Be Careful What You Wish For

Last week, former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik was sentenced to four years in federal prison after an investigation that began in earnest when he was nominated by President Bush in 2004 as Secretary of Homeland Security. Kerik's life story reads like the ultimate Horatio Alger tale of a boy growing up in poverty and reaching the highest levels of fame and fortune. It's very possible that his undoing came about because he reached too high. After working his way up from the bottom of the criminal justice system and becoming the top cop in the largest police department in the world, Kerik gained additional notability when he stood alongside Mayor Rudy Giuliani amid the ruins of the World Trade Center. It would take several pages to describe all the awards for bravery and meritorious service Kerik received during a long and distinguished career. One of the highlights was his 2003 appointment by the Bush administration to the position of Interim Minister of Interior of Iraq and Senior Policy Adviser to Paul Bremer, the Presidential Envoy to Iraq. His job was to lead an international policing team to rebuild the Iraqi security structure, including its police force.

Before Kerik left, more than 35,000 Iraqi police were reinstated and 35 police stations structured in Baghdad (along with several more across the country). In May of 2004, he testified before the 9/11 Commission in New York City, sharing the lessons he learned from the attack and recommendations for dealing with terrorism in the future. Yes, Mr. Kerik had reached heights he may never have dared dream about when he was growing up in Paterson, New Jersey. But this is the USA, where every dream come true can lead to another one.

And so it was that in December of that same year, Kerik was nominated to succeed Tom Ridge as the nation's top security chief. It was here that he entered the churning cauldron of national politics. At that level, you become a little frog in a giant lab, with scalpels hovering over you, poised to dissect. Just one week later, the nominee withdrew his acceptance of the position, stating that he had unknowingly hired an undocumented worker who had used a fake social security number as a nanny. Evidently, that was just the beginning. Suddenly, allegations surfaced that Kerik, as New York's Correction Commissioner several years earlier (a position he held before being appointed Police Commissioner by Giuliani) had received a deal on renovations for his apartment from a company with alleged ties to organized crime.

In 2005, the case was presented to a Bronx grand jury that had investigated the matter for eighteen months. The conclusion was that local prosecutors found no evidence that Kerik had engaged in actual corruption. In other words, they had no evidence that he used his public position to give benefits to the construction firm. Prosecutors alleged that the work done on Kerik's apartment amounted to about $200,000, but the commissioner paid only $50,000. Kerik ultimately pled guilty to two misdemeanors for not reporting what was deemed a "gift," and he paid the city a fine of $225,000.

For any other defendant, the case would have died there. But this was someone who could be connected to the Commander in Chief and make his judgment appear flawed. After all, how could Bush select someone with less than stellar credentials to protect the country? In my opinion, given Kerik's illustrious background in law enforcement, the country would have been very secure indeed under his watch. Nevertheless, if he had in fact accepted a bribe in any form, he deserved to be prosecuted, but not persecuted. In November of last year, Kerik accepted a plea bargain with prosecutors who recommended a sentence of 27 to 33 months in federal prison.

But that wasn't enough for Judge Robinson, a Democrat, who had once worked under Giuliani, a Republican, in the U.S. Attorney's Office. Disregarding the plea agreement and ignoring federal guidelines, Robinson sentenced Kerik to four years. Inasmuch as Giuliani's name had been included in most of the stories written about the case, why didn't the judge mention that in the beginning and recuse himself?

It should go without saying that judges and prosecutors love high-profile cases; it puts them in the news and adds luster to their résumés. Yet to this day, no evidence has been uncovered that Kerik used his official position to line his pockets. Hence, the unusually cruel treatment of him certainly appears to be just another victory for the Bush-haters who became obsessed with destroying his legacy. Kerik just got ground up in the gut-crunching machinery of Washington politics, where vendettas are held in perpetuity and party labels are a determining factor in prison time.      

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas. E-mail Bob.
Last week, former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik was sentenced to four years in federal prison after an investigation that began in earnest when he was nominated by President Bush in 2004 as Secretary of Homeland Security. Kerik's life story reads like the ultimate Horatio Alger tale of a boy growing up in poverty and reaching the highest levels of fame and fortune. It's very possible that his undoing came about because he reached too high. After working his way up from the bottom of the criminal justice system and becoming the top cop in the largest police department in the world, Kerik gained additional notability when he stood alongside Mayor Rudy Giuliani amid the ruins of the World Trade Center. It would take several pages to describe all the awards for bravery and meritorious service Kerik received during a long and distinguished career. One of the highlights was his 2003 appointment by the Bush administration to the position of Interim Minister of Interior of Iraq and Senior Policy Adviser to Paul Bremer, the Presidential Envoy to Iraq. His job was to lead an international policing team to rebuild the Iraqi security structure, including its police force.

Before Kerik left, more than 35,000 Iraqi police were reinstated and 35 police stations structured in Baghdad (along with several more across the country). In May of 2004, he testified before the 9/11 Commission in New York City, sharing the lessons he learned from the attack and recommendations for dealing with terrorism in the future. Yes, Mr. Kerik had reached heights he may never have dared dream about when he was growing up in Paterson, New Jersey. But this is the USA, where every dream come true can lead to another one.

And so it was that in December of that same year, Kerik was nominated to succeed Tom Ridge as the nation's top security chief. It was here that he entered the churning cauldron of national politics. At that level, you become a little frog in a giant lab, with scalpels hovering over you, poised to dissect. Just one week later, the nominee withdrew his acceptance of the position, stating that he had unknowingly hired an undocumented worker who had used a fake social security number as a nanny. Evidently, that was just the beginning. Suddenly, allegations surfaced that Kerik, as New York's Correction Commissioner several years earlier (a position he held before being appointed Police Commissioner by Giuliani) had received a deal on renovations for his apartment from a company with alleged ties to organized crime.

In 2005, the case was presented to a Bronx grand jury that had investigated the matter for eighteen months. The conclusion was that local prosecutors found no evidence that Kerik had engaged in actual corruption. In other words, they had no evidence that he used his public position to give benefits to the construction firm. Prosecutors alleged that the work done on Kerik's apartment amounted to about $200,000, but the commissioner paid only $50,000. Kerik ultimately pled guilty to two misdemeanors for not reporting what was deemed a "gift," and he paid the city a fine of $225,000.

For any other defendant, the case would have died there. But this was someone who could be connected to the Commander in Chief and make his judgment appear flawed. After all, how could Bush select someone with less than stellar credentials to protect the country? In my opinion, given Kerik's illustrious background in law enforcement, the country would have been very secure indeed under his watch. Nevertheless, if he had in fact accepted a bribe in any form, he deserved to be prosecuted, but not persecuted. In November of last year, Kerik accepted a plea bargain with prosecutors who recommended a sentence of 27 to 33 months in federal prison.

But that wasn't enough for Judge Robinson, a Democrat, who had once worked under Giuliani, a Republican, in the U.S. Attorney's Office. Disregarding the plea agreement and ignoring federal guidelines, Robinson sentenced Kerik to four years. Inasmuch as Giuliani's name had been included in most of the stories written about the case, why didn't the judge mention that in the beginning and recuse himself?

It should go without saying that judges and prosecutors love high-profile cases; it puts them in the news and adds luster to their résumés. Yet to this day, no evidence has been uncovered that Kerik used his official position to line his pockets. Hence, the unusually cruel treatment of him certainly appears to be just another victory for the Bush-haters who became obsessed with destroying his legacy. Kerik just got ground up in the gut-crunching machinery of Washington politics, where vendettas are held in perpetuity and party labels are a determining factor in prison time.      

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas. E-mail Bob.