Bernard Kerik was on top of the world. He had served gloriously as police commissioner of New York City for Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Bernie was famous in his own right, often on television screens, sporting his trademark mustache and shaved head. He was sent by President George Bush to reorganize the police force in Iraq. Finally, he was nominated to head the Department of Homeland Security. After that, things went downhill.
Kerik was indicted in federal court with corruption for allegedly accepting unreported gifts of construction work on his home. Kerik failed to report as income more than $200,000 in rent paid on his behalf to use a luxury apartment where he lived with his family when he left his city post, paid for by Steve Witkoff, a commercial real estate developer. Also, a construction company with alleged mob ties paid for the $165,000 in renovations on Kerik’s home in Riverdale, the Bronx, apparently in hopes of obtaining a city license. In 2006, Kerik plead guilty in the Bronx to state misdemeanor charges stemming from those renovations.
In 2004, after nomination by Rudy Giuliani, President George W. Bush nominated Kerik to head the Department of Homeland Security. Seven days later, Kerik withdrew his name from consideration. Then fell the avalanche of questions about Kerik.
Had Kerik inappropriately lobbied New York City on behalf of Interstate Industrial, a construction company with alleged links to organized crime? At first, Giuliani denied he knew about Kerik’s ties to Interstate Industrial when he appointed Kerik as police commissioner. Then in 2006, Guiliani acknowledged that city investigations commissioner, Edward Kuriansky, said Kuriansky has stated he told Giuliani in at least one briefing about Kerik’s problems, but Giuliani said he did not remember any such briefing.
Kuriansky’s diaries confirm that one of those briefings did take place. Additionally, Kuriansky stated, based on his recollections and his diaries, he also briefed Dennison Young, Jr., one of Mayor Giuliani’s closest aides, about Kerik’s ties to the construction company only days before Mayor Giuliani appointed Kerik police commissioner. Giuliani is well-known for the premium he places on loyalty and his own loyalty to others. Giuliani Partners, his consulting firm did employ Kerik and continues to employ Alan Placa, a high school friend, in spite of allegations he molested young men years ago.
By the time Giuliani recommended Kerik for the Homeland Security job, his administration knew Kerik had acted on behalf of Interstate Industrial and knew about other criticisms of Kerik, including sending detectives to look for his lover’s cell phone and using police officers to research his autobiography.
In 2000, more than half the mayor’s cabinet opposed Bernie Kerik’s appointment to police commissioner. They had concerns that included the fact that Kerik did not have a college degree, a police department requirement at the time for captains and above.
Giuliani met Kerik in 1990 at a fund raiser in New Jersey honoring a slain new York City police officer. Kerik was a decorated undercover detective with a ponytail and earrings, big biceps. Kerik cultivated political connections, such as the sheriff of Passaic County, N.J., who had made Kerik five years earlier the youngest jail chief in the county’s history. When Giuliani ran for mayor in 1993, Kerik organized Giuliani’s security detail of off-duty officers to reserve the weekend shift for Kerik himself.
A year after Giuliani became mayor, he appointed Kerik first deputy correction commissioner to include supervision of Riker’s Island. One year after that, Kerik was appointed correction commissioner, where he showed up for spot inspections at 2:00 a.m. When violence in the jails dropped, public praise climbed. Now reported are some of his questionable activities then, such as his dating a woman who was a correction officer and his getting close to the department’s inspector general, whose responsibilities required him to avoid such closeness with other city personnel. Later, one of his top deputies was convicted of taking $142,000 from a Correction Department that Kerik headed. Another deputy was convicted of forcing staff members to do political campaign work and dispatching officers to renovate his home.
Lawrence Ray was a friend of Kerik and served as best man at Kerik’s wedding. Ray even paid for much of the wedding, and Kerik in turn recommended Ray for a $100,000 job at Interstate Industrials, a New Jersey construction company with tens of million dollars in contracts with New York City.
Interstate Industrials hoped that Lawrence Ray could change relations with the City because, two years before, city investigators had found the company employed mob figures and denied the company an operating license. After hiring Ray, Interstate hired Kerik’s brother, and from then on, the then-correction commissioner began lobbying unofficially for Interstate. Kerik defended Interstate to the chief of enforcement for the city commission, a cousin of Giuliani who was reviewing Interstate’s license application. Kerik telephoned an assistant commissioner at the Department of Investigation to say Interstate’s owners were clean of mob ties, so far as he knew. He even had city detectives who were investigating Interstate meet Lawrence Ray in Kerik’s own city office, sending a strong signal to the detectives. But the lobbying stopped in March, 2000, when Lawrence Ray and Edward Garafola, a mob soldier associated with Interstate, were indicted on a federal stock scheme not related to Interstate’s business. New York City suspended Interstate’s $85 million in city contracts.
Three weeks later, Bernie Kerik interviewed for two hours with the Department of Investigation and talked about his relationship with Lawrence Ray, Interstate and its owners and his brother. However, Kerik never mentioned that Interstate was paying for $165,000 worth of renovations on his new apartment in the Bronx.
That is when the police commissioner job came open. Bernie Kerik was one of the candidates with his eight years experience as a police officer. Edward Kuriansky, the city investigations commissioner, was assigned to oversee background investigations of Kerik and the other candidate, Joseph Dunne. Kuriansky’s agency was supposed to be semi-independent, but Kerik had coopted it to some extent, appointing friends like Kuriansky to the commission and having them attend his morning meetings. Kuriansky was a former prosecutor, and he knew Kerik had intervened on behalf of the company suspected of mob ties and that Kerik’s best friend and brother worked for that company. Kuriansky, however, did not know Interstate was renovating Kerik’s apartment.
Giuliani selected Kurik as his police commissioner, and he served in that capacity for 16 months. Crime fell, and Kerik enjoyed not only public approval during his tenure but celebrity. Bernie Kerik adopted the persona of a steady figure after the World Trade Center attack on 911. He continued to receive good press. Three years later, after he had withdrawn his nomination as head of Homeland Security, it came to light that Kerik had used an apartment dedicated for weary rescue workers at ground zero for an extramarital affair with his book publisher, Judith Regan.
After Kerik’s three months in Iraq, he spoke at the Republican National Convention. But his candidacy to head Homeland Security lasted only a week. He withdrew himself, saying he discovered his nanny was in the country illegally and he had not paid taxes on her.
Kerik couldn’t even stay out of trouble after he was indicted in federal court. U.S. District Judge Stephen Robinson revoked Kerik’s bail when the judge found Bernie had, in apparent hopes of generating sympathy in his trial, leaked information the judge had ordered sealed. Kerik ultimately pled guilty to eight counts in hopes of receiving a two or three years sentence, as indicated by the Sentencing Guidelines and the expectations of the prosecutors. Whoops. The judge gave him four years and said Kerik had violated the public trust immeasurably. While waiting for his sentencing, Kerik complained that he had not heard from Rudy Giuliani. Small wonder why. The wonder is that he overlooked Kerik’s fleas so long.