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Driving Mrs. Kelly

February 5, 2007

For nearly five years, NYPD detectives assigned to protect and drive Police Commissioner Ray Kelly regularly chauffeured his wife on personal trips at taxpayer expense, say detectives with first-hand knowledge of the practice.

Only late last year amidst accusations about State Comptroller Alan Hevesi — who was forced from office in a chauffeuring scandal — did Kelly abruptly end the practice at the NYPD, the detectives said.

“It all has stopped. Completely,” says a detective.

Between 2002, when Kelly returned as commissioner, and late 2006, when the accusations against Hevesi surfaced, plain-clothes detectives from Kelly’s nine-man security detail had driven his wife Veronica in unmarked police cars on hundreds of personal trips about the city, these detectives say.

One detective said the detail drove Mrs. Kelly as many as three or four times a week.

Another detective said that “while three or four times a week may be too much, it did happen frequently, involving plenty of vehicles and plenty of personnel. No question about it.”

These included, the detectives say, picking Mrs. Kelly up on the Upper East Side when her car broke down; driving her to fundraising events or to the shelter where she volunteered; and taking her to and from airports for domestic and foreign flights.

Other trips adhered to common practice, and included driving Mrs. Kelly to both police and social events at which Kelly appeared.

Occasionally, when Mrs. Kelly ran late, she directed the detail to use lights and sirens, a practice Commissioner Kelly had banned for himself, unless it involved a police emergency, the detectives say.

“I know my husband doesn’t like to do this but I need to get there right away,” a detective quoted her as saying when she was running late to a fundraiser.

“The commissioner’s wife tells you to put the lights on, you put the lights on,” the detective said.

Two blocks from the site of the event, he added, she ordered the lights and sirens turned off.

Mrs. Kelly’s comings and goings were apparently such a part of the job that her schedule was put together by the detail’s sergeant. The assignments to drive her came from the supervisor on duty.

“The day you were working, you could tell from his [Commissioner Kelly’s] schedule in the evening if she [Mrs. Kelly] was going to an event. From day one, we would pick her up and drop her off, sometimes hooking them up together to bring them to a location, and they would go together.

“But at any given time, at any given moment, you could get a call to drop her off or pick her up, take her to the airport or drive her uptown.”

The detective added that no documentation was made “for obvious reasons.”

“It was never entered in a log book,” the detective added.

In addition to the nine detectives, the detail, which is based outside Kelly’s office on the 14th floor of One Police Plaza, now includes two lieutenants, a deputy inspector, and a deputy chief who supervises them.

Each team of detectives includes a bodyguard, referred to as the “number one,” a driver, and an advance man. It was usually the advance man who drove Mrs. Kelly, the detectives said, although, as one of them explained, “The pick-ups were numerous enough that everyone had a bite of the apple.”

Mrs. Kelly’s car breakdown on the Upper East Side became a topic of conversation within the detail. When the detective, sent to help her, arrived, she waved him off with hand gestures. He realized she had recognized someone crossing the street and for reasons that were not clear did not want that person to see her with him.

It is unclear whether Mrs. Kelly’s personal chauffeuring would be considered merely inappropriate, the abuse of a perk the commissioner felt he was entitled to, or whether it ventures into the area of illegality a la Hevesi.

“It’s a murky area,” says a state official familiar with official misconduct and corruption cases who denies knowledge of Kelly’s situation. “It’s unclear which law enforcement entity would have oversight jurisdiction investigating these allegations.

“Some public officials, like a police commissioner, have a 24-hour job, a 24-hour presence in the city. Does she [his wife] accompany him to police functions? Is that bad? I would bet that most city officialswould not hesitate to do this in some minor way, say having his driver drop off a child at school when the official goes to work.

“The question is,” the official continued, “does it go beyond a de minimus [minimal] level? It’s kind of like pornography — it’s hard to define but you know it when you see it.

“Kelly’s,” he added, “does not appear close to being a Hevesi case.”

The official also speculated that chauffeuring a Kelly family member could be justified as a possible “security issue.” A police source questioned this, saying, “Why then was it abruptly halted?”

Hevesi, who admitted using his driver to chauffeur his mentally ill wife over a multi-year period, claimed he had done so for security reasons. Initially, he repaid the state nearly $83,000, a figure calculated by his office to cover the driver’s services.

A state ethics committee, however, found there was no security threat to justify that use of his driver. The Albany Country District Attorney then began an investigation, leading Hevesi to repay another $90,000.

Eventually, the District Attorney determined that four state employees had worked for Mrs. Hevesi, and that at least one had worked as a companion, running errands and helping her with physical therapy after she had had knee surgery.

Besides resigning, Hevesi pleaded guilty to a felony and reimbursed the state $206,000.

The state official said, “I think it might be helpful if guidelines existed so that a public official could provide reimbursement if appropriate. But no such guidelines exist.”

A detective said Kelly’s decision to stop the personal chauffeuring of his wife was received by the detail’s detectives with “relief,” as neither Kelly nor his wife is regarded as considerate towards the hired help.

In part for that reason, no fewer than 16 detectives have left what was once considered the most prestigious detail in the department.

“Most police commissioners — [including Kelly in his first term] — keep the majority of their detail in place during their entire administration because of the detectives’ sense of loyalty,” said a former police official.

Only one of the original detectives who joined Kelly’s detail in his second tour in 2002 remains.

Neither Deputy Inspector Brian Burke, who heads the detail, nor Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne returned phone calls, seeking comment. Mrs. Kelly could not be reached for comment.

The Breakout.
The Daily News’ top sports columnist Mike Lupica has been breaking out of the back of the paper, most recently writing about Rudy Giuliani: specifically his presidential ambitions and pre-9/11 mayoral baggage — with special attention to former police commissioner Bernie Kerik.

Whether Lupica’s move to the front of the paper presages an anti-Giuliani tilt to the News, or a new line of work for its formerly up-front, Giuliani-admiring columnist Michael Goodwin, who’s increasingly been bumped back to the editorial pages, remains to be seen.

As stale as Goodwin may be, he’s fresher than his predecessor, Michael Kramer, who, in November 2001, instructed newly elected Michael Bloomberg to reappoint Kerik police commissioner as a “good start” to Mayor Mike’s first term.

Poor Kramer. He was also outed in his own news pages as a cuckold under a headline that described his wife, a federal jurist, as “The Love Judge.”

As the late philosopher and former deputy police commissioner Jack Maple might have said, “How scrumptious!”

Lupica’s column on Giuliani may have broken no new ground but his writing is Breslin-esque enough so that Lupica always sparkles.

Of course, neither he nor anyone else who fancies himself an urban columnist can approach The Great One, the likes of whom appear about once a century. Only Breslin could have said of Giuliani that he is “a little man in search of a balcony.”

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Copyright © 2007 Leonard Levitt