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Len Levitt

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The Police Foundation: Making Enemies and Alienating Reporters

Posted: 06/16/11 01:43 PM ET

Proving its friendliness to the media yet again, the New York City Police Foundation couldn't get through its annual fundraiser earlier this month without attempting to hold a reporter hostage.

Apparently, the foundation's public relations manual forgot the stricture against trying to imprison a reporter for the world's most influential newspaper inside an anteroom room at the Waldorf Astoria.

While Police Commissioner Ray Kelly mingled with a star-studded cast of entertainers and rich New Yorkers -- including Chevy Chase, Ron Perelman, Charlie Rose, Michael Douglas and Jimmy Buffet -- in the Waldorf's ballroom, a tough-guy security guard was harassing and threatening a young female reporter for the New York Times.

"You're leaving," an unknown "keg-shaped man" told the reporter after she attempted to interview rocker Jon Bon Jovi, who performed at the fundraiser and had his picture taken with Kelly, who has made himself the foundation's unofficial boss.

Saying he "didn't want to make a scene," wrote the Times' Sarah Maslin Nir, the security guy called the reporter a liar, prevented her from returning to the ballroom and attempted to keep her in the anteroom against her will.

She was set free, wrote Ms. Nir, by the Police Foundation's public relations team, which, it turns out, had invited the Times to cover the event.

On that team was Tina Mulhotra, who works for an outfit called the HL Group, which is headed by an upscale public relations consultant named Hamilton South.

Hamilton South? Why, he's the gentleman to whom the Police Foundation paid nearly half a million dollars between 2006 and 2009 to burnish Kelly's image and introduce him to A-list New Yorkers, ostensibly to wheedle money for the foundation from the city's richest and most famous. [Apparently the foundation is still paying South to publicize its events.]

South orchestrated this power networking when Kelly was considering a run for mayor -- until Mayor Bloomberg pulled the rug out from under him and decided to run for a third term.

Some cynics at the foundation viewed those A-listers as possible Kelly mayoral donors. That meant that the Police Foundation was, in effect, paying to help Kelly's candidacy.

In keeping with the foundation's current policy of full and complete non-disclosure, Mulhotra did not return this reporter's phone call, asking why the Times' reporter was detained and who the "keg-shaped man" was and who had hired him.

South also did not return a phone call.

Neither did Greg H. Roberts, the foundation's executive director.

Nor did Susan Birnbaum, the foundation's new president.

Would you believe, readers, that the Police Foundation had been founded as a good-government, anti-corruption measure after the Knapp Commission-era police scandals of the early 1970s, with transparency as its mandate?

Instead, the supposedly independent non-profit foundation appears to have corrupted Kelly.

Since seizing control of the foundation, Kelly has silenced its officials while exploiting its resources as both a personal and professional slush fund, with no disclosure or accountability.
In 2009, he forced the resignation of its longtime executive director, Pam Delaney. No explanation was given for her departure.

Sources told this reporter that Kelly had the knives out for Delaney because she had provided information to the media about how the foundation spent its money, and earned an annual $214,680, a salary that exceeded his.

Kelly can be an intimidating guy. Executive Director Roberts and another foundation official, Judy Dynia, have been afraid to speak to Delaney ever since she was bounced two years ago, even though she had hired and mentored both of them.

In addition to paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to South to burnish Kelly's image, the foundation paid $30,000 between 2006 and 2009 for Kelly to spend on food and liquor at the Harvard Club.

The foundation paid more than half the amount -- $15,148 -- in 2008, the year Kelly most seriously considered his bid for mayor.

Kelly has said that all his Harvard Club expenses involved police business but he has refused to give the foundation the names of those he entertained, citing "privacy" concerns. Nor has the foundation pressed him.

After this column revealed those secret expenses last fall, Kelly promised to list them on his city disclosure forms.

If some of his entertainment did not involve police business, however, the foundation's expenditures could be construed as gifts, and could impact his federal and state tax returns.

While the city's Department of Investigation and the United States' Attorney's office for the Southern District investigated Kelly's predecessor, Bernard Kerik, for accepting $165,000 in free renovations to his Bronx apartment from a company that had business with the city, neither agency is examining Kelly's freebies.

Besides the Harvard Club, these allegedly include front-row seats to Yankee postseason games and a ride to a Notre Dame football game on the private jet of television personality and Police Foundation supporter Regis Philbin.

City officials are prohibited from accepting gifts worth more than $50. Since the Knapp Commission, police officers are prohibited from accepting even a free cup of coffee.

The refusal to investigate Kelly stems largely from the perception that his well-publicized anti-terrorism efforts have prevented another attack on New York City. There are people in New York City who actually believe this.

Most notably, Kelly has established an international NYPD detective force, paid for in part by private donations from the Police Foundation, to compete with the FBI, which has overseas jurisdiction in such matters.

As Kelly put it at the fundraiser: "Most anywhere there has been a major terrorist attack in the last four years, there has been a senior officer from the NYPD at the scene, assembling lessons learned for New York. ... This is the type of measurable return on investment the Police Foundation is providing the people of this city."

But is it?

Whether Kelly's sending senior officers to the site of terrorist attacks overseas has prevented terrorism, or is merely masterful public relations, is as yet unknown.

To date, there has been no public disclosure of even public discussion on what this "measurable return on investment" entails.

Consider the 2004 Madrid subway bombing. The NYPD raced the FBI -- [and apparently beat them] -- to secure the first interview with the Spanish National Police. What they learned that the FBI didn't remains unclear.

Or consider the 2005 London subway bombing. Kelly talked so loudly and often about what the NYPD supposedly learned from its man on the scene that British Metropolitan Police felt Kelly was disclosing confidential information.

Some suspect that may have been why, four years later, the Brits awarded Kelly's NYPD rival, Bill Bratton -- and not Kelly -- the Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, an honor just below knighthood. In so doing, Britain's counsel general Bob Peirce cited Bratton's efforts in fighting terrorism and called him "the outstanding police chief in the United States and, frankly, the world."

Or consider the 2008 attack in Mumbai, India. Kelly rushed then-captain Brandon del Pozo from New York to Mumbai immediately after the attack. What del Pozo learned that the FBI didn't also remains unclear.

A top official for another law enforcement agency said at the time that he, too, would send someone to Mumbai. But not immediately after the attack. "The officials in Mumbai will be too busy to focus on us," he said. "We'll wait until things calm down and send someone then."


ADDENDUMS AND EMENDATIONS. Some readers have emailed that Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson is not the state's only African-American district attorney, as this column stated last week. They cite Albany District Attorney David Soares. For the record, Soares was born in Brava, Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony off the West Coast of Africa. Maybe Soares is the state's only African-Portuguese American district attorney.

Another reader emailed: "It is interesting that of all the DAs in the City, Robert Johnson carries his own lunch from a takeout joint near the courthouse without a bodyguard!

"Also, his chief assistant, Anthony Girese, is referred to as "Mr. Girese" and Johnson is referred to as "Rob."