Freeze Frame on a Bad Cop

Still stuck in prison for three decades: the once famous, now forgotten, Bill Phillips

One of Phillips's side deals led him to the apartment of a guy who was running a bookie and prostitution operation. Phillips hit him up for $1,500 in protection money, a score that would prove to be his undoing.

Eventually, Phillips was "flopped" out of the detective squad and demoted to patrolman. The demotion caused Phillips to lose all interest in being a cop and, strangely, caused him to go straight for about a year. His heart wasn't into it anymore, he says. But eventually, the costs of Phillips's high living forced him back. Through scamming, Phillips estimates, he was able to double or triple his salary each year, which at its height was about $15,000.

"I'm not a fuckin' millionaire," he was caught on tape telling an undercover Knapp Commission agent before he flipped. "I do OK. I live pretty good, but I'm not a guy walking around with $100,000 in the bank." Whatever money he had he pissed away on booze, women, sharp clothes, and good food. Phillips was a regular at P.J. Clarke's, where he bent elbows with actors, models, and athletes like former middleweight champ Rocky Graziano, who was a close friend.

photo: Jason Torres

He was an excellent skier and a 4- handicap golfer. Eventually, Phillips bought a Cessna and, along with some other cops, started the NYPD Flying Club. As the club grew, he and some other cops leased four other planes. By the fall of 1970, he says, he was contemplating turning in his badge and running the airplane business full-time.

By then the feds had started to make some high-profile corruption cases against other police departments, and Phillips realized "it was like an era coming to an end, time to get out. I saw the handwriting on the wall, but I seen it too late."

If he hadn't been contemplating such a drastic move, Phillips says now, he would have never bothered trying to shake down a madam. One of his long-standing rules was "don't mess with prostitutes; they're too risky." But when a friend came to him with a madam looking to pay police so she wouldn't be harassed by them, Phillips went for it.

What unfolded next can be traced back to Frank Serpico. Unable to get anyone in the police department to investigate their allegations that gamblers and drug dealers were paying off cops, Serpico, then a patrolman, and his sergeant, David Durk, went to The New York Times.

The resulting April 25, 1970, Times story prompted Mayor John Lindsay to appoint an investigative committee of public officials. But they told the mayor they didn't have the time for such a job and recommended he appoint an independent civilian committee. In May 1970, the Knapp Commission was formed. Its head, Wall Street lawyer Whitman Knapp, had first made a name for himself as an assistant district attorney in 1948, when he was able to ban Edmund Wilson's Memoirs of Hecate County from city bookstores for being too sexually explicit.

Coincidentally, the Knapp Commission's success would depend on a madam who subsequently wrote a far steamier book: Xaviera Hollander, a/k/a "The Happy Hooker." And Phillips's downfall was hooked to Hollander as well.

Until told about it while being interviewed for this story, Phillips had no idea of how the commission got wind of his deal with Hollander. As it turned out, it was dumb luck. Dumb bad luck for him.

Hollander had acquired a new list of clients from another madam. She called an "A. Moore" on the list, and Robin Moore, the author, answered, Hollander (now 63 and running several businesses including a bed-and-breakfast she calls a " bed-and-brothel") tells the Voice.

A few days later, Moore showed up while, as Hollander recalls with a laugh, "I'm in the middle of a heavy s/m session— a big banker, and he's crawling on the ground barking like a dog."

Moore wasn't interested in sex. He'd pay $50 a pop but only wanted to talk. After a few weeks, a lawyer who worked for Hollander became suspicious and suggested Hollander check Moore for a bug.

When she found one, says Hollander, Moore came clean, saying he was gathering material for a book. He already had its name: The Happy Hooker. To this day, Hollander says she hates that title. A hooker, she points out, is a street prostitute. She says she would have preferred a classier title, like Cum and Go.

For the book, a surveillance expert named Teddy Ratnoff installed hidden microphones in Hollander's brothel—she claims it was done without her knowledge. When Phillips offered her protection, Ratnoff called the Knapp Commission, for which he worked as a consultant, and asked its investigators if they were interested in a dirty cop. Michael Armstrong recalls that the commission was so strapped for resources that it ended up enlisting Ratnoff to work undercover.

The tapes Ratnoff made included three different deals. The last of them recorded Phillips's discovering Ratnoff wearing a wire during a meeting with a connected lawyer who was trying to fix a case involving Hollander's boyfriend and a $250,000 stolen check. Ratnoff's undercover role came to an end, and Phillips's was about to start.

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