. Said Alvarez: “Everyone wanted to kill everyone else.”

Immediately after the Miami River arrests, there were expressions of surprise and rage. But the Miami establishment should have known. The police brass. The politicians. The prosecutors. They should have smelled the rotting odor, drifting in the Miami night. Way back in February 1985, a banker whose own activities were under investigation said that three masked men broke into his Coral Gables home, robbed him of $100,000 in cash and jewelry, and threatened him with death. The thieves were “built like body builders,” and that April, after his own investigation, he told the cops that one of the three was a Miami police officer who worked out in a gymnasium near Bird Road. Coello and Garcia owned a gym on Bird Road. The cops investigated but did nothing. They were busy elsewhere.

On July 9 last year, a group of men invaded the home of a Miami weapons manufacturer, shot him to death, stole jewelry and a safe; neighbors said men who looked like “off-duty cops” had been seen casing the home. On the day of the Miami River deaths three men in a blue Cadillac flashed a police badge, kidnapped a woman, took her to her home and robbed her husband of $50,000; a car matching the description of the Cadillac was stopped two weeks later. Officer Osvaldo Coello was driving. He had borrowed the car, he said. Nothing happened. On August 17, two days after he resigned from the police department (after an investigation into allegations that he was using cocaine), Coello was stopped doing 120 miles an hour in a $59,000 red Lotus. He was carrying $4500. As a cop, he earned $10.40 an hour. He was not locked up. The police brass saw no evil. On August 26, two cops were arrested while trying to sell police badges, radio scanners, and automatic weapons to a drug dealer. On October 7, Miami police admitted that $150,000 had been stolen from a safe in the office of the Special Investigations Unit (the real name for the Miami vice squad) right in police headquarters. On October 10, a Metro-Dade officer was arrested for being part of a home-invasion gang; he specialized in posing as a mailman. A week later, two cops were arrested for possession of cocaine. The following month, two former Miami cops were charged with stealing (while still on the force) 150 pounds of cocaine from a 1000-pound seizure also made on the Miami River. In February, a cop was arrested while driving a stolen $40,000 Porsche. The next month, a cop was arrested for using a police car in the ripoff of a drug dealer and then planning the man’s murder. The cops in the Miami area were rapidly acquiring a substantial collective yellow sheet of their own.

[related_posts post_id_1=”719880″ /]

The most obvious questions were asked first: Who are these people? What kind of cops are they? The answers were sketchy.

All became cops in the aftermath of the bloody 1980 riots, when the Miami force was expanded from 630 officers to 1050 over three years. To reflect the changed ethnic composition of the city (42.3 per cent of Dade County’s 1,771,000 inhabitants are now Latin) about 80 per cent of the new officers were black or Latin. Some veteran cops insist that to attract the new officers, standards were lowered. And one result was that some bad apples ended up with badges and legitimate guns. Former Police Chief Kenneth Harms says, “Instead of taking the cream off the top of the barrel, we took the whole damn barrel.”

There are some indications that the contents of that barrel were drawn from a Miami generation to whom money was holy, its acquisition sacramental. This is, of course, in the grand American tradition. These, after all, are the children of immigrants, the same kind of people who — in the old days in a dozen American cities — made up the soldiers of the police and the Mob. Many came from the same neighborhoods. Two members of The Enterprise went to Miami High together. Three were in the class of ’81 at the Police Academy; all were known as “aggressive” cops, muscular machos who volunteered for tough assignments, actually preferring the high-action midnight shift. They also moved around with a certain swagger, letting everyone know they were hard guys — as hard as anyone else on the street. They worked at this, wearing muscles as if they too were a kind of uniform. Bodymasters, the gym owned by Coello and Garcia, attracted a lot of police officers; investigators now believe that while pumping iron at Bodymasters, members of The Enterprise also planned some of the drug ripoffs. But it’s not clear when these young men went bad.

Some Miami cops told me they believed the baddies became cops in order to enrich themselves, knowing that access to police intelligence and the gossip of informers would help them locate potential victims. Since the victims were also criminals there were few ethical problems. There might never have been ethical problems.

[related_posts post_id_1=”721001″ /]

“Look, there have always been bad cops,” one cop told me. “They’re usually cops for years and all they see is the scum of the earth and a court system that doesn’t give a rat’s ass and after a while they might say, ‘Hey, why don’t I get a piece for myself?’ In Miami, a cop can make a few grand by looking to the left instead of the right. But these young guys weren’t cops long enough to have that happen. I think they were bad from the day they went to the academy.”

If Rodriguez (through Un) was the corrupter, the relationship with the young cops didn’t last very long. At 5:30 p.m. on July 30, 1985, the day after the murders on the Miami River, in a field about a mile from the Dolphin Expressway, someone dumped a pine box that was three feet high and three feet wide. Inside the box was the body of Luis Rodriguez. He had been shot quite a few times. When the cops found the crate and opened the lid, Luis’s body popped out, and for a brief time his death was happily known to cops and reporters as the “Jack in the Box” murder.

Investigating the murder of Rodriguez, the cops heard that Officer Estrada had been around the night before the drug dealer disappeared, saying he would have to kill him. In a taped conversation after the killing, Un said to Officer Estrada: “I could care less if they killed Luis 40 times over. He had to be killed. If they had not killed him … ” On the tape, Estrada finished the sentence for him: “We would have killed him.”

Officers Arias, Garcia, and Estrada have been charged with conspiracy to murder Rodriguez, but nobody has yet been charged with the actual murder. The larger story of the Miami River murders (or, as defense attorneys call them, “suicides by drowning”) seems to have eclipsed the death of Luis Rodriguez.

[related_posts post_id_1=”726207″ /]

III. RUNNING AT HIALEAH

At some point, crime and politics always seem to intersect. This can be seen most clearly in the town of Hialeah. A stranger could cross from Miami into Hialeah without knowing that he has crossed any boundary; it’s like traversing the frontier between Brooklyn and Queens. But to those who know the place, Hialeah has its own special character these days. It is the second largest city in Dade County, with 180,000 residents (more than Fort Lauderdale). The city’s centerpiece is the once-lovely, now rather shabby racetrack that bears its name. In the old days, famous hoodlums came each winter to the track, carting along their fancy women, each northern don protected by a flying wedge of pistoleros.

In those days, there were almost no Latins in the town; those Latins who did live in Hialeah were third-rate jockeys, exercise boys, vendors, and petty hustlers who made a living off the track. Hialeah in the ’50s was a redneck town, full of hard-drinking shit-kickers who loved to batter each other on a Saturday night while Webb Pierce or Lefty Frizzell sang counterpoint on the jukebox. Then, after Castro took power, at first gradually and soon in a great rush, Hialeah began to change; vowels replaced consonants; Joe Cuba and the La Playa Sextet shoved Hank Williams and Merle Haggard off the juke. Today, Latins make up 80 per cent of the population and in 1983 finally took control of the city council. They have come to dominate an ugly, sprawling town, predominantly working class, whose main artery is 49th Street with its fast food joints and used car lots and grungy shopping centers. They have also inherited a ripe tradition of corruption.

“Politicians steal,” a Miami cop said to me. “That’s their business. But in Hialeah, they think they’re supposed to steal everything.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”726468″ /]

For years, the press and the prosecutors were after a Hialeah mayor named Henry Milander, citing various cases of alleged malfeasance. Milander brushed them away as if they were visiting fruit flies, until at last in 1970 he was convicted of grand larceny. Even that didn’t change Hialeah very much. The following year he was again elected mayor. Other pols, a visitor is told, made fortunes on developing the town, ridding the land of farms and open spaces, planting fields with warehouses and factories, jerry-building housing so unrelentingly ugly that it might even have offended Joe Stalin.

Into this fast-buck heaven have arrived many of the new-breed hustlers, and among them was a man named Alberto San Pedro. Born in Havana in 1950, Alberto was four years old when his parents brought him to Miami. In recent years, he called himself a developer, and hosted extravagant parties each December 17 in honor of his favorite saint, the wonderful San Lazarus, who is not recognized by the Catholic Church anymore but remains big among Cubans. The last two of these $50,000 parties were held at the posh Doral Hotel in Miami Beach, and among the guests were Hialeah mayor Raul Martinez, Representative Claude Pepper, Miami Beach mayor Alex Daoud, WSVN-Channel 7 weekend anchor and reporter Rick Sanchez, Miami police major Jack Sullivan, ordinary cops, political fundraisers, lawyers, various right-wing bravos, and a load of judges. San Pedro brought along a nine-foot statue of the saint, dressed himself in a tuxedo, was flanked by bodyguards, and posed with the assembled celebrities.

San Pedro’s father was a delegate to the 1984 Republican National Convention, and Alberto San Pedro was cleared for an audience with Ronald Reagan in Tampa in 1985. The son told all inquisitors that in addition to his activities as a developer, he was also a bookkeeper and salesman for his father’s business, the San Lazaro Racing Stables at Calder Race Track. These occupations obviously rewarded him handsomely: according to Jeff Leen of the Miami Herald, Alberto San Pedro’s six-bedroom mansion in Hialeah has eight and a half bathrooms and bulletproof windows.

[related_posts post_id_1=”718606″ /]

The windows should have been the tipoff that there was more to Alberto San Pedro than his own resume might indicate. He was, in fact, leading a far more interesting life than the one he presented to the public and seems to have studied for it with the same respect for basic texts that a seminarian would reserve for Thomas a Kempis. Leen, whose wonderfully detailed profile of Alberto for the Herald is the basis of many of these notes, also learned that Alberto kept a hardcover copy of The Godfather in the bathroom closest to his bedroom and a biography of Al Capone behind the desk in his office. It was in that same office that police set up a hidden microphone and learned many things about Alberto’s other, perhaps more characteristic, life. As we learned from listening to the Watergate tapes, the bulk of a hoodlum’s day is consumed by bullshitting with other hoodlums, and the San Pedro tapes — recorded in thousands of pages of transcripts — are a fascinating journey into the true underbelly of life in a corrupt town.

For these tapes, the police say, show that Alberto San Pedro was a major corrupter, a fixer, the classic cacique who works behind the scenes to secure power and wealth and enforces his presumed right to both with fear and violence. Among the institutions he is accused of corrupting is the Hialeah police department. It was a task he had trained for all of his life.

We don’t know if Alberto San Pedro’s reading of Mario Puzo moved him to see his life as a novel, but if so, the early  chapters followed the traditional pattern. In junior high school he learned that force can be rewarded. According to a Florida Parole and Probation Commission case analysis quoted by Leen, “Subject began extortion in the 9th and 10th grades, making the other students do his homework or work projects.”

By age 20, San Pedro, like so many other characters in this squalid story, was into weight lifting. And he began to take karate lessons from a Hialeah cop named Leo Thalassites. On the tapes, San Pedro says that he spent much of his youth beating up people for 50 or a hundred bucks (“that’s how I made my money”). By the time he was 21, his yellow sheet was lengthening: three arrests for aggravated assault, one for resisting a police officer, two for assault and battery, another for buying and possessing stolen property. In 1970, police reports said, after being flattened by a hard block in a sandlot football game, an enraged San Pedro stabbed the blocker, then went to his car, took out a machine gun, and sprayed the field. In all of these cases, he was either acquitted or had the charges dismissed. He wasn’t properly nailed by the law until 1971, when he took part in a drug rip-off and discovered that the subjects of his attention were undercover cops. He was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and given three years probation.

1986_Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about cocaine corrupting Miami

Even this didn’t convince San Pedro to go into a quieter line of work. In 1972, he was in trouble again, charged with armed robbery and assault with the intent to commit murder. His victim this time was a hooker’s John. There are clearly marked roads to heaven. But the customer wouldn’t testify and San Pedro got off. Three years later, he almost got off the earth when a hit man shot him five times. San Pedro survived. The hit man disappeared. And San Pedro began to give his annual thanks to Saint Lazarus. He also began to think more about the style of his life and the reach of his ambitions. On a July 26, 1985, tape, he says:

“I’m not a doper. I dedicate myself to my business. I was fucking broke when I was a kid and I got the shit beat out of me by the cops and by … the whole group. That’s what made me think there’s only one way to get around in life here. That’s politics and money.”

San Pedro was correct; the grand old American combination of politics and money is certainly not unique to south Florida. But there was something else going on in Hialeah. By last year, the police chief was a man named Cecil (“Whitey”) Seay, whose earlier career didn’t seem to shape him for extraordinary moral leadership. In 1970 he was accused by a drug dealer of trying to cut himself into a $150,000 marijuana smuggling plot (no charges were filed); he was indicted in 1971 after a Dade County grand jury investigation demanded by 70 Hialeah officers who said that nine officers, including Seay, didn’t meet ethical standards (he was accused of thwarting a burglary investigation, but when the chief witness against him changed his story the charges were dropped); in 1973, a teenage girl appeared before the city’s personnel board and claimed that Seay had forced his attentions upon her (no investigation was made). At the hearings that led to his choice as chief, Seay said: “Those guys who have a clean record have never done anything.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”726967″ /]

One of Seay’s most important officers was San Pedro’s old karate instructor and still his good friend, Leo Thalassites. He was now a sergeant. Leo suddenly found himself in the newspapers on January 30 when he threatened to kill two detectives named Eddie Preston and Tom Nevins. He made this threat in the lobby of the Hialeah City Hall in front of three other officers. Preston and Nevins were in the intelligence section of Hialeah’s police department, and Thalassites accused them of sending anonymous letters to various police organizations and the media accusing Leo and some other Hialeah veterans of corruption. Although the two cops denied this, Chief Seay and Mayor Martinez backed Thalassites. One fine morning, the two detectives found the locks on their office changed, with their personal possessions and pending cases still inside. They were then shifted to other jobs, one washing police cars, the other pounding a beat. Hialeah’s intelligence section was disbanded.

But the story didn’t end there.

The Metro-Dade police were already looking hard at Alberto San Pedro. An undercover agent, posing as a corrupt cop, had ingratiated himself with San Pedro and had a series of meetings and telephone conversations with the man. All were recorded. More than anything else, San Pedro told detective Nelson Perry, he wanted to get rid of the rest of the records of his youth so that he could obtain a full pardon for his youthful crimes and become a U.S. citizen. He planned to do this, he said, with money.

“Everybody’s got a friend and everybody needs friends,” he said on an August 30, 1985, tape. “Everybody likes to be loved and everybody wants to be loved. Money, everybody loves money. Everybody likes to spend it … And unfortunately, politicians are the worst motherfuckers in the world … They only look at one thing, how much can I steal as long as I’m there.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”718730″ /]

Among the records that San Pedro wanted destroyed were accounts of his dealing with a middle-level Gambino family hoodlum named Joseph Paterno. Police recorded conversations in April 1985 indicating that Paterno tried to buy from San Pedro two silencer-­equipped guns for use in the killing of two of his own cousins in New Jersey. San Pedro didn’t refuse; his price — $4000 for each piece — was simply too high for Paterno’s budget, according to Arthur Nehrbass, commander of Dade’s Organized Crime Bureau. Almost immediately after this conversation, Paterno was arrested.

The cops took a closer look at San Pedro. In June, he offered $5000 to a police informant to get the Paterno transcripts and tapes. The cops then sent their undercover man to San Pedro (setting up the meeting through San Pedro’s bodyguard) and listened to his various offers, and accepted sums ranging from $2000 to $11,000. Over a period of time, the cops fed San Pedro a combination of real and fictitious police material, and listened to his bragging, his philosophy, and his schemes. Those schemes were not empty; San Pedro was the real thing. They knew, for example, from the Hialeah records chief, Lieutenant Thomas Bardon, that San Pedro’s file had disappeared three times from that city’s police department. A narcotics intelligence file on San Pedro also disappeared. And his records were missing from the Dade Circuit Court clerk’s office and the State Attorney’s office. San Pedro was clearly attempting to create a new personal history through elimination.

Nelson Perry, who was president of the Police Benevolent Association (which began representing Hialeah cops in September 1985), says he started smelling the rot in Hialeah when he was approached by a 350-pound political press agent and community newspaperman named Don Dugan (later indicted in a separate case for being the bagman in a bribery case in Opa Locka). Dugan told Perry that he could earn “a personal profit” if he stayed out of Hialeah police affairs. This shocked Perry, who told his superiors of this; they assigned him to pose as a corrupt cop. He soon met San Pedro for the first time at the Treetop Restaurant in the Miami Springs Holiday Inn. They continued to meet for weeks. At two of Perry’s meetings with San Pedro, a Hialeah cop was also present. It was Sergeant Thalassites.

[related_posts post_id_1=”516″ /]

When police overheard San Pedro in February talking about killing two men who owed him a total of $4000, and conspiring to sell a kilo of cocaine, they decided to move. On February 13, San Pedro was arrested on bribery charges, and rearrested March 2 for murder, conspiracy, and cocaine trafficking. Hialeah erupted. Within weeks, Chief Seay resigned. Thalassites went on paid leave. Some of the tapes were released, littered with the names of various politicians who were claimed by San Pedro as friends or property. TV reporter Rick Sanchez was heard discussing an exchange of favors with San Pedro; good old Alberto had found a job in Panama for Sanchez’s uncle; Sanchez, who served as a non-voting adviser to the board of the First American Bank & Trust, got a share of San Pedro’s business for the bank. (What a reporter was doing serving on the board of a bank — and sucking after customers on behalf of that bank — nobody could answer; Sanchez also was granted a paid leave but his superiors at the TV station said they saw nothing wrong with his connection to the bank. The ethics of Miami strike again.) It was then remembered that Sanchez had emceed the 1984 San Lazarus party and had led the group in prayer. Someone else noticed that Hialeah had a 29.6 per cent increase in crime during 1985 and the joke was that this was “not including cops.”

Then in mid-March, the Herald tossed a few more bombs into the discussion.

Reporters Leen and Sydney P. Freedberg discovered that in 1979, Florida’s former attorney general, Robert Shevin, and the state’s esteemed Congressman Claude Pepper had written letters to the Florida parole board extolling San Pedro’s character. They now claimed that they didn’t really know San Pedro, couldn’t remember him; since their letters claimed that they did in fact know San Pedro either the letters or the statements were lies. The former attorney general certainly should have known something about San Pedro. His law partner, a Democratic fund-raiser and adviser to Governor Bob Graham named Ronald Book, represented San Pedro during his 1983 application for a full pardon. Pepper and Shevin spluttered, suffered from amnesia, hung up the phones.

[related_posts post_id_1=”714416″ /]

Even more bizarre was the story of San Pedro’s access to Governor Graham himself. Last December, when there were cops all over Hialeah investigating San Pedro, a woman named Marcia Ludwig emerged to support San Pedro’s application for a full pardon. Marcia Ludwig was once Marcia Valibus and in 1957 she was queen of the Orange Bowl; in Miami there is always an element of the surreal. Later Marcia Valibus was a runner-up in the Miss Universe contest and had a screen test at Paramount Studios. She was also a classmate of Adele Graham, the governor’s wife, and over the years they had remained friends. For more than a decade, the Herald said, Marcia Ludwig has been an intimate friend of one Robert (Bobby) Erra, son of the late Pasquale (Patsy) Erra, who once worked for Vito Genovese. Marcia and Erra are often seen together, friends told the Herald, at the La Goree Country Club. More important, there are pages of conversations between Erra and San Pedro on the various tapes. On December 11, Ludwig sent a hand-written note to her friend, the governor’s wife:

“Dear Adele, This is a note for Bob’s mirror. A good friend of mine — Alberto San Pedro— has a case coming before Bob and his Cabinet on Dec. 18 … I appreciate you calling my words to Bob’s attention.”

On December 19, Adele wrote back to Marcia: “I placed the note on Bob’s mirror — so he’s aware.” This was the day after Graham presided over the hearing. During that session, he said: “Unfortunately, there continues to be this lingering question as to what might be in his background. I’m concerned that Mister San Pedro is sort of being cast under a shadow that he seems to be unable to extricate himself from and which shadow hasn’t yet, or after four or five years, moved to the substance of some action. It has been a long time since the criminal offense for which he’s requesting pardon was committed and he has an impressive statement of his community record.” Graham “reluctantly” moved to continue the case, stating that the next time San Pedro’s pardon was discussed, he would come to a decision. There is no indication that he checked with any of the cops; he certainly didn’t give San Pedro a flat rejection. What the hell: when you’re a kid in Hialeah it’s only natural to fool around with machine guns. Still, Graham didn’t say yes either. And his need to decide was made academic by San Pedro’s February 13 arrest.

The honest cops in Hialeah had long despised San Pedro and to some extent feared him. He was the shadowy man, the fixer, called upon for help by arsonist, hoodlum, dealer. On the day he was arrested, someone placed a note on the police department’s bulletin board. It said very simply: “The untouchable has been touched.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”719763″ /]

IV. OUT OF THE SWAMP

Obviously, every cop in southern Florida is not a crook. Most of the arrests have been made as a result of good tough police investigations along with continuing pressure from the Miami Herald. But it’s unlikely that corruption will soon vanish, the drug dealers joining the dinosaurs in the rot of the swamp. They won’t go away, and cops will continue to be corrupted because there is simply too much dirty money lying around. Cocaine will not soon be legalized: Americans won’t soon surrender their national lust for some form of chemical nirvana.

But if you wonder what happens to some of these men who briefly and luridly occupy page-one headlines, consider recent events in North Bay Village, another suburb of Miami. In 1971, a cop named George Staphylaris was fired from the Miami force for allegedly encouraging a police informant to rob a department store. He appealed the firing, was reinstated with a six-month suspension, then resigned. Six years ago he joined the North Bay Village force. He was soon known to many kids as Officer George, ran the drug education program at Treasure Island Elementary School, often took kids on trips to the Everglades, and had prepared a children’s seminar called “Just Say No To Drugs.”

On the North Bay force, he met another former Miami cop named William David Risk. He too was once fired, for battering a prisoner with a nightstick. He too fought his firing, was reinstated, and resigned in 1979. Last year, he was North Bay Village’s officer of the year, cited for his “superlative performance and dedication.” He was also a weight lifter.

[related_posts post_id_1=”190873″ /]

A third former Miami cop was on the North Bay force. This was Sergeant Fernando Gandon. He quit the Miami force in 1977 after being charged with aggravated battery. While interrogating a man on the street, the charges against him said, he shoved his pistol in the man’s mouth, rattled it around and broke some teeth. Five years ago, he arrived at North Bay and was again given a badge and gun.

On February 27, all three men were arrested by the FBI for selling protection to men they believed to be drug dealers. A Mob guy named Stephen Nahay told FBI agents (posing as drug dealers) in a recorded conversation that if they were moving drugs they should see the three North Bay cops. “They’ll help you out,” Nahay said. “In other words, if you want to kill a guy there … you just tell them the guy and they’ll kick him on to the coroner … ”

Clearly, redemption does not flourish under the southern sun. There are no second chances for such people, only the main chance. But nobody from New York can step back in self-righteous judgment at the sight of Miami police scandals. We have at least one such scandal in every New York generation since the mid-19th century. And late one night, sitting with a Miami cop in a place called Trainer’s, where judges and drug dealers both come to dine, I was asked, “How long can that mayor of yours last?” I wasn’t able to answer. The arrest rate at New York’s city hall hasn’t quite reached that of the Miami cops, but the crimes are about the same general thing: abuse of power for personal gain.

[related_posts post_id_1=”727098″ /]

In Miami, the corruption will go on and on, as long as millions of Americans maintain their passionate love affair with cocaine. Jesse Helms and his fellow yahoos should forget about corruption in Mexico for the moment and acknowledge the rot in a state that went fervently for Ronald Reagan. They might discover that drug dealers love conservatives in power; conservatives forbid things that racket guys can then sell. And while Americans keep buying expensive powders to shove up their noses, the bad guys will keep buying cops. How many. As many as they need.

A good number of Miami cops have the integrity to resist the lure of narcodollars. But just as surely, others will plunge into the swamp and rise covered with the kind of slime that will never wash off. They are there now, driving Chevies and longing for Porsches, dressed in baggy suits and lusting for Giorgio Armani, hearing preachments of denial, while drug dealers leave with the women, and the country at large throws roses to the greedy. They are men of the law but nobody in Miami would ever be surprised to see them leaving the sunshine in handcuffs. Their sweet decaying odor will not go away. ❖

1986_Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about cocaine corrupting Miami

1986_Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about cocaine corrupting Miami

1986_Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about cocaine corrupting Miami

1986_Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about cocaine corrupting Miami

1986_Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about cocaine corrupting Miami

1986_Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about cocaine corrupting Miami

1986_Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about cocaine corrupting Miami

Categories
From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Rogue Police Union: The PBA’s Bloated Overhead

The PBA’s Bloated Overhead
December 7, 1993

THROUGHOUT THE Watergate scandal, the operative phrase was follow the money, an axiom that also serves the PBA story.

In 1991, the PBA raised more than $7 million in dues from its members, while four distinct but affiliated PBA funds took in many millions more from New York City taxpayers. Although the main pen­sion fund for the NYPD — worth $7.5 bil­lion — is mercifully controlled by the city itself (PBA trustees sit on the board), a smaller annuity fund is maintained to pro­vide additional benefits. The city pays in $2 for each police officer each working day (261 a year). Between total contribu­tions from the city and income on invest­ments, this fund received more than $14 million in 1991. A health and welfare fund for cops on active duty took in an­other $22 million; and a comparable fund for retired cops another $20 million. For 1991 alone, total revenues coming in to the PBA, including $7 million in union dues, came to $63 million. The cop on the beat might well ask, “Where did it all go?”

Much of it went where it should have, into services for PBA members — supple­mental dental and optical coverage, death benefits, legal representation, and the like. In 1991 the PBA paid out to members $26.2 million in direct benefits. But in order to provide these services, the PBA spent $23 million, an overhead that should raise the eyelids of the sleepiest IRS or department of labor official. In fact, when the Voice presented this benefit-to-expense ratio to Bob Kobel, an IRS regional spokesman, he replied: “Given that scenario, I feel certain it would cause us to take a closer look, at least to deter­mine why administration costs are so high.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”725990″ /]

A close look at individual expense items raises even more questions. Of the PBA’s total overhead for 1991, a large bite — $4.5 million — was paid out for legal work, la­bor negotiating, and lobbying. If you add in the $2.7 million paid for the legal repre­sentation for members, the total legal bill comes to more than $7 million. Virtually every penny of that amount went to Ly­saght, Lysaght & Kramer, the law firm that took over the PBA’s account from attorney Richard Hartman. In prior years, comparable amounts had been paid to Hartman’s firm, to cover his fees for legal work and labor negotiating.

A police officer might well ask why over the last 15 years the union has paid so dearly for labor negotiating. Hartman joined the PBA in 1978, when the base salary for police officers was $17,458 — hardly generous. Despite his skills, the base police salary has remained constant with inflation ever since. In today’s dollars, the $17,458 of 1977 would be worth $40,415. After being paid millions in the interven­ing years, Hartman has managed to negoti­ate a base salary of $40,700 — a $300 gain, not counting fringe benefits. That annual raise does not compare favorably to the ever-growing fees the PBA and Phil Caruso were granting Hartman. In 1977, the PBA paid Hartman’s predecessor $141,467 for “labor negotiating.” In 1978, Hartman’s first full year, the PBA paid him $750,000. By 1990, Hartman’s last year as the union’s negotiator of record, the PBA was paying him $165,000 a month, for a grand annual total of $1,980,000, as a labor “consultant.”

Another large bite of the PBA revenue pie — $8 million — was taken in 1991 by insurance companies. Obviously the PBA has to pay heavily for insurance to pro­vide the benefits it must. But does it need to pay as much as it does? And the ques­tion would not even be raised were it not for the fact that the year after Richard Hartman surrendered his law license, and thereby a great deal of income, PBA suddenly discovered that its members needed a new Met Life policy, the $2.2 million commission on which went to a new insurance agent named … Richard Hartman. (By 1991, the Met Life insur­ance business was transferred to the wives of James Lysaght and Peter Kramer, part­ners of the law firm that was already get­ting all the legal fees mentioned above.)

[related_posts post_id_1=”721001″ /]

Instead of enriching cops directly, Caru­so has concentrated the PBA’s efforts on increasing fringe benefits. He argues in the Annual Report for the Annuity Fund: “The doubling of our annual annuity con­tribution by the city, won in our last round of contract talks, was significant, particularly for newer members.” But one is tempted to question both the priorities and the motives of the PBA and its negoti­ators. Unlike salaries, which flow directly from the city to the cops, the “soft” mon­ey flows from the city to the PBA, where it can be siphoned off for the benefit of a handful of friends and associates. The only significant fringe benefit negotiated by Caruso and Hartman that flows direct­ly to police members is the uniform allow­ance, which jumped from $265 in 1977 to $1000 in 1991.

The soft money has permitted the PBA the luxury of a huge overhead. In 1991, for example, the union spent $2.2 million on salaries, $900,000 for printing and publications, $650,000 on delegate ex­penses, and $340,000 for conferences and conventions. Even the relatively smaller expenses raise serious questions. For ex­ample, was the $208,000 fee paid to ac­countants Mendelsohn Kary Bell & Natoli to prepare the PBA’s various 1991 filings much of a bargain? The PBA’s 5500 forms invariably communicate as little as possi­ble. On the PBA’s 1991 filing for the an­nuity fund, for instance, MKBN lumped all assets under the familiar rubric of “other.” Yet a glimpse of the PBA’s annu­al report for the fund in the same year reveals that these assets are all invested in financial instruments for which the IRS provides line items on its 5500 forms: government securities, commercial paper, money market funds.

Indeed, the word “other” often covers some of the largest sums charged against the various PBA accounts. By the Voice’s count, in 1991 the PBA buried $6.6 mil­lion in expenses for its various funds un­der the word “other.” That, of course, would be fine if “other” were explained elsewhere. Conscientious accountants wishing to avoid audits provide supple­mental sheets where such large sums are broken down and detailed. Not so the PBA’s accountants. Two outside CPAs who reviewed PBA returns with the Voice commented that it appeared the union was not concerned about audits, almost as if it thought itself untouchable. They pointed out that several basic accounting rules had been flouted.

[related_posts post_id_1=”724782″ /]

For example, although the PBA submits 5500 forms for each benefit plan it oper­ates, those submissions do not include re­quired Schedule P’s, which must list trust­ees and to which the trustees must affix their signatures by way of accepting liabil­ity. Also missing are Schedule A’s, which show where an organization bought its insurance, how much commission was paid, and the names of brokers. Given the amount that the PBA pays out in insur­ance premiums and the name of the bro­ker who received many of these commis­sions — Richard Hartman — the oversight is strange indeed.

Finally, there is the sheer sloppiness of the filings. The PBA’s 5500 forms for 1991 were prepared on IRS forms from the prior year. In its 1989 annuity fund filing, MKBN reported a transfer of $9.9 million into the fund. It is only when one does the math that it becomes clear that the $9.9 million was transferred out of the fund. (The money went to smaller PBAs, the Superior Officers Council, and the Detectives’ Endowment Association, for reasons that are not altogether clear). In this instance, the difference between in and out is almost $20 million. Calls to the PBA accounting firm to get clarification on this and other matters went unanswered.

The various PBA filings yield a number of other issues and questions as well. In addition to the Legal Services Fund, de­signed to represent police in various mat­ters, including house closings, the PBA maintains a separate legal assistance plan within its Health & Welfare Fund. The city gives the union $75 per police officer each year to fund this service, designed to provide legal representation in civil suits brought against police officers whom the city, for whatever reason, does not want to represent (the funds also cover “pension counseling”). According to the PBA con­tract with the city, “These funds shall be maintained in a separate account and shall not be commingled with the other monies received by the Welfare Fund.”

But is that what happened to the $1.4 million taken in by the welfare fund in 1991 for this purpose? The PBA appears to have paid the entire amount to the Lysaght firm. Perhaps Lysaght has the money tucked safely away in an escrow account, But the public filings of the PBA offer no such assurance, and given the PBA’s “fact pattern” — as it’s put in law­-enforcement parlance — of raided escrow accounts and huge fees to lawyers, the transfer to Lysaght is disturbing. Did rank­-and-file police officers really need $1.4 million worth of legal representation for civil matters and pension counseling dur­ing the year? And if not, what is happen­ing to the accumulating funds? Does the city need to continue to fund this account at this level?

The biggest PBA account is the annuity fund, and the natural question is, how is all this money being invested? It is a question Caruso himself addresses in the annuity’s 199 l annual report to members. “The interest yield on An­nuity Fund investments last year was far from awesome,” he wrote, “but nonetheless strictly in keeping with prevailing rates.” In 1991, the annuity fund earned just under 6 per cent.

[related_posts post_id_1=”725998″ /]

Interests rates are, without question, down among all varieties of pension plans. But 6 per cent or under is not the prevailing rate. And there is a larg­er question about the PBA’s annuity fund that centers on the pattern of investing. With a stream of city reve­nues large enough to cover the antici­pated direct benefits to members, the annuity fund would seem to have very little need for liquidity. Yet over $40 million of its $55 million worth of assets are held in short-term financial instruments, with only $15 million in long-term. Had more long-term invest­ments been made years ago, they would still be yielding 8 per cent or better. Even long-term assets purchased today’s markets could yield as much as 7 per cent. Those numbers suggest that the PBA annuity fund could have fared much better. Com­ments James Hanley, the director of the city’s Office of Labor Relations: “I know other uniformed service heads boast they’re still doing 11 per cent and 12 per cent.” While Hanley’s numbers seem over the top, The New York Times reported this week that more than 80 per cent of U.S. corpora­tions interviewed recently about their pension funds base their decisions on an annual return of better than 8 per cent. Only 2 per cent anticipated inter­est rates below 7 per cent.

Who is really paying attention to these PBA accounts? According to Hanley, it should be Comptroller Eliz­abeth Holtzman’s office. Yet the comptroller’s office has yet to com­plete its only PBA audit during Holtz­man’s tenure, and it is not looking at the annuity fund. Indeed, Holtzman’s office took two months to confum for the Voice that it still had the authority to monitor the PBA following changes in the 1989 city charter.

The good news in reviewing the po­lice union’s public filings is this: be­cause neither the organization nor its accountants seem to have filed the proper Schedule P’s bearing the signa­tures of the trustees, the statute of limitations is thereby waived. The first auditor to have an extensive go at these books — perhaps incoming comp­troller Alan Hevesi — should have a field day. And he can take all the time he wants. ■

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker exposing corruption in the Patrolman's Benevolent Association

Categories
From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Rogue Police Union: Nassau’s GOP Affirmative Action Machine

Nassau’s GOP Affirmative Action Machine
December 7, 1988

NASSAU COUNTY abounds in poor role models, and Richard Hartman, a lawyer on the make, found more than his fair share. Take his first two bosses, for instance.

Fresh out of law school, Hartman clerked for Judge Floyd Sarisohn. A few years after Hartman left that job, Sarisohn was removed from office for improperly handling a speeding ticket and for giving a prostitute tips on how to deceive her pro­bation officer. Between 1965 and 1968, Hartman worked for Nassau district attor­ney William Cahn, who would go to jail for padding his expenses and for mail fraud. In 1968 Hartman entered private practice and, like Judge Sarisohn, special­ized in traffic matters. His first partner, Jack Solerwitz, would later, after separat­ing from Hartman, be convicted of steal­ing $5 million from clients.

[related_posts post_id_1=”725990″ /]

Hartman cultivated a reputation for helping influential people beat their raps, often at no charge. “If I had friends who got tickets, I sent them to Richie,” said a former city official in Nassau. “If Richie was your attorney, the cop who handled the ticket didn’t show up to testify.”

Meanwhile, as Hartman became famous for getting things done, lawyer Harold Foner was deciding he had too much to do. Foner represented two police unions, the Nassau and New York City PBAs. In 1969, weighed down by his New York City responsibilities, he resigned his Nas­sau position. As his successor, Foner sug­gested the up-and-comer Hartman, who had strong connections to the county’s Republican machine. Foner was neverthe­less surprised when Hartman consented, since the young man’s practice was yield­ing far more than Foner’s salary, which approximated the pay of a police captain. But Hartman correctly bet that handling police labor relations and legal matters could be spectacularly lucrative.

Police officials had taken note of Hart­man. “He lit up the courtroom,” said Wil­liam Rupp, a former state police officer (and later president of the Metropolitan Police Conference) who helped introduce Hartman to police unions. “I thought he could help us with our plight.” And he did. “Before him,” Rupp said, “we used to go to Albany or City Hall on bended knee and beg.”

Thanks to concessions won by Hart­man, within a few years Long Island cops would take it for granted that they earned more than FBI agents. After the Nassau police, Hartman added the Long Island State Parkway Police, then the Suffolk County police, and soon was the super­-lawyer for practically every cop in every city, town, and village on Long Island and in Westchester. At one point, by Hart­man’s own count, he represented 300 unions, mostly in law enforcement.

[related_posts post_id_1=”397777″ /]

A mystique built up. If you called Hart­man at 3 p.m., he might return the call at 3 a.m. and act like there was nothing unusual about doing so. People said he slept in his car; indeed, he was rumpled, his shirttails always hanging out. “I don’t think he hit his bed three times a week,” recalled Bob Pick, formerly of New York City’s Office of Labor Relations.

The marathon must have taken its toll, because one night in 1973 Hartman’s car jumped a divider, flipped, and landed on another car. Hartman suffered massive in­ternal injuries, and concerned cops mobbed the hospital. After that, Hartman had himself chauffeured around in a Cad­illac limousine. Always in a hurry, going 90 miles an hour, the limo would hit a bump, scattering his papers about the pas­senger compartment. The car got pulled over on numerous occasions, but was nev­er ticketed, unless it was in New Jersey, where troopers didn’t recognize him.

The high-speed legal practice, mean­while, didn’t stop with cops. Hartman vir­tually locked up the Nassau justice system, representing clerks and court officers, throwing Christmas parties for judges. Hartman’s generosity helped him prevail; aides routinely delivered gifts, ranging over the years from apple-shaped gold baubles to booze, VCRs, and a big­screen TV.

[related_posts post_id_1=”725566″ /]

Hartman’s New Year’s party guest list was a Long Island who’s who. One table was invariably heaped with honorary PBA shields, which could be pinned in a wallet and flashed if an officer asked to see a license. “Richie was great at networking,” recalled Daniel Guido, a Nassau police commissioner in the ’70s and now a crim­inal justice professor at John Jay College. “He had the judges in his hip pocket.”

Apparently, there were not enough cops and clerks to keep Hartman busy. He built a long list of criminal clients, which bothered some people, among them Guido: “I suggested to Hartman that it was inappro­priate for him to be repping our 4000 police officers while also … representing people his clients were arresting.”

But no mere police commissioner was going to tell Hartman what to do. The lawyer hit Guido with two $10 million lawsuits accusing him of slander. Hartman eventually withdrew the suit, yet he won the war. Nassau County supervisors did not renew Guido’s contract.

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

BESIDES HIS ENERGY and his open wal­let, Hartman had deep roots in the Repub­lican organization that ran and still runs Nassau County. So did two brothers, Ar­mand and Alfonse D’Amato. All grew up in the same time, the D’Amato household a few miles from Hartman’s. During the 1960s, Hartman’s father, Bill, nominally a grocer but more significantly a GOP committee man, worked for Joseph Carlino, then the powerful assembly speaker and former law partner of Armand. Early in his career, a young Richard passed the machine’s admissions test, offering himself as the sacrificial lamb for the GOP in a futile 1969 city council race in Demo­cratic-controlled Long Beach.

These connections would become useful to Hartman when he began to negotiate police contracts. His bargaining table suc­cess, insiders said, was not just a matter of caffeine and number-crunching. “The un­spoken thing was that Hartman had such a friendship with [longtime supervisor] Al D’Amato,” a Nassau political operative explained, “that D’Amato went out of his way to get him good contracts.”

Small wonder. D’Amato and fellow su­pervisors — even a Democrat or two — won their seats with the Nassau PBA endorsement and contributions rounded up by Hartman. “Almost anybody from either political party could ask Richie for a contribution,” said John Matthews, until re­cently the Nassau Democratic chairman.

[related_posts post_id_1=”714847″ /]

So staunch was that solidarity that even independent-thinking Republicans were banished. Ralph Caso, a Nassau county executive until 1978, told the Voice that when finances tightened and he began op­posing big police wage increases, fellow Republicans, including D’Amato, turned against him and ensured his defeat.

It often seemed many figures in the la­bor-bargaining process, from negotiators to the county executive, were either politi­cal allies or accepting Hartman’s gifts. Hartman began bargaining sessions by sending out for lavish spreads of food and drink, even beer, for both sides of the table. Then he went to work, putting on the appearance of sweating out the details. One observer recalled the lawyer’s tactical devices, as demonstrated at a late-’70s bargaining session. Hartman was leafing through a thick book, and gesticulating: “Now if you look at page 1385, subsection C, paragraph 4, you’ll see that it says, ‘Differential, blah, blah, blah.’ Now if you’ll go back to page 943, you’ll see in subsection … blah, blah, blah.”

“The poor suckers across from him,” the observer said, “just couldn’t keep up.”

Another Hartman tactic was to make excessive demands at the table, which would put the decision into the hands of presumably neutral arbitrators, such as Jo­seph French. In a 1978 settlement, French awarded Hartman’s client, the Nassau PBA, interest on retroactive pay increases, a highly unusual concession. He also doled out a three-year, 24.5 per cent raise. “There were strange aspects of the deci­sion, a strange rationale,” said Bruce Lambert, who covered the talks for News­day. It was noted that French had a few conflicts of interest. He was not only a police buff (a brother and brother-in-law were cops who would benefit from the settlement), but his divorce had been han­dled by Hartman’s firm. (French did not respond to messages left by the Voice.)

[related_posts post_id_1=”714416″ /]

In 1979, Al D’Amato himself inter­vened directly in favor of a record salary increase for Nassau Community College’s adjunct faculty, which was represented by Richard Hartman. The lawyer won ex­traordinary labor gains for the adjunct faculty. The contract was written in such a way that it allowed a high percentage of new teaching positions to be filled via the Nassau GOP patronage network — run by the very people negotiating police contracts.

The agreements were so exceptional that they infuriated the full-time faculty, which would reap outsize gains as well. The faculty, whose salaries currently aver­age $72,918, includes D’Amato’s wife Pe­nelope (math) and Hartman’s brother El­liott (math). In turn, the faculty unions gave cash and material support to the campaign of Nassau County Executive Thomas Gulotta, whose wife Elizabeth teaches biology at the school. The most recent faculty contract, in the words of college trustee Richard Kessel, a Demo­crat, “is one of richest municipal labor contracts I’ve ever seen.”

When Al D’Amato intervened in the Nassau Community College negotiations, the math department was headed by Abe Weinstein, a close D’Amato and Hartman pal who has since become a vice-president at the school. Al D’Amato himself has been a Nassau Community College trust­ee, as has Jeffrey Forchelli. Until recently, Forchelli was a law partner of Armand D’Amato — sentenced in November to five months house arrest and 19 months of supervised release (with disbarment proceedings pending) for mail fraud. John Cornachio, who monitors the college’s construction contracts, is the brother of a former Hartman law associate who now represents the Nassau PBA. In 1966 and 1971, Richard Hartman himself taught math classes at Nassau.

[related_posts post_id_1=”590085″ /]

The relationship of the college to police labor negotiations is critical to under­standing the quid pro quo nature of Nas­sau County contracts. Regional officials who got themselves or their relatives ad­junct teaching positions at the college were in many cases the same people approving nice contracts for Hartman’s oth­er clients, like the Nassau Police union.

The Nassau County cops became the highest-paid police in the country; their base pay is currently $52,229. With over­time, some officers earn as much as $90,000 annually. Nassau police also re­ceive the best benefits ± days off and va­cation account for half the calendar year. And though police routinely cite the dan­gerous nature of their work as a basis for raises, Nassau officers have a relatively low casualty rate.

When Hartman moved on to New York City, he did not do nearly so well for its police officers, who have a far more peril­ous job. But the concessions he won proved incredibly lucrative to executives at the PBA, its staff, and its small circle of service providers. ■

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

Categories
From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Rogue Police Union

Corruption is the tone you set at the top. — Rudolph Giuliani, September 9, policy speech

THE MOLLEN Commission hearings that concluded October 7 filled pages of newsprint and hours of TV, forcing New Yorkers once again to wonder just how high up police corruption might reach. Cocaine-riddled cops, blue-uniformed sadists, and see-no-evil superiors confessed crimes and shortcomings in excruciating detail. Reformers described lonely, futile efforts. Yet for all the candor, there was a dramatic silence — a dog that did not bark. 

Somehow, not a single person on the Mollen panel or at the witness table addressed the one institution that routinely defends cops accused of malfeasance and that blocks serious reform programs: the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. The Mollen Commission report, due this month, is expected to be equally silent on the role of the PBA in police corruption.

The 20,000 member union is so dominant and so brazen it can hold the city hostage if it sees fit, as it did last year when a PBA rally turned into a drunken riot, with thousands of police officers storming the steps of City Hall and blocking traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge. Mayor-elect Rudolph Giuliani’s proposed anticorruption endeavors won’t mean a thing if they don’t include the PBA’s influence in police affairs and in New York politics.

For the PBA, life is mostly a one-way street. Politicians kowtow to it, and taxpayer dollars provide most of its financing, yet PBA officials operate with virtually no accountability to the public, the police brass, or the union’s own rank and file. Meanwhile, inside the New York Police Department little gets done without tacit PBA approval — which is to say without the consent of its president, Phil Caruso, who refused to meet with the Mollen Commission. Now in his fourth four-year term and with no challenger in sight, Caruso has outlasted five police commissioners and two mayors. On January 1, president Caruso will see the inauguration of a third mayor, one the PBA strongly backed over incumbent David Dinkins, a man the union leadership despised and publicly challenged.

[related_posts post_id_1=”721023″ /]

Since 1980, when Caruso became the union’s head, the PBA has evolved into an all-but-invincible network. Much of the credit for the union’s ascent, and perhaps most of the blame for its worst impulses, goes to Richard Hartman, who from 1978 to 1991 served variously as the PBA’s lawyer, labor consultant, and insurance broker, and who continues to this day to have ties to the PBA’s law firm. Together, Caruso and Hartman shaped the once-complacent PBA, formed in 1894 to assist widows and orphans of slain police officers, into a potent, feared, and secretive organization. 

A year-long Voice investigation has uncovered a shameful history within the PBA, a litany of misdeeds and disturbing associations that raises fundamental questions about the values of the city’s police union leadership. Both Caruso and Hartman developed a practice of blatantly favoring their friends and punishing their enemies. The Caruso Hartman team has also demonstrated a willingness to associate with, and often act like, the very crooks police are supposed to arrest.

The Voice has learned:

  • Since Caruso and Hartman attained power in the PBA, law enforcement wiretaps have caught La Cosa Nostra figures bragging about their relationships with the two men. These gangsters included soldiers and associates of the Genovese and Luchese families. In addition, former Hartman associates told the Voice that Frank “Kiki” Testa, a retired sanitation worker who appeared to have ties to the Philadelphia mob, was for a period of time a menacing presence around the office where PBA legal matters were handled.
  • Caruso stood by as a gambling addiction engulfed Hartman and compromised the integrity of the union. Like so many compulsive gamblers, Hartman became both liar and thief as he piled up enormous losses in Atlantic City casinos. Besides improperly taking funds from a police officers’ escrow account — i.e. the officers’ own money — to feed his habit, Hartman turned to a loan shark and to clients who agreed to pay their bills in cash. In one instance, an associate with a criminal record delivered $250,000 in cash to Hartman’s Atlantic City hotel room, so the lawyer could get back to the craps tables. Many sources for this story believe that the millions Hartman blew at the gaming tables came mostly from the grossly inflated retainers, fees, and consulting contracts he received from Phil Caruso’s PBA.
  • Hartman relied on his close relationship with Senator Alfonse D’Amato and other friends in the Nassau County Republican machine to aid him in winning extremely generous contracts for clients. As a Nassau County supervisor, D’Amato intervened in labor talks on behalf of the Nassau Community College adjunct faculty. Hartman reciprocated by playing a vital role in D’Amato’s first successful race for the U.S. Senate. Among other things, Hartman allegedly funneled contributions through his staff. D’Amato later hired Hartman’s brother-in-law and eventually helped the man attain a judgeship, despite his lack of significant courtroom experience. The senator also assisted Hartman clients, including a felon, in efforts to get gun permits.

[related_posts post_id_1=”725920″ /]

  • By massaging the labor negotiating process in Nassau County, Hartman racked up huge salary gains for cops there. He then cited the Nassau contracts as fair precedents in getting concessions from New York City, concessions that benefited the PBA bureaucracy far more than New York’s police officers. Although Hartman had previously seen numerous associates charged with legal improprieties including two bosses, a coworker, and a law partner, he greased this process by providing gifts and favors to officials in Nassau county. Among other plums, certain county officials who favored Hartman were rewarded with well paid teaching jobs on the Nassau Community College adjunct faculty, a client of Hartman’s and a patronage pit.
  • Caruso transformed the modestly paid position of PBA counsel into a gold mine, paying Hartman millions of dollars a year and sending him millions more in referral business. Prior to Caruso’s election to president, the PBA spent a little above $1 million a year for legal representation, labor negotiations, and lobbying. By 1991, the PBA was spending more than $7.2 million for the same services. The huge bargaining budget had virtually no effect on the basic police officer’s salary, which at best has only kept pace with inflation. Others benefited greatly, however; Hartman poured contributions into Caruso’s campaigns for the PBA presidency and in 1981 gave Caruso a Jeep. According to investigative sources familiar with a 1988 Manhattan grand jury, convened to examine embezzlement in the union, the topic of cash kickbacks to a PBA official was also explored.
  • The PBA foiled investigations of police corruption. Before going to jail in 1985 for bribing witnesses not to testify against cops, Walter Cox, the PBA’s private investigator, recounted that he had been operating under explicit orders from superiors. More recently, a PBA precinct official tried to sidetrack initial police probes of renegade cop Michael Dowd. And law enforcement sources say the PBA also recently ruined a Bronx D.A./NYPD sting set up to snare crooked cops.

[related_posts post_id_1=”397777″ /]

  • After the Manhattan D.A. discovered that Hartman had raided the PBA members’ escrow fund to pay for gambling binges and got him to surrender his law license, Hartman turned right around and set up a cozy relationship with the PBA’s successor firm, Lysaght, Lysaght & Kramer. The new outfit, headed by Hartman’s former roommate, an ex-cop named James Lysaght, seamlessly took over the lucrative PBA account, moving into Hartman’s offices and retaining his staff. Several Hartman relatives are on the Lysaght payroll and his brother Elliott until recently has handled the firm’s bookkeeping, just as he did before the transition.  Furthermore, the Voice observed Lysaght holding a clandestine meeting with Hartman during the past year, one of a string of business discussions Hartman held in near empty parks on cold winter days. If legal matters were discussed, such a meeting would seem to violate Hartman’s agreement with the district attorney to get out of the PBA’s legal affairs.
  • Instead of firing Hartman for dipping into the escrow funds, Caruso continued to reward him. After Hartman gave up his law license, Caruso granted him another multi-million dollar compensation arrangement. Hartman became both a “labor consultant” to the PBA and the broker on an expensive new life insurance policy sold to PBA members, before handing the account off to the wives of PBA lawyers James Lysaght and Peter Kramer.
  • Caruso, his staff, and PBA accountants are decidedly cavalier in the way they handle the PBA’s huge cash flow — $63 million in annual contributions from the city, dues from PBA members, and income on assets. In every document filed with the government, one of the biggest line items is always “other,” which is rarely explained on supplemental sheets. In 1991, a whopping $6.6 million in expenses was lumped under “other.” That figure only hints at the overhead that the PBA carries today. Because of its extravagant administrative costs, and huge payouts to lawyers, lobbyists, and labor negotiators, the PBA’s expenses nearly equal the benefits it disburses to members—approximately $26 million. (See “The PBA’s Bloated Overhead,” page 28.) For United Way and other tax-exempt organizations, such spendthrift practices have recently triggered public outrage and forced resignations. So far, the PBA has successfully avoided virtually all inquiry and criticism.

WEARING EXPENSIVE tailored suits and a withering scowl, Phil Caruso is the face of the PBA, and to a large degree of the New York Police Department itself. Commuting from his home in Sayville Suffolk County, he encourages a hostile view of New York City, the notion that it’s nothing but an armed camp that issues nice paychecks. The same outlook informs the PBA’s 19 other executive board members, most of whom live in the suburbs. They’re all white, all male, and, though they don’t perform any police work, all collect taxpayer financed NYPD salaries and have generous PBA expense accounts. The next level down on the PBA hierarchy contains 364 delegates — virtually all white and male, most of them living in the suburbs.

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

Despite the PBA’s fundamental alienation from the city, the organization has become an increasingly potent local political force. Although it made no formal endorsement in the mayor’s race, its sympathies were obvious: Rudy Giuliani was the man. Giuliani joined Caruso at the infamous September 1992 City Hall police rally. The candidate screamed out one “Bullshit!” after another in his critique of Mayor David Dinkins, and Caruso told the mob, “The forces of evil are all around. They are trying to surround us. They are trying to defeat us.”

Ever since that rally-cum-mutiny, the PBA has championed Giuliani. As tallied by Shaun Assael and Wayne Barrett in the November 2 Voice, PBA-connected sources contributed $20,500 through a single bundler to Giuliani’s campaign, and many police officers worked as volunteers. Yet now that he’s moving into Gracie Mansion, the former prosecutor has to decide if he is willing to stand up to his PBA supporters. He’s sent out mixed signals so far: he pledged that, for the time being, he will leave alone the Dinkins-mandated civilian police review board, which the PBA is staunchly against.  But in a year, Giuliani warned, he will review the board’s performance “to see if officers are being treated fairly.”

More encouragingly, Giuliani has also called for the return of an independent special prosecutor to investigate police misconduct, a post Governor Mario Cuomo abolished in 1990. With the Mollen commission ready to issue its report and with Giuliani about to name his police commissioner, there has perhaps never been a better time for an independent prosecutor to look into police affairs, especially the inner workings of the PBA.

[related_posts post_id_1=”714847″ /]

Not that it will be easy. Almost every source the Voice approached in preparing this article was reluctant to speak. People intimately familiar with the PBA said they feared for their lives and those of their families if they talked.  As one person put it: “It would be suicidal for a police officer to speak out.”

After months of building trust and cultivating leads, however, the Voice persuaded many knowledgeable sources to reveal what they know. Interviewed were more than 100 people — many of them several times — including PBA employees and other law enforcement sources from New York City, Nassau County, New York State, New Jersey, and the federal government. Along with details drawn from stacks of documents and files, the insights of these administrators, investigators, police officers, attorneys, and other professionals enabled the Voice to piece together a portrait of an organization that operates above the law and without review.

Caruso himself refused to comment, declining repeated requests for an interview and saying  through a spokesman, “The Village Voice is anti-cop, anti-PBA, and anti-Phil Caruso.”

Attempts to contact Hartman were ignored or rebuffed. A prominent criminal defense attorney who has represented Hartman promised to relay the query, but no answer came back, and a phone message left with a woman at Hartman’s west side apartment was not returned. Neither did Hartman respond to letters mailed to him at all known addresses. As for the firm Lysaght, Lysaght & Kramer, which has taken over Hartman’s enormously profitable PBA work, both James Lysaght and Peter Kramer abruptly hung up the phone when the Voice called to request an interview. 

When the Voice telephoned the PBA office to ask how to get in touch with Hartman, a woman who refused to identify herself said, “He’s retired.” Then how do you reach him? “You don’t,” she snapped, ending the conversation. Hartman’s formal ties with the union may indeed have been severed, but a network of friends, relatives, and legal and business allies remains firmly in place.

[related_posts post_id_1=”714416″ /]

PHIL FOR PRESIDENT

FOR CLOSE TO A DECADE and a half, Phil Caruso and Richard Hartman have been the odd couple of police organizations.  Disheveled, charming, and compulsive, Hartman was the Nassau County conjurer who brought to the union political muscle, negotiating savvy and dubious associates. Manicured, reserved, and willful, Caruso was Hartman’s sponsor, bankroller, and enabler, feeding him larger and larger retainers and contract, and backing him with the unqualified, unquestioning support of the PBA. Together, using tax revenues they bargained for in the name of the cops on the street, Hartman and Caruso built a powerful, wired institution that stands virtually beyond scrutiny. 

The unlikely partnership began in 1977, with Hartman making a pitch for the New York PBA’s legal work and Caruso a bid for the PBA presidency. Hartman had just come from the patronage pit of Nassau County politics. A bright, energetic student at Long Beach High, he had scored in the top percentile on his college board exams. At New York Law School, he had been taught by none other than the notorious Roy Cohn, the Joe McCarthy aide whom Hartman would cite as a role model and who would be disbarred for improperly handling a client’s funds. Hartman went on to ace the bar exam, and presumably could have aimed high in the legal field, perhaps for a clerkship for the U.S. Supreme Court justice or a career in corporate law. Instead he descended into the mercenary, brawling world of Nassau County law and government. (See “Nassau’s GOP Affirmative action Machine”

Then, as now, Nassau politics had little to do with issues or ideas; it was all about power, getting ahead, and helping yourself, your family, and your friends. Throughout these early years, Hartman played protégé to a string of ethically challenged mentors. A Nassau D.A. he worked for went to jail for padding his expenses; a Suffolk district court judge for whom he worked was removed from the bench for improprieties ranging from fixing traffic tickets to advising a prostitute on how to avoid prosecution. 

Besides his intelligence, energy, and colorful presentation, Hartman could rely on the Nassau GOP machine, in which his father, a grocer and bookie, had been a party committeeman. Richard established early relations with the D’Amato brothers, Alfonse and Armand, friendships that later proved fruitful for all concerned. After taking over representation of the Nassau PBA, he began adding other police unions, including the Suffolk County PBA, and before long had an incredible stable of 300 client unions, most in law enforcement. Hartman’s connections, combined with his penchant for handing out tokens of his esteem to county officials, helped make the Nassau and Suffolk police the best paid in the country. Nassau officers currently earn a base pay of $52,229 after seven years of service. With overtime, some officers earn as much as $90,000 annually.

[related_posts post_id_1=”725566″ /]

While Hartman was first making a name for himself in suburban police labor negotiations, Philip Caruso was rising fast in New York City politics. After two years in the army and two years installing telephones, the young Brooklyn native had joined the NYPD in 1958 and served as a patrolman and plainclothes officer working 42nd Street. Caruso began his climb through the PBA hierarchy as a delegate, a sort of shop steward who represents the union in his precinct. In 1971, the PBA president elevated Caruso to sergeant-at-arms, the first rung of PBA leadership. 

Caruso stood out from day one. He spoke more eloquently than others. “The guys were hail fellows well met,” said Stuart Linnick, a former PBA attorney. “Phil was more dignified.” And he polished his resume by picking up a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in public administration from Pace University. Former colleagues recall that Caruso considered himself above, and was even embarrassed by, uneducated, inarticulate officers. 

In 1974, a slate of young policemen, including Caruso, ran unopposed, and were elected to slots on the executive board. In a typical display of bravado, Caruso immediately announced that in the 1977 election he would take on president Ken McFeeley. When ‘77 rolled around, Caruso’s platform included a promise: If elected, he would hire Long Island wunderkind Richard Hartman as the PBA’s attorney and negotiator. Hartman reciprocated by helping to finance Caruso’s run.

Though Caruso lost, narrowly, the rest of the slate prevailed. The top four officers below president Samuel DeMilia were Caruso allies. The group quickly staged a confrontation, hoping to force DeMilia to hire Hartman.

On December 30, 1977, DeMilia and the board met at his home. According to a contemporaneous memo written by DeMilia’s counsel, Harold Foner, “DeMilia stated that the opposition members of the Board led by [first vice president Charles] Peterson wanted Hartman retained… [I] emphatically told DeMilia not even to consider Hartman, that it was rationally stupid and untenable to retain a man who gave large sums of money to defeat him and who had actually campaigned against him.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”725996″ /]

On February 15, 1978, in a meeting at the PBA’s offices, Caruso’s executive board allies, including Charles Peterson, plus Hartman, met with Carmine Perrotta, the man who had been hired the previous August to handle the legal assistance plan. The group presented Perrotta with an ultimatum: step down. His back to the wall, Perrotta, whom the PBA was paying $47,500 a year, reluctantly agreed to a $100,000 buyout. The following day, at age 37, Richard Hartman became attorney and chief negotiator for the PBA, with an annual retainer of $750,000.

Two years later, in March 1980, DeMilia, suffering from eye cancer, resigned, elevating Charles Peterson to the position of acting PBA president. Hartman maintained a friendly demeanor with his ally Peterson, yet behind the scenes he was plotting the new president’s downfall in the June election. Sources said that between 1977 and 1980, Hartman pumped large sums into the PBA presidential elections, and though some of it went to Peterson, the bulk flowed secretly to Caruso. “Richie was smart enough to realize that Peterson wasn’t the politician Phil is,” a former Hartman staffer recalled. Hartman was not only observed as a Caruso bankroller but according to sources close to the elections, also fed Caruso information straight out of the Charlie Peterson camp. 

“Everything Peterson told Hartman, Hartman told Caruso,” according to former PBA spokesman George Douris, who was dismissed by Caruso in late 1980. In other words, to insure that Caruso would win, Hartman sucker punched Peterson. (In an odd twist, years later, after Peterson himself died of cancer, Hartman would wed the man’s daughter.)

The pattern of overthrowing friendships was hardly unique to Hartman. Caruso, too, saw pals as expendable if they got in his way. PBA vice president Nick Chiarkas, a man responsible for Caruso’s rise through the PBA ranks and one who urged him to pursue degrees at Pace University, paid dearly for his encouragement. Once Caruso secured the presidency, he dispensed with the older Chiarkas, who was known for his integrity. At the time, Chiarkas was retired from the force and working at the PBA as a civilian. When Chiarkas left the PBA, Caruso refused to allow Chiarkas to continue his medical insurance at his own expense.  When Chiarkas died of cancer in 1985, his wife and daughter were left to fend for themselves.

“That son of a bitch double-crossed me,” Chiarkas told a friend after being cut loose by Caruso. 

[related_posts post_id_1=”725362″ /]

FAVORS AND APPEARANCES 

IN 1980, WHEN Phil Caruso took the PBA helm — as its eighth president in 10 years — the triennial labor negotiations were already underway. Hartman and Caruso were so confident of doing well that the PBA team bragged before bargaining began about exactly what gains they would be attaining. They even discussed the need to drag the discussions on for the sake of appearance. During negotiations, PBA officials were upstairs in a hotel room partying. To help pass the time, a couple of them even enjoyed the favors of prostitutes, according to a source who said he personally brought the women to the hotel. 

Hartman was able to engineer increases in the form of complex benefit packages, which often benefited the union more than its members. But he was less successful in his efforts to force salary gains in the NYPD by pointing at rates he’d won on Long Island. Today, the base pay for a Nassau police officer stands almost $12,000 over that of a New York City officer. 

Still, Hartman couldn’t resist using unorthodox methods that had worked well on Long Island. A favorite ploy was developing warm relations with negotiators on the other side of the table. For example, former assistant labor relations commissioner Bob Pick told the Voice earlier this year that Hartman had come to Pick’s house to tutor his wife in math, and when he got too busy, sent over the head of Nassau Community College’s math department, Abe Weinstein. Asked about this, Weinstein said that he could not recall a Bob Pick, and that he did not do tutoring. Accepting such favors or gifts would be improper, according to Bruce McIver, the Office of Labor Relations director and the superior of these negotiators from 1980 to 1985: “You can’t let them buy you lunch, you can’t let them buy you tickets to the theater.” 

[related_posts post_id_1=”725998″ /]

If warming up bargaining opponents weren’t enough, Hartman also befriended neutral arbitrators. In 1976, while Hartman was unofficially advising the New York City firefighters union, arbitrator Eric Schmertz awarded a controversial, generous settlement. “My feeling was he had lost some of his impartiality,” said McIver. “My impression was he was favoring the fire union.” 

Schmertz nevertheless moved on to more prestigious posts, including that of dean of Hofstra Law School. One student who enrolled at Hofstra during that period was Phil Caruso’s daughter Lynda, who has since become a lawyer at the PBA’s law firm. (Schmertz later served as director of Mayor Dinkins’ Office of Labor Relations. In October he was nominated to the National Labor Relations Board, but told the Voice last week he had just withdrawn his name for “political considerations.”)

Right after winning the 1980 police contract, Caruso and Hartman faced another pressing task: moving Al D’Amato onto the national stage. The Nassau County supervisor, already close with law enforcement, bonded anew with police that August when he called a press conference to denounce a Nassau police department affirmative action plan, designed to answer a lawsuit that challenged the makeup of the force, 97 per cent white and male. Immediately thereafter, the Nassau PBA endorsed D’Amato’s Senate bid, in which he was contesting the seat of fellow Republican Jacob Javits.

[related_posts post_id_1=”724782″ /]

Hartman and his associates went into high gear.  “His election came up. We dropped everything,” a Hartman staffer remembered. Hartman called his clients for donations to D’Amato’s campaign. He also, according to a onetime employee, gave cash to some staffers to donate in order to circumvent contribution limits. 

“Richie was pulling [D’Amato’s] strings,” said a former associate. “Al knew he needed Richie for the campaign contributions and all the clout Richie had. He represented 200 police organizations at the time. D’Amato got every single police department endorsement when he ran. That’s a hell of a base to start with.” 

So close were the two that Hartman loaned his driver to the supervisor to ferry his family to the 1980 Conservative Party convention at the Diplomat Hotel in Manhattan. Hartman’s driver did other errands for D’Amato during the campaign, even babysitting his kids during the victory celebration at the Hempstead Marriott. 

After D’Amato won, he gave a job on his Senate staff to Hartman’s brother-in-law, Bruce Alpert, who was married to Hartman’s sister Lynn and worked as Hartman’s office manager. Alpert’s job largely involved fund raising. With D’Amato’s assistance, Alpert later won a judgeship, which raised a few eyebrows. “You should have a little trial experience, a day or two at least,” joked a former cop who knew Alpert. Reached by the Voice, Alpert said that he had tried cases as a lawyer, but could cite no specifics. 

In 1987, D’Amato also sought judicial robes for Robert Roberto, a former colleague of Hartman’s in the Nassau D.A.’s office, recommending him for a federal judgeship. Roberto’s confirmation was sunk when it was revealed during hearings that he had once carried out his own sting on a prostitute in which he arrested the 16-year-old after she masturbated him. He voluntarily withdrew his nomination. Roberto nevertheless went on to win an appointment to the state supreme court, with D’Amato’s backing.

D’Amato’s image as Senator Pothole extended beyond judgeships to small but potentially deadly favors. For instance, D’Amato helped get a pistol license for Raymond David Tse, a controversial Chinatown businessman, restaurateur, and Hartman client who in 1988 would kill a young gang member in his office. At his 1991 trial, where he was represented by a non-Hartman lawyer, Tse argued that he fired 18 shots in self defense. He was acquitted. 

And when Hartman was representing boxing promoter Don King, D’Amato intervened in an effort to get King a pistol permit, despite the fact that he had served four years for manslaughter after he beat a man to death. Felons are generally prohibited from owning weapons, and the police denied the permit.

[related_posts post_id_1=”721906″ /]

THE PBA’S FINEST

THE CARUSO HARTMAN ERA ushered in some new faces at the PBA. One figure with a troubled past was Gary Melius. As a young thug, he’d met Hartman and gone on to work his way into the union’s circle of friends.

In 1963, the teenaged Melius and three friends had offered a ride to a young man who had been waiting for a bus, then choked him and robbed him of $40. The following year, Melius was convicted of malicious mischief — six months, suspended sentence. In 1971, he and James C. Mileo, a 40-year-old Nassau County patrolman, were arrested in an attempted $1000 shakedown of a narcotics courier, a young woman caught with a pound of heroin in her car. She said she didn’t have the money, so the patrolman ordered her to go get it. When she returned, Melius, who worked as a general contractor, was there to receive it. Perhaps the scheme would have been successful if the woman had not been an undercover police officer.

When Melius was arrested after driving off with the money, attorney Richard Hartman represented him. He had Melius plea bargain to third degree grand larceny, and to the great relief of the young builder, Hartman turned a potential 15-year sentence into three years probation and a $1000 fine. “[Hartman] always inferred he was a connected guy,” Melius said in a Voice interview.

Melius was later arrested for his role in a “steal to order” business that delivered hot tractor trailers and construction equipment on request. The ringleader was a young woman connected with organized crime figures. Melius was charged with grand larceny, and Hartman again got the charge reduced to a misdemeanor and probation.

Subsequently, Melius moved the office of his small construction company into the ground floor of Hartman’s dumpy two story building at 300 Old Country Road in Mineola; Hartman’s law firm occupied the upstairs. Melius began chumming around with the attorney and before long was both a personal aide and social pal.

“I just hung out with him,” Melius said. “We went to the movies. We went to the racetrack, to Roosevelt, to Nathan’s.”

By 1975, the two had become such fast friends that Hartman sold 300 Old Country Road to Melius for $250,000. Melius said he paid the entire sum two years later. Subsequently, Melius demolished the building and constructed a sleek three story professional office condominium complex, which he sold for a huge profit.

In 1979, law enforcement officials again took an interest in Melius. This time, investigators for the Manhattan D.A.’s office came upon his name while following checks written by loan shark Teddy Moss, operating from the garment district. One such check, for $25,000, had gone to Gary Melius

When the $25,000 check surfaced, investigators summoned Melius to their offices. “Once he saw that check he literally took off,” one investigator said. “He fled out the door.” Ten minutes later, Richard Hartman called the investigator to quiz him as to what he wanted with his friend. Melius, who does not recall the meeting in the D.A.’s office, but does remember a phone call, said he told the investigator that the money from Moss was a loan.

[related_posts post_id_1=”718606″ /]

The loan shark was a familiar figure: back in the ’60s, Moss had been a principal prosecution witness in the Crazy Joey Gallo trial. He’d worn a wire and gotten protection from the D.A. because Gallo wanted to kill him. But by this time, Moss’s days of cooperation with law enforcement officials seemed long over.

Prosecutors suspected Moss’s check to Melius was a means of laundering illicit profits. And though Moss pled guilty to criminal usury (charging 69 per cent interest) and paid a $45,000 fine in 1980, an investigator on the case feels it was not Moss’s idea: “Somebody told him, ‘You better plead or this thing is going blow up in people’s faces.'”

Soon after Phil Caruso’s election to the PBA presidency, the ubiquitous Melius entertained the policeman and his family on Hartman’s yacht Big Bart. (The name was Melius’s moniker for Hartman, drawn from a dirty joke about a pig.) “Richard bought the boat for entertaining, especially to take Phil out,” Melius recalled.

The PBA boss put Melius to work handling production of the union’s magazine, New York’s Finest. “That was Phil’s idea,” said Melius, who coordinated ad sales and got to keep some of the revenues. Prodigious spending on printing and advertising was a pre-Caruso PBA tradition; hiring publishing consultants with criminal records was something new. Though it is not clear whether Caruso knew of Melius’s history, one would assume he hadn’t checked. And Melius and the Carusos were decidedly friendly, even attending a Lincoln Center concert together.

“Phil was sickeningly obsequious with Gary,” said one associate. 

CRAPPING OUT

Most people who gamble don’t really want anyone to know what they are doing. Most of them will lie about what they had for breakfast. Compulsive gamblers who are down on their luck steal 90, 95 per cent of the time.
— Bill, Gamblers Anonymous

OUTSIDE OF WORK, Hartman had only one pleasure: dice. His father, the grocer and politico, had tripled as a bookie, so Richard’s obsession with gambling was not entirely surprising. Early in his career, according to acquaintances, Hartman had wagered heavily, then eased off. But in September 1980, only a few months after Phil Caruso won the PBA presidency, Hartman opened what appears to be his first line of credit in Atlantic City, at Caesars. Over the next several years, he opened credit lines at eight different casinos. 

Hartman was enthralled by the craps tables and would stay at them far too long. In one night in 1983 at Bally’s Park Place, for example, he lost $667,500. “It irritated the hell out of him that he couldn’t beat the system,” a former associate said. 

As a man who rarely bothered with a good night’s sleep, Hartman was a natural for the casino environment. He was also the ideal casino client. One night in Atlantic City, Hartman had $5000 on the table. He turned to a companion and asked him to roll the dice. “I kept rolling sevens and elevens, and the stack of chips kept getting bigger and bigger,” the companion recalled. When the winnings began to pile up, he suggested stopping, but Hartman urged him on. The next toss crapped out — one roll, $148,000. “Typical degenerate crapshooter,” a high ranking casino official recalled when asked about Hartman. 

As they commonly do, casinos tripped over themselves to offer the big time spender loads of perks, beginning with complimentary rooms, even ones he could pass on to friends. In the mid ’80s, when his former PBA cohort Charlie Peterson was being treated for cancer near Philadelphia, Hartman suggested to the ailing cop’s daughter, Patricia, that during her hospital visits she stay in one of his comps in Atlantic City, not far from Philly. Patricia, a Long Island Rail Road cop, seemingly unaware that the lawyer had betrayed her father in the 1980 PBA presidency campaign, started seeing Hartman in October 1986. He lavished her with expensive gifts. Within a month, she asked her husband, a New York City police officer with whom she had a rocky marriage, for a divorce. 

Hartman’s cash flow was like a torrent. It came in fast and went out faster. Like most obsessive gamblers, Hartman was always short of funds. 

Often, sidekick Gary Melius was with him in Atlantic City, but even when he wasn’t, Hartman might desperately summon him. An acquaintance remembered overhearing an imploring call: “Richie kept saying, ‘C’mon Gary, c’mon’ like, jokingly, but he was really begging for money.” 

A couple of hours after one such plea, Melius arrived in Atlantic City, having been flown down on a private plane from Nassau County’s Republic Airport. He came directly to Hartman’s casino penthouse carrying a bag crammed with cash. “He opened it up and emptied the money onto the bed,” recalled another person in the room. “Two hundred fifty grand. I had never seen that much fuckin’ money.” 

Melius, who confirmed the incident and the amount, said he got the money out of Hartman’s bank, Irving Trust, where he routinely cashed sizable checks, made out to “Cash,” from the attorney’s business account. (Hartman, always preferring cash, apparently did not maintain a personal bank account.) Melius also made deposits there, as much as $300,000 at a time. An Irving Trust vice president personally fussed over Hartman’s account. 

Much of Hartman’s gambling money was, of course, New York City tax revenue that had gone to the PBA and out to Hartman. His PBA retainer had grown to $1.2 million, but even that was not enough. Some funds apparently came from the aforementioned Teddy Moss, who Melius says he has known for many years. Besides his loan sharking enterprise, Moss is said to own pizza parlors, a Chinese restaurant, movie theaters, bowling alleys, and a First Avenue card shop. 

During Hartman’s casino meltdown, according to a former Hartman associate, a courier picked up sizable amounts of cash several times over a two month period, sometimes from Teddy Moss’s Chinese restaurant. Reached by phone recently, Moss volunteered that he had accompanied Hartman on several visits to Atlantic City, but denied ever loaning him money, beyond what he described as “car fare” for the millionaire lawyer to get back to New York.

[related_posts post_id_1=”722370″ /]

Hartman was close enough with Moss to have his driver pick up Moss’s daughters and take them to the airport for a trip to Europe and one to Israel. Even when the driver began working for Phil Caruso, if Melius or Hartman asked that the chauffeur handle airport runs for Moss, he would do so. Moss said he met Caruso on one or two occasions. 

Clearly, Hartman had lost control of himself. He even started lying to those who had previously accompanied him to Atlantic City, denying where he was headed. Instead of summoning his driver, he began taking private flights from Republic Airport. Eventually, morale in his Queens office deteriorated, along with its finances. One week in 1983, the paychecks actually bounced. 

Eventually, Hartman finances fell into such disarray that he ceded Melius almost total control over his monetary affairs. For a short period during the early ’80s, Melius controlled all of Hartman’s business bank accounts, personally handling the money himself. 

By early 1984, following a three-month craps binge, Hartman had defaulted on $700,000 in gambling debts. At Hartman’s prompting, Melius wrote a letter to casinos urging them to allow Hartman to settle. The attorney ended up paying just 42 cents on the dollar to Bally’s, the Golden Nugget, Caesars, the Sands, and Resorts International. 

Why was Melius doing Hartman’s deals? “Richard couldn’t negotiate his own deals,” Melius said, insisting Hartman’s publicly acclaimed bargaining prowess is much exaggerated. 

It was around this time, when Hartman’s gambling put him into a financial tailspin, that Frank “Kiki” Testa, a retired West Hempstead sanitation worker, began hanging out in Hartman’s office. Testa, the father-in-law of a Melius high school chum, was a man with a menacing aura. 

A staffer in Hartman’s office got the impression that Testa was there to keep watch over the operation. One former associate recalled seeing Testa in Atlantic City with Hartman on several occasions. Testa had confided to a handful of Hartman associates that he was a member of the Angelo Bruno organization in Philadelphia — a Philip Testa ran that family for several years — and that he had killed quite a few people. Melius, for his part, had told an associate that he himself was connected with the mob.

In an early Voice interview, Melius said his claims about being in the mob were inventions intended to impress people. In a subsequent conversation, he denied ever making the claim: “That is very inaccurate.” Such a boast would indeed seem particularly misplaced since he was hanging out at the office of a police union. He couldn’t provide a satisfactory explanation of why Testa would have been spending time with Hartman, though he did allow that Testa could have had mob ties: “I’d believe that he knew people.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”714267″ /]

While Testa was around, “Gary didn’t say so much as boo,” said a Hartman associate. “When Kiki came into the office people were very uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable.” One young Hartman assistant remembers Testa offering him a word of advice, drawled out with exquisite meaning: “You know, working with Richie, you’re in a verrrry sensitive position.” 

That was a lesson Melius himself soon learned. Hartman had come to believe that Melius, having access to Caruso, had become such a presence that he was a threat. Also, as Hartman’s gambling made him more dependent on Melius, the contractor appeared to lose respect for his onetime mentor. Hartman quietly began working to oust him, making sure that all the top PBA officers knew the full extent of Melius’s criminal record. The conspiracy did its work. By mid-1984, Melius had been eased out the door, never realizing that it was his growing clout in the office that had done him in. 

Yet even after Melius was pushed away from the PBA, Hartman had one more request. By 1985, the lawyer was so desperate for cash that he decided to ask former associates to rejoin his ranks in order to recapture clients that he had voluntarily relinquished years before. 

“He wanted me to talk to them, and I wouldn’t do it,” said Melius, explaining that he had tired of serving as Hartman’s point man on such assignments and that this refusal was the last  time he spoke to Hartman. 

In his interview with the Voice, Melius confirmed his crimes prior to his friendship with Hartman. But he argued that for quite a few years now he has been a decent family man, with a respectable reputation. In a November 23 letter to the Voice, Melius writes, “I have spent my adult life establishing myself as a business man whose word is his bond and a responsible member of the community.”

Indeed, Melius was featured on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous in 1986 as the owner of an estate in Cold Spring Hills, Long Island, a 120,000-square-foot palace, the second largest private residence in America. Formerly known as the Otto Kahn Castle (or Oheka), it had been built in 1917. Melius purchased it in 1984, fixed it up, and sold it in 1988 for $22 million to a Japanese businessman who insisted on a no-publicity clause. Today, Melius has sizable developments throughout Long Island. 

Of his earlier activities, including his association with Hartman and the PBA, the 49-year-old Melius has regrets: “I was trying to hang out with what I thought were the good guys — lawyers, law enforcement. I would have done better with the bad guys.” 

Without Melius, Hartman still managed to finance new excursions to Atlantic City, judging by a civil suit the state of New Jersey filed against Trump’s Castle for having allegedly violated state gaming laws in authorizing Hartman credit. On September 17, 18, and 19, 1987, Hartman cashed three separate checks at the casino, each for $500,000. Then, on September 22, he arrived at Trump’s Castle with a certified check for $817,000 later identified as the money from the New York City police officers’ housing escrow fund. He went on to lose much of this money shooting craps. From October 12 to October 14, 1987, also at Trump’s Castle, he would blow $475,000. A few days later, on October 17, the Castle raised the high roller’s nearly exhausted $500,000 credit line to $1 million, approved by Ivana Trump via a phone consultation. That day he lost another $541,000. This pattern was typical: he’d bet a couple million dollars, some of it his own money, some not. Apparently, he always knew there was more to be had. 

[related_posts post_id_1=”714924″ /]

Given Hartman’s gambling fever and the presence of Melius and Testa, perhaps mob connected figures could be forgiven for thinking they had a friend at the union. On two occasions, law enforcement officials listening to wiretaps heard the names of the PBA president and counsel being bandied about by organized crime figures. While listening to a September 3, 1985, phone conversation between Genovese soldier Federico “Fritzy” Giovanelli and Harry Dickran, a friend and associate, FBI agents and city detectives were startled to hear the PBA president referred to with great familiarity. (See Streetbeat, William Bastone, Voice, October 13, 1992.) 

Dickran told Giovanelli he was worried about having been followed and surveilled on Friday afternoons as he met with associates in a Long Island restaurant. According to the FBI audio tape, Giovanelli then asked, “What kind of car? Take the plate number.” Dickran responded with the number. “I’m gonna give it to the PBA to track it down. You know, I’ll get it from Phil, Phil Caruso. He’ll take care of that for me.” 

Caruso wasn’t unique in this respect. Starting around 1983, Hartman reportedly spent time at Roosevelt Raceway with Jerry Corallo, the son of mob heavy Antonio “Tony Ducks” Corallo (now in jail). A law enforcement bug, placed in a Jaguar, picked up a conversation between Tony Ducks, former boss of the Luchese family, and Sal Avellino, a Luchese soldier. The two were worried about being watched. 

Corallo: “I’m going to have Jerry check with that guy.” 

Avellino: “You mean Richie, Richie Hartman?”

Corallo: “Yeah. He hangs out with Jerry at Roosevelt racetrack.” 

According to Melius, the relationship didn’t end with the son. He claimed Hartman personally knew Tony Ducks and was in fact Tony Ducks’s attorney. 

That the PBA’s president and lawyer would be cited as helpful contacts by organized crime figures seems especially noteworthy in light of the access the PBA has always enjoyed at police headquarters. Corruption investigators confirm that any information from the police would be extremely useful for criminals, especially those involved in the numbers racket, an activity that the department closely monitors. Requests from PBA officials for sensitive NYPD files could be couched as PBA business. According to one former PBA official, “We could pull out any piece of paper in the police department and look at it.” 

[related_posts post_id_1=”716615″ /]

HARTMAN FALLS, HARTMAN RISES 

IN SPRING 1988, Phil Caruso and Richard Hartman were at the top of their professions. Caruso was king of the cops, and Hartman his legal magician, racing hither and yon, negotiating contracts, getting cops out of trouble. The previous year, Hartman himself had filled out a form declaring estimated annual earnings of $6 million; a highly placed prosecutorial source told the Voice that his actual income, including referrals, probably topped $10 million and may even have approached $20 million in some years. A large chunk of his money came from his PBA work and related referrals, and the rest primarily from other unions representing housing and corrections officers. 

Suddenly, though, the two men found themselves on the defensive. A Manhattan grand jury wanted to know why Hartman had withdrawn $817,000 in 1987 from a police officers’ real estate escrow account — which held for safekeeping the payments PBA members made in the process of buying a home — and cashed a check for that exact amount at Trump Castle in Atlantic City. 

Hartman explained, in testimony to insurance investigators two years later, that “to avoid the embarrassment with all the attorneys in the office, of taking funds out of the regular operating account and making it out to a casino, I would take it from the escrow account, which was in my sole province…”

Caruso, called to testify, backed his friend, insisting that Hartman’s unorthodox dipping was okay because the PBA owed him money anyway. Caruso even said he had authorized the “advance,” and other ranking trustees testifying before the grand jury said they, too, had known about and approved the invasion of the escrow account. 

Investigators told the Voice they were amazed that Caruso had authorized the withdrawal from the escrow account; it was even more startling that a number of ranking PBA officers would condone the removal. In any event, it was surprising that Caruso, who had turned the PBA into a virtual fiefdom and was privately referred to as the “dictator,” would feel the need to consult with his board members on the sensitive matter. 

Although District Attorney Robert Morgenthau’s office believed that the PBA charter did not permit Caruso’s authorization for Hartman’s withdrawals, Morgenthau felt he had no choice but to abandon the prosecution. “All funds removed from escrow accounts by Mr. Hartman were repaid before the investigation began,” Morgenthau announced, “and there is no evidence of any harm to any client. The investigation is now closed.” Instead, Morgenthau settled for the forfeiture of Hartman’s law license.

Hartman later told department of insurance examiners, “I resigned [my legal license] because after one year of investigation and making the newspapers I thought I embarrassed everybody enough…”

In deciding not to press for an indictment, Morgenthau was following New York State law pertaining to embezzlement, requiring the existence of a “victim” and either the intent not to repay the lifted funds or the inability to do so. Apparently, when the D.A.’s office launched its investigation, senior staffers had no idea how much money Hartman was earning. In fact, they were stunned to learn his income.

[related_posts post_id_1=”13270″ /]

Notwithstanding the D.A.’s rationale, some law enforcement figures found the whole affair curious. “What made it unusual was that Hartman was able to plea bargain before the grand jury could issue an indictment,” New Jersey deputy attorney general Kevin O’Toole told the Voice.

It didn’t hurt that Hartman’s negotiator was Michael Armstrong. After serving in the early ’70s as counsel to the Knapp Commission on police corruption, Armstrong had built a lucrative practice handling high profile white collar criminal defenses, like that of disgraced Queens borough president Donald Manes. Armstrong had also become a close personal friend and adviser to Hartman’s ally, Senator D’Amato, and would later serve as his counsel during Senate ethics investigations. 

Although the D.A. decided he couldn’t bring criminal charges against Hartman, Armstrong, who had worked under Morgenthau when Morgenthau ran the U.S. Attorney’s office, presumably couldn’t save Hartman’s law license. Under the lawyer’s code of professional ethics, dipping into escrow accounts is grounds for disbarment, even without an indictment. So by conceding the license without a fight, perhaps Armstrong (who wouldn’t comment on the case) was foreclosing the possibility that the D.A. would develop something more serious on his client. Information from sources close to the grand jury indicates that prosecutors were probing the broader nature of Hartman and Caruso’s relationship, including the possibility that Hartman had improperly channeled gifts to Caruso — such as the Jeep that undeniably ended up in the PBA president’s driveway, wrapped in a red bow. Prosecutors were also said to have quizzed witnesses on a variety of names associated with organized crime. 

One thing was certain: Hartman came out of the proceedings with his reputation sullied. But no sooner had Hartman’s resignation from the bar been announced than a PBA spokesman rushed to his defense, declaring: “Richie will always have a role with the New York City PBA.” 

In short order, the PBA awarded Hartman a labor consulting contract worth a staggering $2 million a year. As if that weren’t enough, three months later Hartman decided on an insurance career, selling the PBA supplemental term life policies and earning himself a fat $2.2 million commission. The extravagant brokerage deal would be virtually concealed from the public and PBA members until 1992, when an accountant working for Hartman sued him and the dispute opened previously hidden financial papers. 

In other words, Caruso had presented Hartman with a magnificent golden parachute. But where was the money going? It seemed a fair question, because shortly after winning his new contract, Hartman began to pass cash around as lavishly as ever. In a single day, for example, Hartman wrote out eight different checks to “Cash” for a total of $20,000.

[related_posts post_id_1=”418247″ /]

THE HARTMAN HAND OFF

BY FALL 1988, Richard Hartman had become a huge embarrassment to the PBA. To be sure, he had won concessions from Ed Koch’s city hall; he had helped Phil Caruso build one of the most powerful and intimidating organizations in the city; and he had made them all a great deal of money. But the public gambling, the bad debts, the indiscreet cash payments, and the open associations with the likes of Teddy Moss, Gary Melius, “Kiki” Testa, and Jerry Corallo was getting to be too much, even for Hartman’s friend Phil Caruso. 

But what exactly could Caruso do? What could any PBA official do? When Robert Morgenthau’s grand jury began to investigate Hartman’s looting of the police escrow account, the union president and his lieutenants had little choice but to back him. Whatever had really gone down around the missing $817,000, Caruso (testifying under immunity) and his officers trooped before the grand jurors and backed their wunderkind attorney. They knew what Hartman had done, they testified, and they had approved it. 

“There’s no question Phil told the trustees to say they had authorized it,” said an investigative source familiar with the grand jury. If they had, it would have been an extraordinary betrayal of their membership.

“At the point Hartman got fucked up on the gambling, do you think they could throw him to the wolves?” asked former police sergeant Robert Hughes, who headed the NYPD’s 1980 sick leave abuse prevention operation and therefore became a PBA nemesis. “Hartman knew everything,” Hughes told the Voice. “It was the same concept as J. Edgar Hoover: ‘I have so much on everybody, all you can do is pay me.’ ” 

When Caruso did just that, naming Hartman upon his resignation from the bar to the highly paid labor consultant position, the question became: What would happen to Hartman’s lucrative PBA legal business? The solution was simple: Caruso hired Hartman’s good friends at Lysaght, Lysaght & Kramer. In a remarkably smooth transfer, the small Lysaght firm moved into Hartman’s office on Horace Harding Expressway, in Queens (to which he had moved from Mineola years earlier). The name plates were changed, but Hartman’s staff of attorneys and secretaries remained virtually intact. Over time, the Lysaght firm’s payroll would include Hartman’s mother-in-law Mary Peterson, his sister Lynn, and his brother Elliott, who has done the firm’s bookkeeping. Phil Caruso’s daughter Lynda Caruso Nicolino is currently an attorney at the Lysaght firm. 

The firm had been founded by James I. Lysaght, who went on to become a village judge. When the firm took over the PBA account, it had two senior partners. One was former Nassau cop James J. Lysaght. The younger Lysaght had shared an apartment with Hartman and was widely considered the office’s public face. The other partner was Peter Kramer, whom most people regard as the firm’s workhorse. 

Hartman had been dealing with Lysaght, Lysaght & Kramer long before 1988. For years, he had been referring personal injury cases to the firm, in return for referral commissions. Many of the cases came via his work representing the PBA. These were among the referrals that the prosecutorial source included while estimating that Hartman’s annual income could have been as high as $20 million.

[related_posts post_id_1=”717345″ /]

A TALK IN THE PARK 

IN AUDITS OF the New York City housing police PBA, which was headed by Caruso buddy Jack Jordan, city officials discovered that Richard Hartman had received $60,000 in improper advance payments.  

In 1991, after 16 years in office, Jordan was decisively trounced by a reform slate. The new president, Timothy Nickels, accused Jordan of making another unauthorized payment, this one for $50,000 to Lysaght, Lysaght & Kramer, issued on Jordan’s last day in office. No paperwork could be found to explain the expense.

Upon taking over the housing PBA presidency, one of Nickels’s first actions was to drop Lysaght as the union’s law firm and fire Hartman as its bargaining adviser. The union has confirmed that its annual legal costs immediately dropped 50 percent. 

In rejecting Hartman, the housing police were the exception. While that union’s reformers were moving away from the Lysaght firm and Hartman, other police groups were cozying up. One example is the 1500 member New York City Sergeants Benevolent Association, the bargaining unit that recently pulled out of the Superior Officers Council, which represents ranks above patrolman. The SBA, which controlled most of the council’s money, is being wooed by Caruso and represented by Lysaght, Lysaght & Kramer. Over at the transit police union, for the first couple of years after the surrender of his law license, Hartman served as labor consultant. Lysaght provided, and still provides, legal services there. 

Indeed, Lysaght, Lysaght & Kramer is the dominant law firm in the world of police unions, a status it clearly owes to Hartman. “I believe they are out to monopolize all business from all unions in this city,” said a high ranking union official. 

During the past two years Hartman’s formal role with these organizations has been almost entirely ceded to Lysaght, yet the link has apparently not been broken. In March, the Voice observed Hartman leave his temporary home at the Gramercy Park Hotel and approach a car registered to James Lysaght. He asked its driver and sole occupant, “We’re going to the park?” They then drove to Stuyvesant Park, which was nearly empty on an extremely cold, damp day. There, the two pulled out a cellular phone and engaged in lengthy consultations. “How many files in the account? … How much volume are we talking about?” Hartman was overheard asking. 

Since his supposed retirement from working with the PBA and other unions, Hartman has developed a fondness for meetings in parks, even in the poorest weather. And on occasion, Hartman has been seen leaving his home and walking a number of blocks, then suddenly getting into a waiting car. In August he was observed climbing into a vehicle registered to Teamsters Local 237. Until recently, Local 237 was run by Hartman’s good friend Barry Feinstein, who was forced to resign in April when federal investigators found that he had misused more than $500,000 in union funds. Recently, Feinstein has been under investigation by the state for his own insurance brokering arrangement. 

If Hartman’s new career in labor consulting was designed to be profitable, selling insurance would be equally so. Affiliating with Met Life in 1989, Hartman became the PBA’s broker and agent for a new insurance plan to supplement coverage that members already had. Hartman, and later James Lysaght, were also instrumental in passing special legislation in Albany that made it easy for tens of thousands of PBA retirees to buy such extra insurance as well. By signing up once, members could have premiums automatically deducted from their pension checks. 

[related_posts post_id_1=”716582″ /]

Hartman handled his Met Life commissions in a curious way; he immediately wrote a series of small checks to “Cash.” Over the course of two days, upon receiving a check for $550,000 from Met Life, he wrote out three checks to “Cash” for $9500 and 16 more for $2500. This pattern of keeping transactions below $10,000 would be repeated when Hartman received checks from his Chicago commodities broker, Gerald Inc. On October 12, 1990, Gerald issued Hartman three checks, each for $9500. In the final week of that month, the firm issued four more checks, again for $9500 each. And two months later, one more for the same amount. 

The suspicion, which would be raised by Hartman’s own accountant in the course of a bitter, still pending civil suit (the accountant argued that Hartman did not repay him loans he had extended Hartman to cover his escrow pilferage), was that Hartman was trying to hide his income, and specifically to avoid the Bank Secrecy Act, which requires the reporting of all cash transactions of 6,000 or more. The law also bars the intent of getting around the limit by exactly such devices as Hartman seemed to employ. (By way of response, Hartman in his affidavit did not explain his writing checks to “Cash” that slip in just under the reporting limit, other than to say: “There is nothing illegal per se about making withdrawals in amounts under $10,000… I categorically deny ever having violated or intending to violate the said federal regulation.”) 

Hartman would stay with Met Life into 1991. Then the PBA’s insurance work was transferred to an insurance brokerage called Deblin Planners, which had gotten its license shortly before. The firm, interestingly, is a partnership between Deborah Martz Lysaght, wife of James Lysaght, and Linda Nunziato, wife of Peter Kramer. Met Life currently lists Deblin as the PBA’s broker. The Voice has obtained a copy of a $100,000 check that Linda Nunziato Kramer wrote to Hartman on March 12, 1991. In the check’s memo space is the word “Installment,” though it is not clear what the compensation was for. Around the same time, Nunziato’s partner Deborah Martz Lysaght also made a $50,000 payment to Hartman. 

Currently, according to Met Life, Deblin represents the New York City Sergeants Benevolent Association; the New York City Superior Officers Association; the New York City Transit PBA; the New York City Housing PBA; the Stamford, Connecticut, Police Association; and Barry Feinstein’s old union, Teamsters Local 237 — all former Hartman insurance clients. 

In 1992, the state department of insurance began its second of two examinations of Hartman’s fitness as a broker in light of his dicey financial background. The state took no action against Hartman. In the previous year Hartman’s labor consultancies had started expiring, including the $165,000-a-month agreement with Caruso’s PBA and a $12,500-a-month agreement with the New York Transit PBA. Now some of his insurance contracts were winding down. Several presidents of police unions, including Caruso, wrote letters to assure the state that Hartman’s commissions were deserved and, moreover, wholly unrelated to his former legal and labor relations work. A few noted that Hartman had even waived commissions so that the unions could offer rebates to their memberships. Assuming this was true, Hartman’s generosity began after he had pocketed millions of front loaded commissions that could also have gone toward substantially reducing PBA members’ premiums. 

Hartman’s apparent relinquishment of those accounts would conform to his pattern of establishing business relationships, then passing them on to friends and associates. While it’s unclear exactly what compensation, if any, Hartman continues to receive from the accounts he has handed off, the insurance business did enable him to get back to the craps table, despite a 1988 assurance from his lawyer to the D.A. that Hartman was seeking help for his gaming addiction. 

[related_posts post_id_1=”715930″ /]

In February of 1990 Hartman told a state examiner from the department of insurance that he had put his gambling problems behind him. He said he had been attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings two or three times a week for two years and had also sought psychiatric help. “I haven’t bought a lottery ticket since [the escrow account invasion] either.” 

Before the year was out, however, Hartman suffered a relapse. In the final weekend of 1990, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer article on casino profits, he arrived in Atlantic City with a cashier’s check for more than half a million dollars. That month, other financial papers of Hartman’s confirm, he received a $550,000 commission check from Met Life. Caesars and Harrah’s allowed Hartman to wager the proceeds, despite his outstanding $2 million debt to Trump Plaza and Trump Castle. (Merv Griffin’s Resorts Casino had already written off $500,000.) Shooting craps at Harrah’s over four days, Hartman won $600,000. 

Perhaps that marked a shift for the better in Hartman’s luck. If so, he needed it. By 1990, Harman was paying the IRS $105,000 a month to settle outstanding unpaid taxes; in October 1991, the payments dropped to $100,000 a month. Apparently he kept current on these payments, and even somehow managed to have more than a half a million dollars left over to risk in Atlantic City. 

As he has done in the past, much in the mold of the late Roy Cohn, Hartman continues to live on a cash basis despite his substantial income, with practically no credit trail or attachable assets. He and his wife, Patricia, have no personal checking or savings accounts, no credit cards, no vehicles, and no listed property ownership. Alimony checks from Patricia’s ex-husband are deposited by Hartman’s sister, mother-in-law, or by the Lysaght firm. Hartman’s mail goes to a house in Merrick, Long Island, inhabited by his sister Lynn and aforementioned brother-in-law, Bruce Alpert, a state supreme court judge. Reached at his office, Alpert said he could not confirm the arrangement because both the mail and family finances are handled exclusively by his wife. Despite a promise from Alpert to ask his wife to call the Voice, she did not. The Alperts’ home number is unlisted and the judge would not provide it. He did, however, confirm that for a time Lynn had a job at the Lysaght firm. “She was a paralegal, I guess you could call it.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”721103″ /]

 PRESIDENT FOR LIFE?

 Phil Caruso is more difficult to get to than the mayor or the president.
— Eric Adams, president of the black officers’ association, the Guardians

IF THE CARUSO REIGN has been longstanding and omnipotent, the police commissionership has been ephemeral and constricted. “The turnover in the police department administration is so rapid, that nobody knows the whole story,” former NYPD investigator Robert Hughes said. “And nobody wants to know. They are afraid of them.”

Even within the union, Caruso’s only rival was J. Patrick “Paddy” Burns, until recently the first vice president and a man known for his expensive tastes. For whatever reason, however, Burns didn’t challenge Caruso. Perhaps he merely lost his ambition. “Paddy Burns didn’t do any work while I was there,” Gary Melius said. “He played golf.” (Efforts to interview Burns were unsuccessful, though on one occasion he returned a call but left no number.) 

In 1991, when Burns was replaced as second in command by Caruso aide decamp Thomas Velotti, Burns was transferred to Albany as the PBA’s principal lobbyist. As lobbyist, he received $50,000 a year, which, combined with his patrolman’s salary, put his earnings at about $90,000 a year. 

For 1993, PBA filings list lawyer James Lysaght as the principal lobbyist. Burns, who has reached the mandatory retirement age of 62, nevertheless has a contract with the PBA through 1995 at $50,000 a year. “The PBA has enormous influence in Albany, particularly through its campaign contributions and through providing help in campaigns,” said New York City lobbyist John Bozella. “I’m not convinced they’re successful because they’re discussing issues on their merits with the rank and file members of the legislature.” In 1991 the PBA political action committee dispensed S140,000 in campaign contributions, largely to state legislators. 

Ironically, it is not legislators from the city itself who are the most responsive. “Those little legislators from outside the city are totally intimidated by them,” said one lobbyist, referring in particular to representatives of suburban communities in which so many New York City cops live. 

The favorable legislation just keeps on coming. In 1991, PBA allies in the legislature passed a law that allowed injured cops to sue the city as individuals. This gave them the opportunity to earn bigger settlements than what the city already provided. 

Last summer Albany nearly handed the PBA a weapon that would have dramatically strengthened Caruso’s hand, a bill with staggering consequences for the battle against police corruption. On July 7, the senate and assembly — the latter by a vote of 135-3 — passed the Confidential Communications bill. This ominous law, sponsored in the assembly by Harvey Weisenberg, a Democrat from Long Beach, Hartman’s home town, would have shielded conversations between police union officials and their members, even criminal admissions. In other words, a delegate couldn’t report, or be forced to disclose, a patrolman’s confession of taking a bribe, selling stolen drugs, or killing somebody. 

[related_posts post_id_1=”719763″ /]

The law would have made investigating the PBA impossible. “It was a pro-police corruption bill,” lobbyist John Bozella said. Alarmed by the implications, Governor Cuomo vetoed the bill when it reached his desk in August. Yet the audacity of the legislation is a PBA trademark, and if a PBA or D’Amato ally were sitting in the governor’s seat, it is likely that it would have been signed. 

Even without such a barrier, apparently no agency wants to probe the activities of the PBA. “Morgenthau went after them in 1988 and fell flat on his face because he let a deal be cut,” noted one knowledgeable observer, referring to the grand jury and Hartman giving up his law license. “He is politically afraid to try to go after them again.” Asked by the Voice to respond to this, Morgenthau said, “Nobody has come to our office and said that Hartman, Caruso, and the PBA warrant a deeper look.” 

Although the D.A. does prosecute individual officers, taking on police institutions presents special problems. For example, district attorneys cannot successfully try criminal cases without cooperation from the officers who made the arrest. So excessive zeal in rooting out police corruption can make life difficult for prosecutors.  

Sometimes only the press can ask the tough questions. Among the dailies, New York Newsday is easily the most aggressive in covering the union. Its reporters and columnists — Jimmy Breslin, Jim Dwyer, Leonard Levitt, and Kevin McCoy, to name a few — give Caruso fits, and he no longer grants the paper interviews. The PBA seemingly doesn’t appreciate the right of the press to ask questions, a lesson learned by Bruce Lambert, a New York Times reporter who looked under a few rocks when he was at Newsday. In the ’70s, Lambert wrote a series of articles critical of PBA negotiations. Governor Hugh Carey, outraged by the generous contract terms, called to compliment Lambert on the work. Later, the reporter would be told by the PBA’s private investigator, Walter Cox, that he’d probed Lambert’s personal life on behalf of the PBA. In particular, Hartman wanted to know if Lambert was gay (he isn’t) — information that could not have possibly served any legitimate purpose. 

In its investigation, the Voice has continually encountered PBA insiders and associates who express fear of reprisals. As one ex-PBA staffer put it, “Keep me out of it. I would like to live a little longer. I have a family.” Two people with intimate knowledge of the PBA said they would consider granting an interview, then had their telephone numbers changed and unlisted. Another PBA employee described the union’s environment this way: “It’s like the Mafia. Once you’re in, you’re never out.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”718103″ /]

“A cop knows from day one, you do what the union tells you,” said a former police officer. At monthly delegate meetings, a member or two occasionally got up to complain about Hartman or his staff. Sitting on the dais, Hartman would laugh, while other members shouted down the dissenter. Some delegates would try to make the maverick’s life miserable. As an investigator put it, “Members will always support someone with clout over someone trying to reform the system.” 

That clout allows the PBA to stymie corruption probes targeting its members. Leading this effort for a number of years was the PBA’s investigator, Walter Cox. A Nassau County Republican committeeman, Cox had retained Hartman to represent him in 1971 after he got drunk and robbed a Massapequa supermarket. In 1974, Cox was convicted of impersonating a federal officer. Hartman put Cox, who had no private investigator’s license, on his payroll and assigned him to look into cases in which PBA members were accused of wrongdoing. 

In 1984, Cox was arrested in Florida, where he had been tape-recorded in a Fort Lauderdale disco attempting to bribe a potential witness in a police corruption case. Shipped to New York to face charges, Cox had legal representation, courtesy of Hartman; nevertheless, he was convicted of bribery. But before going to jail he turned on his PBA bosses, giving a crucial deposition in another case, backing up former NYPD investigator Robert Hughes, who had been fired by the department under pressure from the PBA. As head of the NYPD’s sick-leave-abuse-prevention operation, Hughes discovered that 2 per cent of police officers were responsible for 51 per cent of the absences, and he saved the department $3.25 million. (One officer was running an insulation business while out with a proclaimed bad back.) In 1987, Hughes sued the PBA and its first vice-president, J. Patrick Burns, for harassment. Eventually, he was vindicated when a judge granted him two $400,000 court settlements, one from the PBA and one from Burns. (The PBA paid Burn’s share.) Cox testified that Burns instructed him to “get Bob Hughes.” But Cox was unwilling to elaborate further, and shortly thereafter suffered a heart attack in jail and died. 

The PBA’s blocking actions against corruption probes were more recently evident in the case of patrolman Michael Dowd, the leading villain in the Mollen Commission hearings. Dowd would not have been able to run his cocaine ring for years without an active PBA enforcing the code of silence. When Dowd got into trouble in 1992, according to New York Newsday, Jack Fitzgerald, the PBA delegate in the 94th Precinct in Greenpoint, called high department officials and got them to back off. Hardly a role model himself, Fitzgerald was known as “the mayor” for his ability to fix schedules and assignments for his buddies. One of Dowd’s partying pals, Fitzgerald ran a Monte Carlo club in the precinct’s basement kitchen, where cops bet and boozed. 

In recent years, the PBA has gone even further in undermining efforts to clean up the department. In one instance, according to a law enforcement source, it sent people over to a Marriott hotel, where they apparently compromised a joint Bronx D.A./NYPD sting set up to snare dirty cops. (The Bronx D.A. refused to comment.) 

Although Hartman himself has been tripped up by the IRS, PBA finances apparently escape scrutiny. The last city audit, by then comptroller Harrison Goldin, was in 1986. Comptroller Elizabeth Holtzman’s office recently completed field work on its only audit of a PBA account. The examination covers the 1991 tax return for the union’s health and welfare benefits fund for active members — just one of five benefits accounts the PBA maintains. Press secretary Maerwydd McFarland said the final report will likely be completed in January, when Alan Hevesi assumes the office. “There are no significant findings,” McFarland said. 

Two accountants, asked by the Voice to review a stack of federal 5500 forms (enumerating employee benefits and charitable trusts) and 990 tax forms going back to 1977, were shocked at how poorly they were prepared and how vague they were in their details. They noted many unusual characteristics. Particularly troubling was the sloppy preparation, which would be a certain invitation to an audit, a rigor federal tax authorities have seemingly spared the PBA. 

No one is better qualified to explain these apparent irregularities than Richard Hartman, and someday maybe he will. In January 1995, Hartman will be eligible to reclaim his law license. He could join the Lysaght firm and even become the PBA’s attorney again. 

Caruso’s term ends in three years, when he will be 62, the mandatory retirement age for a police officer. The PBA constitution and bylaws, substantially revised during Caruso’s tenure, leave open the possibility that he may stay in office as long as the membership continues to reelect him. 

The coming months could be decisive for the union. An announcement on a new police commissioner is expected any day. The Mollen Commission report is due within the month, and Governor Cuomo will have to decide whether to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate police corruption. Like most other municipal bargaining units, the PBA has been operating for two years without a contract, and the new city administration will soon have to begin bargaining. More importantly, mayor elect Rudolph Giuliani will have to decide how to deal politically with the police union that was instrumental in getting him elected. ♦

Research assistance: Jeremy Bogaisky, Lea Carnevali, Malene Jensen, Kate King, Julie Lang, Carlo Martino, Jodi Melamed, Adam I. Rich, and Mark Stamey

[related_posts post_id_1=”713118″ /]

ADDRESS FOR SUCCESS

TODAY 300 Old Country Road is a sleek office condo complex, but it once was the address of a seedy two-story building owned by PBA attorney Richard Hart­man. In 1975, Hartman sold the run­down property to his crony Gary Melius.

Nonetheless, 300 Old Country Road continued to be a repository of opportun­ism. Hartman ran his law business upstairs. The downstairs was occupied by Davis Optical, a small firm that grew rapidly after getting the PBA contract to supply eyeglasses to police officers and their families. Squeezed into the tiny storefront next t0 Davis was a branch of the Money Store. Famous for its ads fea­turing retired Yankee great Phil Rizzuto, the business would come to be criticized for its extremely high-interest loans to the poor. The Money Store co-owner was Steven Gurian, also president of Long Island Development Corporation. At the time, Gurian was allegedly under investi­gation for mob connections.

Gurian prospered on deals backed by the Small Business Administration. It was Senator Alfonse D’Amato who had pushed vigorously to broaden the SBA program under which Gurian and his Long Island Development Corporation/ Money Store operated.

In addition to the construction, optics, and finance firms, 300 Old Country Road served as a hangout for a clique that included Philip Basile, a music pro­moter, club owner, and alleged front for mobster Paul Vario. The D’Amato brothers helped Basile obtain his nightclub permits; Armand P. D’Amato was Ba­sile’s lawyer. ln 1983, just hours before a jury would convict Basile of conspiracy to defraud (he gave renowned goodfella Henry Hill a no-show job after Hill got out of jail), Senator D’Amato would tes­tify that Basile was “an honest, truthful, hardworking man, a man of integrity.” To the amazement of the jury, he then kissed Basile on both cheeks.

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

Categories
From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Deadly Force: The Debate Over Police Violence

It happens in the dark of the night in an instant of justifiable fear. The police finger clutching the trigger may be only a twitch ahead of a gunman’s equally fatal fire. But almost as often, the victim turns out to have been armed only with “shiny object,” pliers, a fishing rod, or a flashlight. When he has nothing, a police report explains later that the dead man “seemed to be reaching into his waistband in a menacing manner” or began to back a car in the direction of a cop approaching from behind.

[related_posts post_id_1=”721023″ /]

In a city where the death penalty has been perhaps the most con­troversial public issue for a decade, cop bullets killed 39 people last year. The trials lasted seconds. Two hundred have died this way since Ed Koch became mayor in 1978. And until the recently aborted and now rescheduled congressional hearing on police brutality (set for September 19), there was little public debate of these officially sanctioned executions. The Koch administration is now engaged in an attempt to mythologize its police record and to discredit those who raise the issue as partisans who have invented it to advance a 1985 mayoral campaign. But tongue­-lashing police is hardly the way to build a broad-based coalition for a mayoral run and no one knows that better than the poll-armed incum­bent. Indeed it is the mayor who seized on the politically ill-timed urge by blacks to press this issue now and is using it to polarize the 1985 campaign. The best way to gauge Koch’s role in fanning this media fire has been to follow its handling in the pages of the New York Post, which began a drum beat of stories about the canceled July congressional hearing weeks before it was scheduled to occur. But no amount of mayoral or Post hype, nor any of the distorted statistics Police Commissioner Robert McGuire bandied about in his undelivered but released congressional testimony, can con­ceal a host of shocking facts about police violence in the Koch’ years:

A steady, downward trend in fatal police-shootings, begun at the end of the Lindsay era when tough new regulations on firearm use were implemented, and continuing through the Beame years, has been reversed under Koch. Police killings dropped from a record-smashing 93 in 1971 to an average of 28.5 in the two years prior to Koch. In the five Koch years for which complete numbers exist (1978-82), there has been an average loss of 36 lives a year, a statistical leap of 25 per cent. This year’s numbers are consistent with that trend: 23 deaths as of last week.

The increasing death toll in New York also bucks a national decline. The same nationwide survey that Commissioner McGuire based his misleading congressional testimony on reveals that New York cops, virtually alone among those of the major cities cited by McGuire, have been killing more citizens in the Koch years than in the immediately preceding years. While Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Houston, Baltimore, and Washington — all cities named by McGuire as worse than New York — improved during the Koch years covered by the survey, killings were up only in New Orleans and New York.

In 1982 city police killed twice as many Latins as blacks (20 to 10, according to the department’s official statistics). This disturbing new trend, inconsistent with the Hispanic population percentage and crime rate, began the year before when, for the first time, there were more Hispanics killed than blacks. The department did not seem to have focused on this trend until questioned by the Voice; they now point out that so far in 1983, the rate of Hispanic shootings is down. If anyone has a political motivation for their abdication on the police violence issue, it is the quiescent and generally pro-Koch Latin elected leadership, especially Bronx congressman Robert Garcia, who did not even attend the explosive July hearing.

[related_posts post_id_1=”721001″ /]

Garcia is so uninformed about the changing ethnic dynamic of deadly police force that he told the Voice: “I think the situation has gotten better.” Bronx assemblyman Joe Serrano, whom Koch is wooing as a possible running mate on a 1985 citywide ticket in a transparent effort to split black and Latins says he was not invited to participate in the congressional probe. “I believe there’s a problem between police and the Hispanic community, but I don’t think it’s attributable to a City Hall administration,” said Serrano. East Harlem assemblyman Angelo Del Toro was the only Latin elected official who came to the recent hearing though Garcia says he hopes to attend the upcoming one.

Compared with the final Beame years, black deaths are also up under Koch. In 1976 and 1977, cop bullets killed 14 blacks a year. Since then, an average of 16 blacks a year have died. Blacks deaths haye dropped in the two most recent Koch years, while the Hispanic toll soared. Iron­ically, fewer blacks were killed last year than in any year for which the city main­tains ethnic death data. But so far in 1983, the black death toll is already ahead of last year’s final total.

Whites are also being killed at a slightly higher rate in the Koch years, and these are some of the most inexplicable killings.

New York cops are killing more people at a time when criminals are shooting fewer of them. Four cops a year have been killed under Koch, one more than the average number of cop suicides in the same period. While this is slightly higher than the average of the two years preceding Koch, it is half the cop death rate of the early ’70s. There has also been no statistically significant change in the number of cops wounded; so the rising use of fatal force by police is occurring in a less threatening overall environment.

In statements that the mayor and Commissioner McGuire prepared but did not deliver for the congressional hearing — and in a host of related public ap­pearances — they have tried to make the case that this city’s police are the most restrained in the nation. The essence of McGuire’s argument is that the rate of police shootings here has declined signifi­cantly owing to “an institutional commit­ment by the Police Department to actively promote racial understanding, com­munity outreach, and a department representative of New York’s diverse popula­tion.” He said “studies revealed” that NYC has “the lowest incidence of police shootings of any major American city.” Yet the only national study cited by McGuire specifically — that of the Inter­national Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) — puts dozens of other cities ahead of us.

[related_posts post_id_1=”719876″ /]

As an exhibit to his testimony, McGuire concocted a chart, which is in­correctly attributed to the IACP study, listing four cities worse than New York in the rate of police homicide per 100,000 population. Actually, the IACP study charts 54 cities and New York is 25th. McGuire chose to diagram only cities we were ahead of. He had to look no farther than across the river to find one we are behind: Newark, New Jersey. On every measure selected by McGuire himself, all of which are adjusted for population, Newark is better than New York: fewer deaths per police officer on the force, fewer correlated with the violent crime rate, fewer per 100,000 people. The mayor’s testimony that New York’s rec­ord “is superior to that of every major American city” is pure hoax.

Confronted by the Voice with the rising death figures, Deputy Police Com­missioner Kenneth Conboy preferred to discuss the drop in shooting incidents as a clearer indicator of the impact of de­partmental policy on the cops on the beat. But in fact, the entire recent drop in discharge incidents is attributable to a reduction in firings at animals (due to a toughening of the regulations). The an­nual discharge rate under Koch is virtually indistinguishable from the rate of the final two Beame years if all that is counted is shots fired at human beings. The first statistic cited by McGuire in his testimony, and the only one mentioned twice, is the 39 per cent drop in discharges­ since the new regulations in 1973. But once the reduction in animal firings is factored out, McGuire and Koch can claim no role in this downward trend; it all occurred before they took office. Indeed, the category of firings that McGuire’s own academic experts say is most likely to involve excessive use of force — namely shootings by off-duty police officers — has risen dramatically under Koch, from a prior average of 82 to 100.

Despite increases in fatal and off-duty-incidents, disciplinary action against cops who shoot has declined significantly during the Koch years. In the two years prior to Koch, 4.9 per cent of all gun firings resulted in a departmental finding that the officer had violated regulations and that charges and specifications would be brought against him. For the four Koch years (they stopped releasing the data in 1982) an average of only 3.9 per cent of the ­incidents reviewed led to a violation finding and the bringing of departmental  charges. This full point plummet sets a mood in every station house in the city.

All of these stats involve only the use of police firearms, not nightsticks or any other potentially abusive police action. One index of the overall rise in all kinds of police violence is the doubling of civil claims filed against police since Koch took office, leaping to 1340 last year. Settlements of claims against the police by the city also reached an all-time high in the 1982/83 fiscal year just ended — up to $9.1 million or almost $44,000 per settlement (three times the year before). Of course some of the cases settled involve incidents that go back years, prior to Koch becoming mayor.

McGuire made much in his testimony of the role of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), a misnomer for wholly police-staffed commission charged with reviewing all citizen complaints against police. McGuire testified: “As long as I have been police commissioner, I have not heard or received any complaint questioning CCRB’s integrity, diligence, or objectivity.” Where has he been?

Ninety-eight per cent of all the complaints filed in the Koch years — 43,283 complaints — evoked no disciplinary response, making it a vast dead letter department. During the Koch years its budget has been slashed and the already infrequent disciplinary actions ordered by CCRB have been sharply reduced. In the two years preceding Koch, an average of 469 cops were disciplined for all infractions. In the five Koch years, this average dropped by a third to 301. Fewer cops are being disciplined even though the number of complaints filed has been increasing every year.

[related_posts post_id_1=”4736″ /]

Of the 52 cops ordered to do “command discipline” last year, only 2 per cent ­were given the maximum penalty by their precinct commanders — five days without pay. Almost 70 per cent were merely “warned and admonished.” Last year’s total of 215 disciplinary actions is a third of the Beame total of 1976. No wonder Ed Koch is the most popular mayor the PBA has ever had. No wonder Brooklyn’s black congressman Major Owens, in testimony he prepared for the brutality hearings, called the CCRB “an expunging agency whose primary purpose has become the removal of complaints from the files of officers.”

Some of McGuire’s statistical muddle seems deliberate; some is merely the result of his use of a different set of base years than the Voice analysis. I have compared Koch numbers with the two prior Beame years; McGuire has drawn some similar comparison but used the four Beame years. I used the average of the the final two Beame years (one year could be an aberration) because they represent the bottoming out of a consistent downward trend. McGuire’s insistence on a four-year average ignores the significance of this trend and softens the upturn in his own years.

In some instances, though, McGuire’s footwork is not merely fancy — it’s fan­ciful. None of three national survey charts ostensibly taken from the IACP volume (Kenneth J. Matulia, A Balance of Forces) and submitted as exhibits by McGuire, actually appear anywhere in the inch-and-half thick volume. Conboy told the Voice they were separately prepared by the IACP. But the author of the IACP study, Matulia, told the Voice that he’d submitted nothing to the department: “They must have made it up themselves. It’s not mine at all. They may have taken their statistics from mine, but they didn’t take the total context.” The McGuire charts erroneously attributed to Matulia do not even carry on them the years cov­ered by the data, most unusual for a statistical study. The only date cited in the charts or McGuire’s speech is 1982, when the IACP study was published. In fact the data only cover the first two Koch years — 1978 and 1979.

Similarly, McGuire cites an academic study on the racial content of New York police shootings and does not point out that the period studied was 1971 through 1975. He tries to leave the impression that the data is more current both by omitting the dates of the study and by saying that it was “concurred in by Professor James Q. Wilson of Harvard in 1981.” Wilson did cite the study favorably in a 1982 article, but he did not reconfirm the old hypothesis with new data covering more recent years. He simply pointed to it as the only data that existed on the issue. McGuire’s omissions are an attempt to stretch the data to cover his own era.

[related_posts post_id_1=”418247″ /]

The commissioner concluded the sec­tion of his speech on police killings with a single underlined statement that is wholly untrue: “The number of deaths resulting from police shootings within the city of New York is substantially less than that of other comparable major American cities.” In fact, no city has anything approaching the number of deaths New York has; the second highest from the survey data McGuire used is Houston with 20, almost half our total.

The most outrageous claim made by Koch and McGuire in their prepared tes­timony, however, relates only indirectly to brutality. Both cited the increased num­ber of black and Hispanic cops hired un­der their administration. McGuire at least had the decency to note that the almost 7 per cent leap in minority officers was “in part due to court-ordered quotas.” What McGuire did not say is that the city fought the affirmative action decisions of the federal courts all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and that even after losing at the Circuit Court level, the department refused to hire any cops for a while rather than hire the minority cops that the courts had ordered. Even a pro-Koch mi­nority leader like Joe Serrano told the Voice that the police department’s minor­ity hiring record “is a disaster.”

McGuire played a personal role in de­signing the racially discriminatory test that the courts threw out. When he announced the results of that test on August 30, 1979, he proclaimed: “I have always believed it is a healthy sign for a police department to reflect the makeup of the community it serves. The results show that it is possible, through normal testing procedures, to increase minority repre­sentation in the department.” Three hun­dred sixty-seven of the 415 police recruits hired on the first eligible list resulting from that test were white. The city was stopped by the courts when the second group of recruits was even whiter: 342 out of 380 in a city where the eligible work­force is judicially defined as one-third mi­nority. Those were the numbers the mayor fought to defend for years in the courts, vowing at one point (July 1980) in language straight from a southern schoolhouse steps scene in another era: “I will never give in.” Now he is trying to take credit, testifying simply: “The de­partment has increased its representation of blacks and Hispanics.”

As recently as this April, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the only Latin organization that has played an important part in opposing both racial violence and hiring dis­crimination at the Police Department, filed another suit against the latest city police exam. This time they are charging that only 34 of the 616 who passed the lieutenants’ exam are minority. In 1981, they also successfully forced a settlement of a challenge to the most recent ser­geants’ exam. Virtually every exam for each rank, given in the Koch years has been really flawed. The black anger over police behavior is unquestionably tied to the persistent racism of its hiring prac­tices.

Politicizing Police Pain

In Ed Koch’s first month in office, Rev­erend Herbert Daughtry and other lead­ers of the Black United Front met with the mayor at City Hall to press a series of demands concerning the use of police force. BUF had been created a couple of years earlier, prompted by the police slaying of a black youth in Brooklyn. While nothing came of that and a subsequent BUF meeting with Koch, these dis­cussions initiated what has really been a significant though largely subterranean issue that has dogged the Koch years. BUF has been the persistent activist, or­ganizing countless demonstrations, often putting thousands of protestors in the streets, focusing on one questionable kill­ing after another. I reported on a police riot that featured widespread clubbings during one BUF demo in 1979. The doz­ens of affidavits and complaints filed by those hurt then have never been answered by the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

One BUF leader, David Walker, has become an archivist of police-inflicted pain. Surviving victims, witnesses, and the relatives of the dead have been drawn to Walker and Daughtry as the only de­pendable voices for their fury. They troop out to Walker’s Bed-Stuy office from all over the city.

[related_posts post_id_1=”716275″ /]

In a moving speech Daughtry prepared but did not deliver, at the aborted hear­ing, he recites the litany of horror deaths that are one-day stories in the media but fester on the streets of this city’s black and Latin neighborhoods for years. In 1978, black businessman Arthur Miller was choked to death by an army of cops, none whom was ever indicted or disciplined. The ostensible cause was a sanitation vioiation.

The next year Luis Baez, a young, disturbed Puerto Rican, was shot by a platoon of cops after Baez’s mother had summoned them to her house in an effort to calm him. Twenty-one bullets were fired into what Daughtry recalls was “his frail body.” No one was punished.

Another Latin, Peter Funches, a totally disabled Vietnam veteran, “shell­-shocked and on medication,” was beaten to death by cops. Daughtry’s account: “In June 1979 his wife, recognizing that he was having problems, called the Veteran’s Administration for help. They never came. In the meantime Peter began to react to his Vietnam experience and got into his car and commenced driving. He drove until he ended up on a street in the Bronx and for whatever reason, police cornered him.” According to witnesses who came to BUF, “the police broke open the car with crowbars and beat Peter Funches to death.” Daughtry says that differing police explanations of Funches’s death went from a car crash to his wield­ing a knife at them, but that no knife was found and no crash occurred.

Daughtry closes his speech with a list of the minority youths killed by cops go­ing back to the early ’70s and asks an anguished question: “I wonder what the Irish or Italian or Jewish or Polish people would say if black officers were killing their children, not to mention men and women.” The importance of Daughtry’s speech is not the accuracy of the fine points of each story (though the police offer no other persuasive versions of the three deaths cited here from the speech). It is that this history makes a fraud of the Koch claim that there is no real police violence issue, only a campaign charade. Daughtry’s chronicling of the hot inci­dents of the Koch years proves the op­posite. The campaign for ’85 hasn’t manu­factured the brutality issue; instead this sort of real problem over time has created the momentum for a political campaign, felt at the most grass-roots level.

[related_posts post_id_1=”723391″ /]

This is one time when the impassioned shouts and the random anecdotes get us closer to the truth of a hard problem than the seemingly cool efficiency of a forth­right commissioner with a batch of charts in his hand. No campaign agenda could produce the massive number of people who jammed the Harlem State Office Building and talked to each other, after the hearing was abruptly closed, about hundreds of incidents for the rest of a hot day. John Conyers, the congressman who called the hearings, would have to have been a political prophet to have first laid the basis for these hearings way back in the summer of 1980. The Voice reported after the Miami riot that Conyers’s sub-­committee on crime began investigating police brutality and cited New York as one of three cities “with particularly ex­plosive potential” (NYC, June 2, 1980).

The Voice has examined a series of police violence incidents during the Koch years. One category of incidents is made up of all 39 fatal shootings in 1982. Another is a loose compilation of beatings and killings, some suggested by BUF’s Walker, some by attorneys who represent victims in these kinds of cases (including the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund), and some by law enforcement agencies. These incidents are not typical of police use of punishing or deadly force; they are ones that rise to the level of a questionable case or a filed complaint. Though Koch and McGuire deride any critical version of a police act that hasn’t been filed as a charge with the Civilian Review Com­plaint Board, the CCRB record of disposi­tions and its entirely in-house structure does not encourage the filing of the com­plaints. Dave Walker’s storefront on Nostrand Avenue is more of a civilian review vehicle for police complaints than the CCRB bureaucracy.

The Voice has attempted to get both a police and citizen version of these inci­dents. The police version is contained in incident reports that are filed with the department. Though the department en­couraged this reporter to read individual incident reports when I was doing a simi­lar story in 1980, and freely provided the reports, they refused Freedom of Infor­mation requests for the same access for this story. Instead, they prepared for the Voice one-paragraph summaries of each report. They answered some additional questions on specific incidents. They re­fused to inform the officers involved of our request for interviews. Our own attempts to reach those cops at their precincts did not produce a single officer willing to dis­cuss the case. Since union, departmental, and legal reasons might legitimately pre­vent officers from discussing these cases, the Voice asked both the department and the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association to arrange a confidential group interview with cops who had actually been in shoot­ing incidents. We offered to print excerpts from that taped interview, without com­ment and without identifying the cops by name or printing details that would’ve revealed a specific incident. The purpose was to let cops explain what runs through their heads during and after these inci­dents. We struck out everywhere. Despite these limitations, we’ve pieced together these glimpses of the violence behind the current storm:

[related_posts post_id_1=”715930″ /]

One Year’s Deadly Tally

Of the 39 shot dead last year by cops, 20 were armed with guns and four had knives. On the other hand, David Ramsey, a 25-year-old Hispanic, was shot in the back of the neck while sitting unarmed in his car. The officer, in civilian dress and leaving an unmarked police van, claimed that Ramsey tried to back his car into him. Though department regulations ban firing at moving vehicles, the officer has not been disciplined. Thirteen months after Ramsey’s death, a Brooklyn grand jury cleared the cop. The criminal proceeding ended four months ago, but a departmental case is “still open.”

A 31-year-old black, Otis Morrison, was shot in the park adjacent to the 113th Precinct stationhouse in Queens. At least four cops went into the park looking for Morrison, who was creating a disturbance. So close to their home base and with Morrison so overmatched, the cops none­theless killed him when they mistook a pliers in his hand for a gun. No criminal or disciplinary action was taken.

Rudy Santos, an unarmed 18-year­old Hispanic, was shot by cops executing a narcotics search warrant at a Manhattan apartment. They said he “reached into his waistband in a menacing manner.” A number of narcotics arrests were made in the apartment. Thirty-five-year-old black Edward Latchman took 15 police bul­lets from four different cops after he cut a fifth with a knife. Police claimed they tried throwing garbage at him and firing Mace at him before emptying their guns. Neither incident led to any action against the cops.

[related_posts post_id_1=”11154″ /]

Ironically, though, the two most ques­tionable police killings of 1982 involved white victims. Nine whites were killed last year, continuing an upward trend. An­thony Ruggerio, a 25-year-old transit employee who had passed the police exam and was awaiting appointment, was shot dead at point-blank range on the shoulder of a Staten Island road. He had been interrupted by an unmarked police car that pulled alongside his car to watch him and his girlfriend, parked and half-naked, engaged in midnight sex. The police were in civilian clothes and, according to their own initial statements, did not identify themselves. Ruggerio’s girlfriend said: “Tony was frightened and worried. We both thought that they might be weirdos or perverts. So he got out of the car and he smashed the passenger window with a fishing pole.”

From a sitting position in the car, one cop shot Ruggerio square in the chest. Seventy-five white demonstrators marched on the Staten Island District Attorney’s office, but no indictment was handed down. A departmental probe wound up handled by the cop’s own su­pervisor who had made newspaper state­ments clearing the cops immediately after the shooting. The officer remains a detec­tive in the “crimes against the person” squad.

Another 25-year-old, Richard Sirignano, was shot twice by an off-duty cop who had spent the night at four different bars and, earlier in the evening, drawn his gun on six bar patrons and frisked one in an unrelated argument. Sirignano and two Red Cross operations assistants had been talking on a street corner for a half hour, and when they started to walk across the street, the cop appeared to drive right at Sirignano. Sirignano and officer Charles Tschupp Jr. got into an argument. Tschupp claims Sirignano hit him with a bottle. Queens D.A. John Santucci, who ultimately in­dicted Tschupp, says that “at the time the officer fired his weapon, the deceased al­legedly was in retreat, not advancing on the officer, and therefore did not repre­sent a threat to the officer’s safety.” After a series of beneficial and inexplicable rul­ings by Queens State Supreme Court Jus­tice Herbert Posner, Tschupp won a hung jury. He didn’t even take the stand. San­tucci may try him again. Tschupp is suspended from the force, and is being defended by the PBA.

[related_posts post_id_1=”719984″ /]

Another Few Bite the Dust  

The 1982 questionable killings are replicated by other disquieting deaths of in recent years, beyond the notorious deaths of Arthur Miller, Luis Baez, and Peter Funches. Voice reporter Jill Nelson, in a cover story (“Cops Who Kill,” Janu­ary 28-February 3, 1981), documented the extraordinary Brooklyn slaying of two young black men, construction worker Ricky Lewis, 24, and 18-year-old Kenny Gamble, in a fusillade of police bullets. Cops opened up on a carload of six young blacks, subsequently claiming that one of the passengers had earlier been involved in a shoot-out with a plain-­clothes cop. There was never a charge that any of the other five were involved in the alleged shooting incident, nor that anyone in the car was armed during the blast-out.

Several eyewitnesses questioned by re­porter Nelson said that Gamble, already wounded, emerged from the bullet-rid­dled car with his arms in the air and took four more shots in the chest, followed by a beating and kicking. One of the survi­vors in the car told the Voice: “I was layin’ on the sidewalk and I looked up and saw the police comin’. They was runnin’ and firin’ away at the car. I just seen a big clump of smoke, I could see the fire jumpin’ out of the barrels, oh man. They was steppin’ through the smoke and kept on firin’. I didn’t expect to live. I thought they were killing everybody in the car. The police laughed and said, ‘They all dead.’ ” No one was ever indicted or dis­ciplined for the two deaths; the city reached an out-of-court cash settlement with one of the victims’ families. A black accountant, college graduate Vernon Lawrence, who grew up with the dead Lewis, arrived at the scene that night as the ambulances drove off. He watched 30 cops: “They were congratulating them­selves, singing ‘Another one bites the dust.’ ”

In another Brooklyn killing this March, 19-year-old black Larry Dawes died after he and a friend were chased on their moped by a cop car. Dawes’s com­panion and several witnesses claim that the cops rammed the moped into a parked car. The police say they chased the moped for 12 blocks after it ran a red light. Dawes’s companion, Corey Gibson, told the Voice that he was thrown under the parked car and watched one cop kick Dawes’s body. Last week a grand jury decided not to indict the cops involved and the Police Department is “just get­ting involved” in its own reveiw of the case.

[related_posts post_id_1=”724399″ /]

During a New Year’s Eve party in 1981, a Harlem cop killed an unarmed 39-year-­old woman, Ruth Alston, claiming that she and two other women were striking him from behind. In another incident nine days later, 19-year-old Donald Wright was shot at point-blank range in front of a Harlem shoe store by a cop who’d escorted the youth out of the store after getting involved in an argument with him. Neither incident led to an indictment, though the officer who killed Wright, the only black cop involved in the deaths detailed here, was removed from the po­lice force. Alston’s family eventually won a $50,000 settlement and Wright’s a $125,000 settlement with the city.

A 15-year-old white Queens kid, John Cortese, was shot to death this March by an off-duty cop while he sat unarmed in a locked car. Cortese had brushed the cop’s personal car in a minor traffic accident and had driven from the scene. Cortese headed his car to his Astoria home and, in an alleyway near his home, got stuck. The cop got out of his car and started to ap­proach Cortese. According to the recent indictment of the officer by D.A. Santucci, “the officer fired into the driver’s door window after jumping out of the way as it started to move again. When the shot was fired the officer was not in danger of being hit by the car.”

Billyclub Beatings

But the police incident that pro­voked the current controversy and com­pelled the congressional inquiry did not result in a citizen’s death. It was a beating case and what turned it into a political issue was the mayor’s fast and foul lip. The black man beaten was Reverend Lee Johnson, a first-year graduate student at Union Theological Seminary. Reverend Donald Shriver, Union’s president, issued a press statement describing how a traffic summons escalated into police striking Johnson with a flashlight and a nightstick, amid a barrage of racial epithets. The beating and insults were carried from the street to the sta­tionhouse. The Koch response was one of disbelief: “I find it certainly possible, but nevertheless strange, that in the heart of Harlem two white cops would inten­tionally, in violation of the law, harass a minister. It’s possible. It could have hap­pened … but again, in a police precinct filled with large numbers of black officers?”

[related_posts post_id_1=”719880″ /]

The Johnson incident was followed a week later and with less media attention by an allegation from Kenneth Woods, the co-owner of one of Harlem’s best­-known restaurants, Sylvia’s, that he was roughed up and verbally insulted by of­ficers from the same precinct. ” ‘None of you motherfuckers ain’t shit,’ ” busi­nessman Woods says one cop swore. ” ‘All of you are the God damn same. ‘ “

The documented beating incidents are as multiracial as the shooting cases. On July 29, Julio Castillo, a 42-year-old Hispanic bus driver with 12 years seniority, was driving to his Manhattan home in a rush after receiving a call on his beeper from his wife, who’d recently been hospi­talized. A cop car pursued him the last mile or so for a traffic violation. Castillo recalls getting out of the car and the of­ficer coming toward him with a gun in his hand. “I was in tears explaining to him that I live there, that my wife was ill and that I needed help. He kicked me in the stomach. I fell back and I don’t know how my head got cracked. One witness said he hit me with the butt of his gun.” Until Castillo made clear that he intended to press charges against the cops, none were filed against him. Then he was hit with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. After Castillo filed a CCRB complaint, police investigators showed up unan­nounced at his house one night. The first thing they said was “Have you thought about not considering the whole thing?”

A white victim, Richard Sim­monson, a 38-year-old dentist employed by the NYU College of Dentistry, was jogging through Washington Square Park in the early evening of April 18, 1982. A slow-moving police car crossed his path and Simmonson collided with it, one hand slapping against a window. Simmonson,  who thought little of it and kept running, was subsequently chased the wrong way down a one-way street by the officers and clubbed twice with a nightstick. The cop then tried to bring the nightstick up be­tween his legs to hit him in the genitals, but Simmonson avoided the blows. The cops then just drove off. An initial CCRB investigation led to a quickly closed case, but NYU lawyers got District Attorney Robert Morgenthau’s office to force the CCRB to reopen the case. On its second go-around, the CCRB concluded, “The Board has found the complaint substan­tiated and has determined that the appro­priate action in this case is to have the officer involved instructed by his Com­manding Officer … regarding his respon­sibility to conduct himself properly in his contacts with the people we serve.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”721906″ /]

The Voice has examined details of half a dozen similar cases — Lamont Heywood, who had an electric revolving brush thrust down his throat in the Lower East Side stationhouse and Nero Rich­ardson, a 16-year-old disturbed youth whose mother called the cops who beat him into a hospital bed. Each case has elements that lend some plausibility to police denials, but the bruises and the wounds are real. The frequently clean criminal records, before and after the inci­dents, are real. The credibility of the vic­tims — most of whom were employed and pressing legal suits — is genuine. And the paucity of governmental response to ei­ther individual charges or the persisitent patterns of abuse is disturbing.

***

Ed Koch has misrepresented the num­bers of blacks and Latins he’s appointed to top positions. He’s lied about the percentage of the city budget that’s spent on services for the minority poor. He’s built a mosaic of deception around every important race question raised since he’s been mayor. Now he’s distorting the num­bers of minorities who’ve been beaten and killed by the Police Department he’s charged with running. The media has let him get away with this hype in part be­cause Koch’s are always white lies, issued with an air of efficiency and countered only by black accusers without a press office of their own.

Police violence did not end with the riots they once prompted. Indeed, in the Koch years, when indifference or hostility to black concerns has become city policy, the nightstick and police gun have been working overtime. The only two cases chronicled here that led to criminal charges against cops involved the Queens D.A. prosecuting a Brooklyn cop for the death of a white. Koch is not responsible for that; the interdependence of prosecutors and police paralyzes such cases everywhere. But serious departmental action is now as rare as any by a prosecutor.

Conyers’s subcommittee hearings will surely provoke remedial ideas. As­semblyman Del Toro and others are al­ready pushing a bill to reform the CCRB, as is City Councilman Fred Samuels. But the father of one of the white victims of fatal police force, a man who has spent a lifetime working in law enforcement him­self, said he’d rejected a lawyer’s sugges­tion that he participate in Conyers’s hear­ing. “I never miss Mass,” is his way of fighting back. “Every night and every day I pray that those cops will be punished.” He has filed a federal suit and is de­terminedly waiting to force the cops he believes lied about the death of his son to take the stand. That is the way individu­als insist on pecking away at the institu­tionalized police violence that has so many ways to insulate itself.

[related_posts post_id_1=”719883″ /]

Cops live with fear. They do it to pro­tect us. But that does not license them also to instill fear. And to do it to many of us. The theory is that a mayor’s politics and pronouncements reach the troops on the line. That is difficult to square with 93 dead in the Lindsay year of 1971. But Lindsay did something about that, and the 1972 change in police regulations, plus a curtailment of “buy and bust” drug raids by police, dramatically and persistently lowered the death rate until Koch was elected.

When all the figures are adjusted for population, neighboring Newark, with a black mayor, a black police commissioner, an increasingly black police force (30 per cent), and an overwhelmingly black and poor citizenry, is doing far better than New York in restraining the use of police firearms. There were five times as many police killings in Newark in the first half of the 70s’ (25) than in the second half (five). Deputy Police Commissioner Con­boy argues that Newark is simply not comparable because of “the management issue,” the sizes of the two forces. While it is true that this comparison can be stretched too far, it is hardly a useless one. Police death tolls in Atlanta and Detroit, for example, did Newark-like nosedives with the rise of black political power and the election of black mayors.

The race message of the Koch mayor­alty has been as clear for cops to see as it has been for blacks and Latins. The mes­sage has also been translated into hard numbers at the CCRB and in disciplinary dispositions. The cop response in the streets won’t change unless the mayoral rhetoric or the institutional handling of the violence cases does. That is a life-or-­death fact for an undetermined number of potential police victims, not an organizing tool on a political calendar.

Categories
From The Archives Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Chicago 1968: Blood Outside the Arena

Chicago in August: Prelims are Bloody

CHICAGO — The lid blew off Monday night.

In the Amphitheatre:

Hubert Humphrey made his pact with the South and John Connally became his Strom Thurmond.

Eugene McCarthy’s badly organized campaign continued to unravel.

The boomlet for Teddy Kennedy turned out to be a fantasy of Bobby’s orphans.

In the street:

The cops chased, Maced, tear-gassed, and shot blanks at the kids who were in Lincoln Park an hour after curfew.

All over the city people were randomly stopped and questioned.

Tom Hayden was arrested on charges which three witnesses including two lawyers insisted were false.

[related_posts post_id_1=”724399″ /]

By 3 a.m. Tuesday the liberals had been routed at the convention, the kids had been repulsed on the street. Everywhere you walked, from midnight on, there were plainclothesmen. They frisked you with their eyes like whores strip potential clients, and if you looked the least bit suspicious they tailed you as you continued down the street. Almost every noise was martial: fire sirens, the squawking of two-way radios, cop cars racing from place to place, the idle chatter of police on duty.

We were with Tom Hayden when he got arrested, at 11:55 p.m. in front of the Hilton Hotel. He had come by for a few minutes intending to go straight on to Lincoln Park, when he ran into some friends who were staying in the hotel. They invited him up to their room, but as Hayden sought to enter the hotel through its revolving doors a middle-aged man in street clothes stopped him.

“We don’t want this man here,” he told Hayden’s friends.

“But he’s our guest,” one of them answered.

“No, he’s not welcome at this hotel,” the security officer insisted.

[related_posts post_id_1=”724382″ /]

One of Hayden’s friends followed the security officer into the hotel to complain about the decision to his superiors. For a few minutes Tom stood around talking with a small group of people. Then suddenly, Ralph Bell, a plainclothesman dressed in khakis and a red and yellow checked shirt, came running down Michigan Avenue yelling, “He’s our man, arrest that man.” A uniformed policeman who had been directing traffic grabbed Hayden and threw him on the ground. He was arrested, according to the arrest form at the 114th Precinct Station in Chicago, because he “called the police names and spit at them.” We were present during the entire scene and we are certain that Hayden never called the police a name. Since he was grabbed from behind it would have been difficult for him to spit at the arresting officer.

It is clear that the moment that Hotel Hilton’s security officer saw Hayden he decided to call the police. Since this was Hayden’s second arrest of the day on extremely tenuous charges it is apparent that the Chicago police have decided to harass the Mobilization leader throughout the convention week.

For three weeks both Hayden and Rennie Davis have been followed 24 hours a day by detectives. Hayden says that his tail has repeatedly threatened to kill him. But the police’s harassment of the Mobilization is far more extensive than that. Photographs of Hayden, Davis, and other key figures in the radical movement have been distributed to all hotel doormen in the city, and at bus terminals, train stations, airports. (The “Red Squad” of the Chicago police force is one of the most efficient in the country, according to people who live here. During a demonstration against the House Un-American Activities Committee three years ago, for example, policemen took pictures of every participant and put them in a film of people who were likely to assassinate the President or Vice-President of the United States, the Chicago American reported at the time.)

[related_posts post_id_1=”724430″ /]

Now the harassment seems to extend to people who are just casually involved with the radical movement. A taxi driver who took a young couple to the office of the National Mobilization Against the War in Vietnam was questioned by police about the conversations he had overheard. It is widely assumed here that the telephones of everyone connected with the Mobilization are tapped.

We got to the precinct station where Hayden was booked and were let inside because we had come to bail him out. We over­heard the police mocking the kids they had arrested. “We had to fumigate this place after we led all those animals through,” said one. An officer apparently nicknamed “Killer” who carried a revolver on each hip and smoked a long cigar, was complaining that he had been scheduled to screw two airline stewardesses that night. “I’m going to kill those Yippies who lost me that good lay,” he said. Ten minutes later be came back into the room. “Well, one of them said she would meet me later on. I guess I can wait till tomorrow night to get me some action.”

We stood around the precinct station for two hours waiting for Hayden’s bail to be set. Finally, one of the police told us that the procedure would take at least two hours more while Hayden was fingerprinted. “But he was already arrested once today,” Newfield said. “Oh, we didn’t know that,” the officer answered. “Since that’s the case we’ll bring him down here right away.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”722721″ /]

We spent the next hour walk­ing with Hayden through down­town Chicago, trying to dodge his tail. Every few minutes we would hear fire trucks setting out to chase down some false alarm that bad been set off by the hip­pies. After one particularly com­plicated trek through back alleys and down side streets we were stopped by two detectives who got out of their car to ask u where we were going. It wasn’t clear whether they recognized Hayden or suspected any strang­er who walked along an unusual route. James Ridgeway of the New Republic showed the detec­tive his White House press pass and Newfield took out his official press pass to the convention. “We’re just trying to show this friend of ours the back streets of Chicago,” he explained.

Walking down Clark Street we met a black pimp and two black whores, all of them wearing McCarthy buttons. The chicks were wearing gaudy pink sun­glasses. “Say, man, you want to meet some girls?” the pimp asked, “No, not tonight man,” said Hayden, “I just got out of jail.”

“Oh yeah, what jail?” the pimp asked. “The 11th Precinct Station,” Tom replied. “Man, I know those parts real well. I’ve been in every jail in this city,” the pimp said.

At about 3:30 Tom got into a taxi, hoping to evade the tail who threatened to murder him. We went hack to the lobby of the Hilton Hotel where we ran into a weary and depressed Fred Dutton, former aide to RFK and JFK. Dutton told us that he saw no hope for stopping Humphrey. He had just spoken to Edward Kennedy, he said, he was convinced that the movement to draft the Massachusetts senator was a pipe dream.

[related_posts post_id_1=”720797″ /]

Dutton, who surely must have felt that it Robert Kennedy had lived this convention would be nominating him, showed his despair with the events of the evening. He had been listening to Nick Von Hoffmann, a reporter for the Washington Post who bad been watching the police beat the Yippies on the Near North Side. Von Hoffmann was visibly angry. “I was over at the pig palace watching the pig master at work,” he said. “But I got too disgusted so I decided to watch his hired sadists on the beat. You know that they don’t make arrests any more. They can’t be bothered with lawyers, courts, any of that stuff.”

“Yeah, they just maim people and leave them hidden,” added a delegate from New York.

Dutton turned to Von Hoff­mann and told him passionately that “it’s up to you guys to keep reporting that stuff. There’s not much we can do any more — not the politicians, not even the kids. You have to keep telling the public what’s going on.”

Meanwhile, a cherubic-faced teenager walked between the drunks and the celebrants, try­ing to distribute Ted Kennedy for President leaflets. There were few takers.

[related_posts post_id_1=”194192″ /]

Categories
From The Archives Neighborhoods NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Violence

Stranger in Harlem Part Two: Sixth Homicide

When the light changed at 96th Street and Park Avenue, I looked around to make sure all four doors were locked, and then I stepped on the gas. My car shot across the Great Divide, up the narrow lane between the medieval wall and the bombed-out tene­ments, into Harlem. I was going to 119th Street between Lexington and Park, to the 25th Precinct, home of the Sixth Homicide Zone.

Sixth Homicide eventually became so much a part of my life, so much a home away from home, that it’s hard for me to remem­ber just what my expectations were at the be­ginning. Having watched the trial of Nicky Barnes, I wanted to see his former theatre of operations with my own eyes, as close up as possible, and I didn’t want to get hurt while I was doing it. At first I thought that the nar­cotics police, both federal and local, would be the ideal people to take me around, but it didn’t take me long to find out that their work is secretive by nature, and the last thing they wanted was a reporter meeting their in­formants. There are some very decent people in the narcotics enforcement business, but their work tends to make them paranoid, and about the time one of my sources gave me a code name to use whenever I called him up, I concluded that I was going to have to get help from some other quarter.

[related_posts post_id_1=”719876″ /]

Around the courthouse, people talked about detectives from Sixth Homicide in tones of awe usually reserved for Scotland Yard. The impression I got was that they were in Harlem because they were the tough­est guys the department could find, and it ap­peared that if anyone could take care of themselves, and me as well, it would be the people in Sixth Homicide. Whether they would be interested in doing that was another question. The answer is that they were. Sixth Homicide became my base camp, and I want to describe what the base camp was like be­fore getting into my few treks up the mountain.

***

The 25th was a fairly new building, but like most precinct houses, it smelled of ammonia and had the battered look of a subway car. A cop at the front desk, who was reading the Sporting News, told me that Sixth Homi­cide was on the third floor. It was a big room with cinder-block walls and grimy tiles in the ceiling, and a detective in shirtsleeves asked if he could help me. I told him I was looking for Herman Kluge, the commanding officer, and he pointed me to a little office on the far side of the room.

Lieutenant Kluge turned out to be a vigor­ous, compact man, with clear blue, ­red-rimmed eyes, a sharp chiseled nose, and sandy hair that was gradually giving way to a handsome freckled pate. It was Ash Wednes­day and he had a gray smudge on his fore­head. His office had maps and charts on the walls, a couple of steel cabinets, and an old desiccated palm tree cowering in the corner.

Kluge and I hit it off right away. He wasn’t in the least anxious to impress me, because he seemed totally confident that if I got to know his operation and his men, I couldn’t fail to be impressed. I told him that I wanted to do a follow up on the Nicky Barnes trial, and expressed interest in the chart on his wall of “Drug Related Murders,” which listed six major drug dealers and the murders associat­ed with them. He tried to warn me off that tack, telling me if I started trying to trace down every drug-related murder it would take me years. Of course, I didn’t believe him. He said that his office was completely open to me (with the one proviso that I couldn’t write anything that would blow a pending case) and he was a man of his word.

Encouraged by Kluge’s hospitality, I be­gan dropping into the office several times a week, and he invariably gave me a warm wel­come. “Hey, Timothy,” he would say, “just give me a minute and we’ll sit down and bullshit.” How I loved listening to him talk! He had a sharp, tough voice with a wonderful hybrid Bronx accent — a product of the inter­section of University and Tremont avenues, a German Catholic grown up on a Jewish block. He would sit at his desk, nursing a cup of tea, and talk about politics, press, po­lice, and the New York City of his youth­ — “the greatest place in the world,” a green and ordered land that had vanished forever. He told of skiing on barrel staves in Van Cort­landt Park, of snooty Bronx Irish Catholic girls known as BICs, and of 20 hotdogs for a dollar. He had grown up in a parish where the cops tapped you behind the knee with their nightsticks if they caught you standing idle on the corner. Before the war the city had been clean and safe, he said, but since the ’60s, you couldn’t take your wife to Times Square without the pimps insulting her. He lived in Yonkers now, but the pre­-war Bronx remained such a real place to him that he sometimes had the air of a wistful exile.

Kluge became my sponsor with the men. “We like you,” he told me early on. “Which I can’t say for many people in your busi­ness.” And gradually I began to relax, and forget about the drug dealers, and look around at the amazing place I’d fallen into.

[related_posts post_id_1=”719755″ /]

“There’s not a single detective in that office I don’t like,” Kluge once told me. “Can you believe that?” I could. They were a likeable crew. I could never quite get over just how cheerful and open they were. The place always felt like the newsroom of a good raunchy tabloid, and not just because of the typewriters and steel desks. It was also the constant wisecracking and the nature of the work. What were these guys, after all, but a bunch of investigative reporters with guns?

The room was too small for the 50 men who worked there, even broken up into shifts; it had been designed as a clerical office and was hopelessly inadequate to their needs. Certain detectives gravitated toward certain desks or telephones, but nobody owned any­thing. They were constantly getting in each other’s way, and the only thing for it was to make a lot of jokes, and take things as they came.

After a couple of weeks, I began to know their names and recognize them: Walter Johnson with his sly cat face; Jimmy Wilson, the magnificent dresser; Tom McCabe, the muscle-bound leprechaun; Tommy Mansefield, the silver fox, with a bit of his ear heroi­cally missing; fast-talking Fred Capetta; Billy Lundon, of the piercing eye and thick brogue; and big Al Grant, whom I once saw flinch at the door of a victim’s apartment when he rang the bell and heard children’s voices inside. The detective with moist pink lips who looked like a grown-up Katzenjam­mer kid was Gunther Muller; they said he was good, especially at doing the mean cop act, and one day I saw him on the phone, talking around his cigar: “She stuck him with a fork, right? We have statements to that effect and there’s no point in your laying back.”

I knew that Steve Leinen, who also fa­vored cigars, was working to get his Ph.D. in sociology, because Dick Marcus was always kidding him: “Hey, Durkheim, you got a phone call.” The other men kidded Marcus about his alleged hypochondria — he never had been the same since the day he’d had to fingerprint a syphilitic. And I kept hearing how good this Lionel Tuckett was; the whole office was impressed with the great job he’d done putting together a woman’s dismem­bered body. He’d found some kids in Marcus Garvey Park playing with one of her hands, and when it came over the news that a head had been found floating down the Hudson, everyone assumed it must be Tuckett’s head; and it was.

[related_posts post_id_1=”719763″ /]

There were also fixtures in that office who weren’t detectives, like Wilbur, the car­-washing wino, who could frequently be found leaning on the steel entrance gate, with a cigarette drooping from his toothless mouth. He bragged that he was 62 years old and had been on welfare for 45 of them. Once, while he was supposed to be waxing Kluge’s car, he took a nap in the back seat, and by the time Kluge found him, the sun had baked the wax permanently onto the trunk and Wilbur’s bouquet permanently into the interior. On Saturdays, he would ap­pear in the office dressed to the nines, in big hat and dicky bow tie. He had a rival named Sweetwater, a retired bank robber, who had been wired during the Knapp investigation with orders to record himself selling swag to cops. He never came up with any evidence, which was why he was still tolerated around the precinct.

When it was possible, I would go up to Sixth Homicide at the times of peak activity. If you hit the office at certain hours, 10 in the morning when the detectives were going out in their cars, or four in the afternoon when the shifts changed, it sounded a lot like a pa­per on deadline — phones ringing, shouts, laughter. In the middle of the day, it was sometimes dead, and then I would pull up a chair and study one of the black case ledgers.

Reading up on the cases was all very well, but of course I wanted to get out and “catch a homicide,” as they say. This was my great failure. During all the time I spent in Sixth Homicide — and my visits went on intermit­tently, for nearly a year — I never once saw a corpse. Well, I did see one, but she had been frozen stiff for over a week, so that didn’t really count. I spent long days waiting, and several times I camped out until two or three in the morning. Almost without fail, the call would come five or 10 minutes after I’d left, and they would tell me the next morning that I’d missed another one. It got to be a minor joke around the office and I think some of the men began to believe that Harlem was im­mune from homicides as long as I was sitting there.

One of my detective friends tried to console me by saying there wasn’t ever that much to see, just a guy lying on the floor with a little blood on him. But I had seen some of the photographs in the folders, and knew better.

[related_posts post_id_1=”718477″ /]

During my first days up there, a small­-time drug distributor got shotgunned to death in the bedroom of his railroad flat by robbers who made off with the small stash of heroin he kept in his closet. The man had half his jaw blown away, the detectives said; he left bloody handprints on either side of the narrow corridor as he tried to stagger to the front door. Around the spot where he col­lapsed, the floor boards were squishy under­foot, like a marsh. I never really knew how I would have reacted to something like that, and I never saw how the men reacted to these scenes. Aside from that, I couldn’t have been happier up at Sixth Homicide, hanging around with all those gentlemanly, intelli­gent, unbelievably friendly men, and I often said to myself, “The department must be do­ing something right, for all this cream to have risen to the top.”

***

The men called Kluge the Monsignor­ — not only because in his black cardigan, with his reading glasses tilted forward on his nose, he looked the part — but also because he had a great gift for helping people to confess.

I once asked Kluge about his monsignor role. “We play with people’s heads,” he said. “I’ll be honest with you. It’s cruel, it’s inhu­man, it’s strange, but these are killers we’re dealing with. You’ve got to show them that you’re not afraid, that’s the first thing. Then you can talk to them nicely. I play the father figure, the confessor, the boss. I give them something to hold onto, some excuse, some justification for what they’ve done. Hey, you’ve got to give a man some dignity, I don’t care what he’s done. Then he can final­ly give it up, he can let it ease out, he can un­burden his soul.… Look, we do what the public wants us to do. People wanted us to stop beating people up and we stopped. If to­morrow the public decided that we ought to start beating people up again, then we’d do that, too.”

In the meantime, they became experts in the art of jollification. Nobody makes small talk as easily as a good homicide detective. Sitting outside the grand jury room with a witness, they can blather on for hours about anything — hockey, the world market, mov­ies, sex — whatever will keep the witness’s mind off the irrevocable step about to be tak­en. And when it comes to getting a state­ment, the assistant district attorneys just haven’t caught up to them in technique. The detectives will get some killer all softened up and ready to talk, and then a serious-faced A.D.A. shows up trailing a stenographer. While the A.D.A. solemnly informs the wit­ness of his rights, the stenographer, like an executioner sharpening his blade, removes a black machine from its case. “They go about it all wrong,” said the detectives. “They don’t know how to talk street talk.” Some­times the suspect is so freaked out that he will cling to his old friend, the detective, begging for advice. “Should I talk to him? How much should I say?” And sometimes the suspect clams up forever.

The detectives con people, string them along, pretend to be their friends, but they don’t frame people — at least not that I ever saw. After I’d spent a while around the office, I honestly began to wonder why not. There were people in Harlem who were inveterate killers, who presented an enormous danger to the community, and the thought of jig­gling a little evidence against these menaces began to strike me as reasonable. But the detectives didn’t see it that way.

“If you put a guy in just because he’s got a bad reputation,” one said, “how you gonna live with that after it’s over? That kind of thing catches up with you, people talk and it gets around. People aren’t going to tell you anything if they think you’re a snake or a dirty dog.

“No,” he said, “I don’t want someone doing time on a lie. If you get them good, they don’t hold that much of a grudge. I see them on the street after they come out. They wave at me, I wave at them.”

***

There is one important factor that defined the nature of the work in Sixth Homicide — the zone is entirely in a ghetto, and the ghetto is overwhelmingly black. Most of the vic­tims, witnesses, informants, and perpetrators are poor blacks, and this fact produces a dif­ferent pattern of crime than you find in downtown Manhattan zones, all of which contain some substantial proportion of the white middle class.

A lot of people in Harlem carry guns, and the poverty tends to produce a general air of desperation that makes tempers short. A dispute over a leg of chicken can easily result in a murder — and such a killing, committed to­tally without forethought, tends to be easily solved. Such cases are known in the business, slightly contemptuously, as ”grounders” and they make up a sizeable percentage of the caseload in the Sixth. There are very few of the “mystery” murders which occur amongst a leisure class with plenty of time for careful planning. There is, however, a large criminal class in Harlem which is responsible for all of the drug-related murders — which make up 30 per cent of the homicides in the zone. The perpetrators of these crimes are experienced professionals, and their standard practice is to kill anyone who threatens to testify against them. Thus, many of the murders in Harlem are either very easy to solve or close to impos­sible. You can canvass a block until you have holes in your shoes, but it does no good if all the witnesses are afraid of getting shot. Harlem is a very frustrating, ugly, tragic, and dangerous place to work.

[related_posts post_id_1=”718817″ /]

Now, at the time I arrived in the Sixth, about a third of the detectives were black, and to all appearances they got along excep­tionally well with the white detectives. There was a lot of kidding, and nobody seemed self-­conscious about the issue of race. In fact, the place demonstrates that blacks and whites can make some headway toward overcoming the omnipresent racism in America, by being forced to work together at close quarters un­der intense pressures. This is not to say that there was a total absence of racial tension in the office — I’m not writing a fairy tale. From what I could gather, this tension had come to a head several years ago when there was some kind of confrontation over the fact that throughout the department the Sixth was re­ferred to as a shithouse zone. This offended the black detectives, especially the ones who lived in Harlem. “That’s our home you’re calling a shithouse,” they said, and most of the white detectives at the Sixth learned to catch themselves before uttering the offen­sive phrase.

The tension continued, in an understated way. A lot of the white detectives kept saying that the cases in downtown Manhattan were “harder” than in Harlem. Some of the black detectives thought they really meant that white middle-class cases were more impor­tant. More than once, I heard black detec­tives say, “Nobody cares about Harlem, it’s just a bunch of niggers.” But I heard some of the white detectives say that too. I also heard white detectives say they didn’t care what color a corpse was, it was a dead human being. And they meant it. In the final analysis, it came down to how hard a man worked, and how many cases he solved.

Two of the hardest working detectives were Marty Davin and Jimmy Coffey, who worked as partners. Everyone said that Da­vin did a great “mean cop,” but around me he was never anything but the soul of jollity. He had a pear-shaped face, hair the color of pewter, and a paunch. His eyes — light gray-­blue, almost mother-of-pearl — were always smiling. I like Davin enormously, but I found myself making a conscious effort to stay on his good side because I never, never wanted to see those eyes stop smiling. Coffey had a ruddy, blacksmith’s face, with coal-­black eyebrows and a lantern jaw. He always looked as though his shirttail were sticking out, even when it wasn’t, and the other men teased him about this.

[related_posts post_id_1=”717703″ /]

Both men had worked for years in Harlem, in a variety of assignments, before coming to the Sixth. They continued to be amazed by what they saw, and they liked to tell stories. Like many of the detectives, they had a talent for listening and took a connoisseur’s interest in the freshly minted expressions of the street. “Like one great thing they say up here,” said Coffey. “ ‘If you come messin’ with me, man, you’re gonna have the groundhog for a mailman.’ The groundhog for a mailman. I really love that. It’s almost like poetry.”

Davin had a perfect record as a homicide detective. Fifteen of his cases had gone to trial, 15 resulted in convictions. He and Coffey worked together on the 15th, which was neither very easy nor impossible, but a case which required skillful detective work, physical courage, and a certain rapport with the streets of Harlem. This is what hap­pened:

There were four of them standing on 135th and Lenox Avenue — Spider, Dino, Tank, and Bruce — four teenagers hoping to steal some guns from a big warehouse in Middle­town, an hour’s drive upstate. Spider had some friends who lived in Middletown, so he was well acquainted with the layout and had hit the place several times before. Now all they needed was a good car — but it was near­ly midnight, on Holy Saturday of 1977, and they still hadn’t found one. They were on the point of giving up when a Lincoln Continen­tal rounded the corner.

The Lincoln belonged to the Godfather Livery Service, a Harlem firm which hires out chauffeured vehicles at the rate of $20 an hour and is favored by young drug sellers. The driver, Howard Allen, 54 years old, had been with the company for many years and this was his last night on the job. On Mon­day, he and his wife were moving to Colo­rado. Just before midnight, he called her and said, “Baby, I made my night.” On his way back to the garage, he stopped to pick up one last fare.

“It was like Fate turning the corner,” Coffey later observed.

Spider slid into the front seat and gave Allen a $20 bill. Tank got into the seat be­hind the driver, with Bruce sitting next to him and Dino on the right. They had him drive them around Central Park and then take them to 132nd and Park Avenue, where Spider got out and bought some angel dust: When they started up again, with their hour almost run, Spider pulled out a .357 Mag­num and shot Allen twice in the side, shatter­ing the window. Then Tank shot him once in the back of the head with a .32 short. Spider got out, went around to the driver’s side, and pushed the body over in the seat. He drove the car to a spot underneath the 138th Street Bridge where they stripped the body of ev­erything valuable and dumped it into the Harlem River — and off they went.

On their way upstate they made a wrong turn, and by the time they arrived in Middle­town, Easter Sunday was dawning and it was too late to do the job. Disgusted, they drove back to the city, parked the Lincoln in the Bronx, and pledged to throw the keys away and abandon the car forever.

But Spider had a better idea. He tossed the keys into a vacant lot where he knew he could find them again. That night, he retrieved the Lincoln and drove with two other friends back up to Middletown, for no purpose more sinister than to visit his friends there.

Driving back, with no money, they came to a toll booth. The two passengers got out, to wait by the side of the road and see how Spider fared. Not too well. A state trooper, who started by asking for Spider’s license, ended up by charging all three of them with car theft. Panic ensued and Spider eventually gave up the addresses of Dino and Bruce, and helpfully added that Dino would know where Tank lived.

Back at the Sixth, Davin and Coffey got the information over the phone, just before their night tour was up. They drove immedi­ately to the hotel where Dino lived. The ra­dio was blaring inside his room but no one answered their knock.

[related_posts post_id_1=”717604″ /]

At 8 the next morning, they returned with another detective, Richard Cahill. Coffey went around to the backyard in case Dino tried to go out the window. Davin and Cahill went in the front. There was still no answer at Dino’s room, and the radio was still blar­ing. Cahill started back down the stairs, with Davin following. Halfway down, it dawned on Davin that the radio sounded louder than it had the night before. He stopped and yelled, “Dino!” The door opened immedi­ately, catching him unprepared.

“Dino, my man! You know me,” Davin said, as he casually climbed to the top of the stairs. They read Dino his rights down on the sidewalk.

Dino was sitting in the back seat of the car with Cahill, and Coffey and Davin were up front. Coffey was driving. Davin noticed that Dino was wearing a watch that didn’t look right on him, the kind of watch an older man would wear. “I’m warning you now,” said Davin, looking at Dino in the rearview mir­ror, “don’t bullshit me about this case, be­cause I know everything that happened.” Without turning his head, Davin reached back over the seat and opened his hand. “Give me the driver’s watch,” he said. Dino did.

That convinced Dino that they knew ev­erything, and he began telling them about the murder, adding a few self-serving embel­lishments. They still needed to find out where Tank lived. “Now, Dino,” said Da­vin. “Just so I know you’re in good faith, I want you to verify Tank’s address for me.” Dino told them the address, a project house at 132nd and Madison, and Davin pretended to check it on a slip of paper. “That’s it, all right,” he said. “That’s very good.” They drove to the project house. “That’s the apart­ment on the second floor, right?” said Davin.

“No, man,” Dino said, “that’s it on the first floor in the back.”

“Oh, excuse me, you’re right, you’re right. I had it mixed up.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”719253″ /]

Leaving Dino with Cahill at the office, Da­vin and Coffey went to Tank’s apartment, found him in bed, brought him to the station, and then drove upstate to get Spider.

Meanwhile, the housing police had picked up the fourth suspect, Bruce, and had him waiting for Coffey and Davin when they got back that afternoon with Spider. Coffey, who usually played the nice cop, went down to talk to Bruce in the holding cell on the sec­ond floor, and by the time Davin looked in on them, Bruce had made a full statement.

“How good did you really have me?” Bruce said to Davin.

“I’ll just give you one little hint,” said Da­vin, and he threw the watch on the table.

“That dumb motherfucker,” said Bruce. “I told him to get rid of that watch.” Davin stepped out into the hall and wrote those words down in his notebook. By 9 p.m., everybody but Tank had confessed.

There were two other homicides that eve­ning and the office was a madhouse. The men had to keep shifting prisoners around from room to room and Tank was eventually handcuffed to the wall of the detectives’ bunkroom while Davin and Coffey went on a food run. When they got back with a ham­burger for Tank, they found the bunkroom empty. Somehow, he had slipped out of the handcuffs. Rushing to the window, they saw the remnants of a sheet ladder, broken off near the top. Tank was nowhere to be seen. “The guys were really pissed off, because it was their personal sheets,” Coffey said later. The drop looked to be about 40 feet, with the concrete floor of a little alleyway at the bot­tom. “I get a nosebleed just looking down there,” said Coffey.

Around 9:30, Tank’s stepbrother showed up, asking to see Tank.

Davin instantly turned into a mad bull. “Give me my shotgun, Coffey,” he screamed. “I’m gonna go find that bastard.”

“Hey, wait, man,” said the stepbrother, “what’s going on here?” Davin realized the stepbrother didn’t know that Tank had escaped.

“Listen,” said Davin, “that goddam Tank went out the window and I’m going to issue an all-points bulletin to have him shot on sight.” The brother didn’t know that all­ points bulletins only happen in Cagney movies. All three started downstairs, with Davin cursing and threatening, Coffey trying to calm him, and the stepbrother begging, “Wait, man, give me a chance to find him.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”419403″ /]

Davin went up to a cop at the front desk and said, “I want you to put out a 13-state all-points bulletin.”

“Yeah?” said the cop, looking at Davin as if he’d flipped. “What’s it for?”

Davin winked. “I want Tank shot on sight! I want everybody in this goddamn station out looking for him! Shoot to kill on this hump, you got that!” He went on and on, working himself into a lather, until you could almost hear the motorcycles roaring out of the basement with their sirens screaming, and Davin had to turn away because he was laughing so hard.

Meanwhile, Coffey was giving earnest counsel to the brother: “Listen, I guess you know about Davin, he’s a real sadist. When he goes crazy like this, I have a very hard time getting him under control. I’ll do everything I can to hold him back, but I just hope you can find Tank in time…”

Tank was led in by his stepbrother about half an hour later, walking stiff-legged and gingerly. Both his ankles were sprained. He sat on a chair in the office and they kept swelling up bigger and bigger all night.

Early the next morning, Wednesday, Da­vin and Coffey went to the bank of the Har­lem River with a forensic team. While foren­sic took photographs and made a plaster cast of a sneaker mark, a scuba diver from the harbor division searched the muddy waters for the body. It was on the bottom, entangled in a rusty shopping cart. They hauled it onto the fantail of the motor launch, feet first like a tuna. “And he rose on the third day,” said Coffey, who was intrigued by the Easter theme.

[related_posts post_id_1=”718606″ /]

Davin took the four suspects down to the courthouse for booking and confiscated their sneakers so Forensic could see if one of them matched the plaster cast. Later that week, all but Tank were indicted for murder. Having made no confession, Tank could only be in­dicted for escaping. The detectives knew he would soon be released unless they could find some evidence to corroborate his accom­plices’ statements against him. They asked the other three for names of everyone Tank was friendly with in jail. One of them, after being reminded he was facing a maximum of 25 years, remembered hearing a conversation between Tank and a prisoner who was then on trial at Centre Street. Davin went to see the prisoner in the courthouse, and promised to let the D.A. know if he helped. “Sure I know Tank,” the prisoner said. “We didn’t talk that much, but we discussed our cases, and he said he shot a cabby in the back of the head.”

By the time the A.D.A. got this corroborating evidence on tape, and the grand jury handed down an indictment for murder, Tank had been out of jail a week. A Supreme Court judge gave Davin a court order for Tank’s arrest, and told him to bring Tank to court the next morning.

Late that afternoon, Davin rang the doorbell of Tank’s apartment. There were several young children playing in the hall and Davin didn’t want to risk a direct confrontation which might lead to a brawl; then he remembered the confiscated Puma sneakers.

When Tank’s stepmother opened the door, she recognized Davin as the cop who’d taken Tank away before, and she started cussing him out.

“Listen,” said Davin. “I don’t want to argue with you. I just want to give Tank his sneakers. The rule says I have to give them to him personally.”

Tank came to the door. “Hey, man, where’s my sneakers?” he said.

[related_posts post_id_1=”718598″ /]

“You don’t think I’m wearin’ them, do you?” said Davin. “They’re down in the car.” Tank and his stepbrother came down with him; it was all very friendly. “Hey,” said Davin, “I don’t know what you did to that judge from the hearing, he wants to see you.” It was all so friendly that they rode back to the station house with Davin to phone the judge. Davin went into one of the side rooms and pretended to make the call.

“He wants me to bring you down in the morning,” said Davin when he got off. “Looks like you’ll have to spend the night here.”

“Oh, shee-it,” said the stepbrother. “You lied.”

The next morning, when the case was called in court, Tank’s stepmother stood up and pointed at Davin. “That liar said he’d gonna give him back his Pumas and he never did,” she screamed. Davin just stood there and looked up at the ceiling.

Several months later, Tank was convicted of felony murder and got 25 years to life.

That was how it went when everything worked right.

***

One afternoon toward the end of August, Kluge came into the office in a handsome brown suit with his .38 sticking out of the right vent. He was almost dancing with ex­citement. It was his last day in Sixth Homicide. His successor, James Doyle, a lieutenant who had distinguished himself in setting up the city’s exemplary sex crime unit, stood behind Kluge’s desk, looking stoically cheer­ful. Kluge was cleaning out his locker. He took out his riot helmet, fireman’s raincoat, dress uniform with gold trimmings, plastic box full of tape recorder attachments, magni­fying glass and several boxes of bullets. I helped him carry them down to the basement garage, and we put them in the trunk of his car. We went back upstairs to say goodbye to Lieutenant Doyle.

“The wandering Jew you can have,” said Kluge. “It needs a lot of water. But don’t fall in love with the palm tree.”

The departure of Kluge precipitated the end of an era in Sixth Homicide. Within a month after his departure, a wave of transfers began which left the office almost unrecog­nizable. Five of the best men, including Lei­nen and Tuckett, were transferred to Fifth Homicide, in East Harlem, where the mur­der rate was rising, largely due to disputes among Dominican drug dealers. Lundon moved to Third Homicide Zone, where mur­ders were also increasing. Others began clamoring for transfers, and the possibility of moving out became the main topic of gossip and rumor.

The last five years had been a very trying period for Sixth Homicide. In 1966, the homicide rate had begun to climb steadily in Harlem, and in 1973 it hit a peak of 293. That was why the Brass threw Kluge into the breach. He was one of the most talented lieu­tenants in the department, the commanding officer of the prestigious Fourth Homicide ­Zone (Upper East and West Sides). They told him to stabilize the situation in the Sixth, and they gave him a lot of support. He was allowed to hand-pick his detectives, and he chose men who were both talented and willing to work in Harlem. They gave him a free hand with overtime. And the number of homicides gradually began to decline.

[related_posts post_id_1=”717739″ /]

This success had a self-defeating dynamic. The more the murder-rate went down in Har­lem, the less the Brass cared about the situa­tion. Then in 1975 came the fiscal crunch, and the whole department felt the pinch of insolvency. Nobody ever made an official policy announcement, but homicide detec­tives believe that someone high up in the de­partment quietly decided that homicide wasn’t the priority crime anymore. At least, that was what many homicide detectives surmised from the fact that overtime became in­creasingly hard to come by. It’s axiomatic that homicides get solved in the first 48 hours, while clues are still fresh and wit­nesses haven’t yet considered the pitfalls of talking to the police. To deny a detective overtime, and send him home at the end of his tour, in the midst of a breaking case, is to hobble his effectiveness. But this was increas­ingly the trend.

Things were tough all over, but they were always slightly tougher in the Sixth. The ser­geants there had to bicker endlessly with the Brass and the D.A.’s office over even the most petty expenses. The men literally had to beg for $5 or $10 to give an informant. They knew that the money wasn’t so scarce in oth­er zones, where the victims were middle class and the murders got more press coverage, and they began to feel that Harlem had been written off as a place where death was the in­evitable way of life. This was the deeper meaning of the phrase “shithouse zone.” All of the detectives in the Sixth, white and black, learned what it was like to be treated like niggers.

Nevertheless, the number of homicides de­clined year by year — 249, 242, 203, 193. “We’ll be lucky to hit 150 this year,” one of the detectives said last fall. They had put a lot of inveterate killers in jail, that was one reason for the drop. But there was another reason, over which they had no control: peo­ple were moving out of Harlem. “We’re run­ning out of victims,” the detectives said. ■

This is the second in a series on Harlem:

Stranger in Harlem, Part One: Where the Prisoners Come From

Stranger in Harlem, Part Three: A Harlem Dude

Stranger in Harlem, Part Four: Willy and the Sneaker People

Stranger in Harlem, Part Five: Postscript 

Categories
NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

City Council Will File a “Motion to Discharge” to Vote on Historic NYPD Bills Tomorrow

They’re two bills birthed from latest NYPD controversy. One would establish an inspector general to oversee the department, and another would allow citizens to sue the police over claims of racial profiling. The two parts of the overarching Community Safety Act have divided the city’s most powerful, setting up a policy showdown for the upcoming mayoral race. And today, the bills will begin their gestural journey through the City Council as Speaker Christine Quinn gears up for an unprecedented legislative maneuver on her floor.

]

At some point this afternoon, Councilmen Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams–the co-sponsors of the bills–will attempt the “motion to discharge” process. It’s usually done to guarantee swift passage of a bill through a bypass of committee approval. In this case, the bills have been stalled by the Public Safety committee; the committee chair, former Speaker Peter Vallone Jr., has refused to schedule a vote on the pending legislations due to personal opposition to the bills.

Here’s how it works:

After the council convenes tomorrow for a full meeting, Lander and Williams will formally introduce the final versions of the bills to the floor. Then they’ll file a motion to discharge tomorrow. Next meeting, the Council will vote on the motion, or whether or not it’s OK that the bills are bypassing Vallone’s committee. Should they approve, a half of the Community Safety Act will come to a full vote at the meeting after that. If the answer’s no, then the bills find themselves back in the committee stages.

As Speaker, Quinn has to sign off on the bills that will be introduced to the floor. Per usual, this has meant that bills only she supports have seen the light of day, giving her a significant amount of authority over what comes out of the legislature. But this time, things are a bit different: Quinn is against the racial profiling bill but supports the IG bill; two bills which, according to supporters, must come out together.

With that being said, Lander and Williams’s motion to discharge will be the first ever under Quinn’s watch. It’s been used as a threat several times but, for two bills that could drastically change New York City law enforcement, time is of the essence.

The Voice will keep you updated on the vote’s procedure.

Send your story tips to jsurico15@gmail.com. Follow his tweets here.

Categories
NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Ray Kelly Sounds Off On Low Crime Without Mentioning ‘Stop & Frisk’ Once

Word of life advice: if you ignore something, that doesn’t mean it will go away.

Yesterday morning, NYPD commish Ray Kelly delivered his ‘State of the NYPD’ address at the Waldorf Astoria. The police chief, riding high off a recent poll that showed his approval ratings at the highest ever for someone in his position, basically detailed the progress report of the Bloomberg administration.

Combined with record low homicide rate (which may be on the rise this year) and a general decline amongst most other crimes (save for iPhone theft), the commish laid out an overall safer City in 2012, one which will “go down in history as the year New York City recorded the fewest homicides since Senator John F. Kennedy announced his run for the presidency in 1960.”

The recovery efforts made by the law enforcement authorities during Hurricane Sandy were set in the background as well.

However, possibly due to recent constitutionality issues, the head of the Boys in Blue failed to mention what will inevitably go down in the history books for his time in office: the controversial use of the practice known as ‘stop & frisk.’ That isn’t to say Kelly avoided it all together; instead, he called it aggressive policing in ‘minority neighborhoods,’ which adds a nice touch to a not-so-nice practice.

But he did touch upon the aforementioned ruling, calling it a “judicial setback,” but that didn’t hold him back from trumping up the practice’s results. Kelly credited the pseudo-term with making the streets more gun-free: “since 2002, with the help of these strategies, we’ve taken approximately 8,000 weapons annually off the street, 800 of them illegal guns.”

Echoing off this sentiment, he gave a shout-out to his boss for pushing the gun control matter nationwide post-Newtown.

But, as these legal matters continue to accumulate, it’ll be harder and harder for the NYPD Commissioner to avoid the subject all together. It works well in an address meant to spotlight success but, in a courtroom, it’s a completely different story.

Categories
NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

A Few Questions Raised Over NYPD Commish Ray Kelly’s Popularity

And, for that matter, the most popular NYPD commissioner in the City’s history (since we started recording this kind of stuff, of course).

In yet another Quinnipiac poll, Mr. Kelly’s job as top cop was applauded by 75 percent of New Yorkers. These numbers split a bit by ethnicity: whites have his back with 81 percent; Hispanics, 76 percent; and African-Americans, 63 percent. And, overall, his Boys in Blue have a solid 70 percent approval rating.

Now, this comfortable success can be traced to a few things. For one, crime is at an all-time low, even if it’s experiencing a bump up right now. Second, along with Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Cuomo’s performances, the NYPD’s efforts during Hurricane Sandy were highly acclaimed by New Yorkers. And, third, according to the poll release, the Newtown massacre’s aftershock might have something to do with it.

But, at the same time, these numbers parallel a few other things that are not so popular about the instructors of law and order.

On the ground, we learned a while ago from the Voice’s Graham Rayman’s series “The NYPD Tapes” that an overuse of stop-and-frisk is encouraged to meet quotas – an encouragement that goes all the way up the hierarchal ladder of the police agency. And Ray Kelly is the practice’s pioneer and biggest defender.

As we said two weeks ago, 2012 was the Year of Stop & Frisk. And so was 2011, 2010, 2009 and so on… leading all the way back to the early days of the Bloomberg administration. For background, the use of the practice has skyrocketed by 600 percent over the past ten years or so. As of last November, a pretty good amount of New Yorkers (53 percent or so) are not down with it.

Also, add to the mix the NYPD Muslim surveillance program. You know, when cops followed members of Muslim student associations all the way back to Yale and Harvard’s whitewater rafting trips? Yeah, that happened.

With these numbers behind him, the commish might be around for a while. When asked about keeping him around, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said we would be “lucky” to at a forum in Harlem. She was booed by the crowd immediately after.

We’ll leave you with a quote from Mr. Bloomberg on what his high approval ratings really mean: “Then I wasted my last years in office. [It] means you’re skiing the baby slope, for goodness’ sakes. Go to a steeper slope.”