Bernard Kerik, a protege of Rudy Giuliani who once led the nation's largest police department, pleaded not guilty Friday to a wide-ranging indictment charging him with "selling his office" and lying to cover up the scheme.
The 16-count federal indictment sets up a legal battle that will rage throughout next year as Giuliani, his former boss, tries to win the presidency. It comes three years after Kerik's career peaked with his doomed, Giuliani-backed nomination to be director of Homeland Security in President Bush's Cabinet.
"It's an extremely difficult time for me and my family," Kerik, 52, said outside court. Citing the World Trade Center attack, which happened while he was police commissioner, he said, "My life has been marked by challenges. ... This is a battle. I'm going to fight."
U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia said Kerik, as both corrections commissioner and later, police commissioner, plotted "to deprive the city of New York of his honest services."
"It's a sad day when this office returns an indictment against a former law enforcement officer, particularly one who served in positions as high as those held by Bernard Kerik," Garcia said.
He cited allegations against Kerik that included: Accepting $255,000 in renovations to his Bronx apartment — including a marble entrance rotunda, marble bathrooms and a Jacuzzi — from a construction firm in exchange for helping the company get a business license. Kerik had complained to one of the company officials that "he felt like he was on `welfare,'" the indictment says. The company was being investigated for ties to organized crime. Allowing an official of the same company to pay more than $236,000 in rent for another Kerik apartment. Omitting those payments from his financial disclosure forms, his tax returns and the state grand jury that investigated him. Getting witnesses to lie about the payments to investigators. Falsely answering written and oral questions from federal agencies as he applied for federal posts including Homeland Security director. Falsely claiming $80,000 in charitable contributions and a home-office deduction on his income tax forms. Not reporting the wages he paid to a nanny for his children and not paying her Social Security and Medicaid taxes. Not reporting royalties from a foreword he wrote for a book. Falsifying a mortgage application by not disclosing that he had borrowed — from a real estate agent doing business with the city — the funds he was using as a down payment.
Kerik surrendered earlier Friday to the FBI in suburban White Plains, where he was fingerprinted and processed before his court appearance.
Standing before the judge, Kerik appeared calm and spoke only to say, "Not guilty, your honor," and answer a few personal questions. He was ordered to surrender his passport and any firearms, and to have no contact with potential witnesses.
He was released on a promise of $500,000 bond. The next scheduled court date is Jan. 16.
"It's a sad day because Bernie Kerik was a hero police officer," Giuliani said Friday in Henderson, Nev.
Giuliani appointed Kerik police commissioner in 2000 and endorsed his 2004 nomination to head the Department of Homeland Security. Days after President Bush introduced Kerik as his nominee, however, Kerik announced he was withdrawing his name because of tax issues involving his former nanny.
Giuliani has said, and repeated Friday, that he should have done a better job of vetting Kerik before backing him for the Homeland Security job.
John McCain, one of Giuliani's rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, cited Kerik's relationship with the former New York mayor as a reason to doubt Giuliani's judgment. The Arizona senator said Kerik acted irresponsibly before he got the Homeland Security nomination, when he went to Iraq to help train police there but left after about two months.
"One of the reasons why we had so much trouble with the initial training of the police was because he came, didn't do anything and then went out to the airport and left," McCain said.
Asked about McCain's comments about his judgment, Giuliani noted that the allegations against Kerik have been around since shortly after the failed nomination. "Since then John has described me as a hero ... as someone he has tremendous respect for, as someone whose leadership after Sept. 11 was unparalleled," he said.
Prosecutors had been presenting evidence against Kerik to a federal grand jury for several months. If convicted, Kerik could face up to 142 years in prison and $4.75 million in penalties.
Kerik pleaded guilty last year to a misdemeanor charge in state court, admitting that the renovations constituted an illegal gift from the construction firm. The plea spared him jail time and preserved his career as a security consultant, but his troubles resurfaced when federal authorities convened their own grand jury to investigate allegations that he failed to report as income tens of thousands of dollars in services from his friends and supporters.
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