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Bernie Kerik: Victim, Victim, Victim

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As Bernie Kerik entered federal prison in Cumberland, Maryland on the West Virginia border, a new souvenir of him has surfaced.

No, it's not a replica of the paper mache busts of himself that the Police Foundation paid for as gifts when Kerik left the police department in 2001.

Now we have a Kerik hat - designed by none other than his former chief of staff, John Picciano. (Who knew?)

A picture of the hat was emailed to this reporter, on a star-flecked background with symbols of righteousness: the Holy Bible, an American flag and a bald eagle.

Against that backdrop, the hat's logo reads: "Free Bernard Kerik. 40th NYPD Commissioner."

Those words epitomize Bernie Kerik these days. He believes that his sentence -- if not the charges themselves -- is unjust and that his 16-month tenure as police commissioner should somehow serve as a mitigating factor of his four-year sentence.

In short, Kerik believes (and wants the world to believe) that he is a victim.

The 40th NYPD commissioner cut off relations more than a year ago after this column questioned why, on the eve of his trial, he was fussing on his website about a suburban store that he claimed wasn't showing proper respect for the American flag.

In an email, he wrote:

Last week, a friend of mine called me steaming over your most recent column and was outraged at me no less because I have continually called you a 'friend.'... I must confess that your mockery and insults in this article were by far perhaps the worst I ever read....

[P]erhaps your demeaning tone comes from your inability to admit that people all over this country still want to hear my voice or opinion on issues that matter to them. If my patriotism or love for this country offends you, perhaps that comes from the painful reality that you have no loyalty, friendship or love for anything. The mere fact that you would mach[ sic] anyone defending the treatment of our nation's flag, in my opinion, questions your own motives and patriotism.

Well ....

In the past, Your Humble Servant, too, had called Kerik a 'friend.'

As police commissioner, he had numerous accomplishments. He improved department morale, especially among black and Hispanic cops, and eased racial tensions, exacerbated by the police killing of Amadou Diallo and the sodomy of Abner Louima during the tenure of Kerik's bone-head predecessor, Howard Safir.

Kerik also helped immeasurably in my reporting. On 9/11, he allowed me to accompany his motorcade from the Police Academy, which served as the department's command center on that dreadful day, downtown towards Ground Zero and into Police Plaza, where I spent the next few days as the only reporter in the virtually empty building.

In addition, his relationship with Judith Regan may have encouraged her to publish my book about the Martha Moxley murder in Greenwich, Conn., which I had worked on for more than 20 years (although Regan maintains she published the book on its merits, not because of Kerik).

Fast-forward now to 2006 when Kerik pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in the Bronx for accepting $165,000 in apartment renovations from an allegedly mob-connected construction firm that had sought his help in obtaining a city contract.

Kerik immediately sought to downplay his crime, telling Best magazine that he had pleaded guilty because he "just fucking wanted [the case] to be over. I didn't take the pleas because I really thought I hadn't done anything wrong. It was just, pay the fucking fine, give 'em their pound of flesh, whatever the fuck they want."

Then the feds appeared.

There was a story that they offered him the chance to plead guilty to tax fraud and wiretap conspiracy in return for a six-month jail sentence but that Kerik rejected it.

Then the feds started playing hardball.

Building on the Bronx case, they swept through the dark corners of his life and found evidence of conspiracy, tax fraud, making false statements and failing to report $500,000 in income from 1999 to 2004. This included $75,000 in book royalties and $230,000 in free rent for a luxury Manhattan apartment, paid for by a wealthy benefactor.

They also accused him of lying on his application in 2004 to become Homeland Security Director. Forget the nanny whose payroll taxes Kerik hadn't paid, which was his stated reason for withdrawing. The feds discovered he had omitted in his application a $250,000 loan from an Israeli industrialist. It was a compromising omission since his companies did business with the U.S. military.

In Nov., 2008, they indicted him on 15 felony counts.

Next, they forced his lawyer, Joe Tacopina, from the case. The feds claimed Kerik had lied to Tacopina about the cost of the Bronx renovations and that Tacopina had unwittingly passed on those lies to Bronx prosecutors in securing Kerik's plea deal in the earlier case. The feds put Tacopina on their witness list to testify about what he had told Bronx prosecutors.

Kerik has since maintained that Tacopina "betrayed" him.

In early 2008 when I asked Kerik how he was coping, he answered, "I stay mad. I lost six million dollars in contracts. My wife is so mad at the government she wants to take down the American flag outside our house. She's from Syria. She said, 'This is what the government does to people in Syria.'"

I asked him why he thought all this had happened to him.

"They're going after me to get Giuliani," he said of the former mayor who had appointed him Correction and Police Commissioner and who was then running for president.

"Who's 'they'?" I asked.

For that, Kerik had no answer.

Last October, as he prepared for trial, Kerik infuriated Federal Judge Stephen Robinson, who charged that Kerik had leaked sealed grand jury information to the media to create public sympathy for himself.

He was especially furious at the actions of Kerik supporter, attorney Anthony Modaferri, who - with no proof but with Kerik's apparent approval - continued to post on the internet that the feds had threatened to destroy Kerik and his family if he didn't plead guilty.

Robinson was so furious he revoked Kerik's bail and sent him to Westchester County jail in Valhalla to await trial.

Although he had vowed to fight the charges, Kerik then pleaded guilty to eight of the fifteen counts.

Disregarding more lenient federal guidelines that called for a prison term of between 27 and 33 months, Judge Robinson sentenced Kerik to four years.

Since then, Kerik has continued to write on his website, denying his guilt, despite his plea to the contrary, and painting himself as a victim.

He explained away his Homeland Security fiasco, writing: "I withdrew my name from consideration because the confirmation process was deteriorating into a nightmare that threatened to make a mockery of everything I had ever accomplished."

He made no mention of his omission of the $250,000 loan from the Israeli industrialist.

He blasted the federal government, saying, "For nearly three years I prepared to go to trial to defend myself against substantially the same charges I'd already faced in New York State Court. Then just days before the federal trial was to begin, my bail was revoked and I was imprisoned. The judge threatened to disqualify my legal team, which both he and the federal government had done twice before and would have sent me back to square one for the third time with my savings now exhausted."

He made no mention of the feds' reasons for disqualifying Tacopina - that he had passed on Kerik's alleged lies to Bronx prosecutors.

He also decried his sentence: "Ignoring the signed plea agreement and recommendations made by the prosecutors as well as the recommendation of the U.S. Department of Probation and my highly decorated service to the American people, the judge sentenced me to 48 months in prison - 15 months over the recommended and agreed upon sentence."

No mention of Judge Robinson's stated reasons for his sentence: Kerik's leaking confidential grand jury information and Modaferri's continued internet postings.

Lastly, Kerik tried to spin his public image. "Finally, I can only hope history will judge me based on my 30 years of public service to our great nation and not by headlines, my imperfections or the mistakes I may have made."

Mistakes I may have made? Even as he enters prison, Bernie Kerik denies any wrongdoing, portraying himself as a victim.