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Daniel Jeffreys, a British freelancer who writes for the New York Post, says he interviewed sources who claim they never spoke to him, and cannibalizes his own work for quotes. Intrepid reporter, or fabricator? Let's look at two Jeffreys stories in the Post: a June 27 front-pager ("Volpe Finds God") and a two-page spread that ran June 19.
The front-page "scoop" concerned ex-cop Justin Volpe, who got 30 years for sodomizing Abner Louima with a broomstick. According to the Post, the despised cop has risen from the catacombs of insanity to the shining rays of salvation in jail. While no one disputes that Volpe is religious (his new pen pal is a Harlem preacher), Volpe's father, retired police detective Robert Volpe, says the report of his son's "going mad" in prison is "totally fictitious." Volpe denies giving an interview to Jeffreys.
After his 1999 guilty plea, Justin Volpe was placed in isolation at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan and later transferred to a federal penitentiary in Rochester, Minnesota. Jeffreys cites anonymous sources at both institutions for his claims that Volpe was put on "heavy doses of antidepressant medication" at the MCC, and subsequently dubbed "suicidal."
Volpe's lawyer, Marvyn Kornberg, denies that his client has any mental problems. Volpe's father denies it too, though his denial does not appear in the story. "He never went nuts in prison," says Bob Volpe. "He's not on medication. And he was never put on suicide watch." Volpe says his authority stems from having visited his son every week at the MCC and twice in Rochester, most recently the weekend of June 16.
Jeffreys stands by the story, as does Stu Marques, the Post's managing editor for news. Marques says Jeffreys has "firsthand sources" at the MCC and in Rochester. Furthermore, Marques says that around June 16, Jeffreys talked to Bob Volpe, who "didn't want to speak on the record." Presumably, that "off-the-record" interview confirmed the son's mental condition.
But Volpe says he never spoke to Jeffreys before the story ran. Both sides say Jeffreys left messages for Volpe, but the father says he did not pick them up, because he was in Rochester. Marques says he is "absolutely sure" Jeffreys spoke to Volpe around June 16which Kornberg calls a "total lie." Jeffreys declined to comment.
Volpe is not the first to complain about Jeffreys's reporting. Questions have also been raised about a previous Post story ("Criticism has cops singing NYPD blues," June 19), in which Jeffreys claimed to have interviewed "several seasoned police officers" after the June 11 wilding incident.
The gist of the June 19 story: Officers have been so demoralized by critics that they can no longer perform effectively. For support, Jeffreys cites interviews with undercover agents "Paul" and "Manny"; a retired lieutenant who led the NYPD's special investigations division; and Deputy Chief Thomas Fahey of the NYPD's public information unit.
Jeffreys's thesis may be credible, but the timing of his interviews is not. Many of the same statements that were supposedly made "since" the June 11 wilding appeared in a similar story published two months earlier, in the Times of London on April 21 and the Irish Independent of April 26. The earlier stories ran under the pseudonymous byline Gregory Demaine, which Jeffreys says he uses for contractual reasons.
Herewith a comparison of the quotes published first in April, then June:
"Paul" in April: "Two years ago I went after everything. . . . You make one mistake and you get ripped from obscurity. . . . Even if the shooting is justified, your face gets on the front page of the newspaper and life is over."
"Paul" in June: "Two years ago, I went after everything. . . . You make one mistake and you get ripped from obscurity. . . . Even if the shooting is righteous, your face gets on the front page of the newspaper and your life is over."
"Manny" in April: "A while back if I suspected guns or drugs I would step up to a group of guys without thinking about it. Now I turn away.
"Manny" in June: "A while back, I would step up to a group of guys if I suspected them of selling guns or drugs without thinking about it. Now, I have been turning away.
The lieutenant in April: "From what I can see, there is terribly low morale. Young officers are walking on eggshells."
The lieutenant in June: "Based on what I hear . . . , there is terribly low morale. Young officers are walking on eggshells."
Jeffreys's quote from Deputy Chief Fahey was not only recycled; it was factually incorrect. On June 20, the Post ran a page-two correction, explaining that Fahey had been "incorrectly quoted" and that he had "meant to say" something else.
"Meant to say"? A source in Fahey's office claims Fahey "never spoke" to Jeffreys to begin with. Fahey did not respond to requests for comment.
Jeffreys stands by his reporting. He says he originally wrote the low-morale story for the Post, but it was held when he got scooped by the Daily News, whereupon he sold it to the Times of London. In order to update the story for the Post, he says, "I reinterviewed all the cops I spoke to." He claims Fahey told him he recalls talking to a Post reporter about cop morale.
"Stories that tell uncomfortable truths make some of the subjects of those stories angry," says Jeffreys, "and sometimes it's a measure of the success of the story that it pisses some people off." Note to Jeffreys: Mission accomplished.
The Rip-Off Artist
Freelance writer Hariette Surovell has a beef with the New York Post too. She says Post reporter Niles Lathem ripped off a story she spent four years reporting, on the "queenpins" of the drug trade.
Surovell, a seasoned investigative reporter, says she first sold her story to Kurt Andersen in 1996, back when he was editor of New York. It was killed after he left, subsequently bought and killed by Penthouse, and finally published this past April by Exquisite Corpse (www.corpse.org), whereupon Matt Drudge linked to it with her permission. The story can be read at Surovell's Web site, www.matahariette.com.
Lathem's story ran in the Post on June 8, with the cover line "Queenpins: The women who run the cocaine business". Just as Surovell had done, Lathem recounted juicy details about queenpins Daisy Zea, Maria Jimenez, Mery Valencia, and Griselda Blanco, including Surovell's references to one woman's "little-girl routine" and another's "bisexual orgies." Nowhere is Surovell creditedalthough a source who appears in both stories, Miami detective Al Singleton, says Lathem said he'd seen the earlier story.
So is the Post one big recycling unit? Lathem and Post editor Xana Antunes did not return repeated calls for comment.