Policing Their Own
A 1996 investigation that cleared former New York Police Department chief Louis Anemone of corruption charges consisted of a 10-minute quickie quiz administered by Anemone's pal, then internal affairs head Patrick Kelleher.
The Voice has obtained a copy of the March 14, 1996, recorded interview with Anemone that Kelleher, now deputy commissioner, dubbed "an official department investigation." In fact it was a one-on-one with Anemonea seemingly done deal, which the department subsequently sealed, telling the Voice in 1997 that it would never be made public.
Sergeant Andrew McInnis, a department spokesman, defended the closed-door session, saying, "This is not unusual."
Anemone, 53, who had been with the NYPD for 34 years, allegedly was forced out last July by Police Commissioner Howard Safir, who reportedly ignored Anemone and left him out of key decisions. But Anemone's departure may have a lot to do with long-standing rumors that he accepted and solicited bribes from criminals while he was commanding officer of the 32nd Precinct in Harlem. Former police officer William L. Acosta first claimed in "Tarnished Badge" (Voice, May 20, 1997) that he learned of the payoffs from contacts on the street, as well as fellow officers. His complaint to Internal Affairs prompted the investigation that exonerated Anemone.
In a classic example of top department brass policing their own, Kelleher began the 1996 probe by noting that Anemone had opted to answer questions without the assistance of an attorney. He asked Anemone to respond to two allegations: (1) that in 1988, while on duty in Harlem, Anemone had removed an "undetermined amount" of cash from a man dying of a gunshot wound, and (2) that when Anemone was a sergeant at the 32nd Precinct station house, he had solicited bribes from numbers runners and other gamblers in exchange for looking the other way.
Kelleher's softball interrogationconjuring up the laid-back style of a Charlie Rose interviewelicited evasive answers from the mild-mannered Anemone, who was not confronted with meaningful follow-up questions about illicit activities inside the 32nd Precinct, where supervision was lax and temptations abundant. Listening to the tape, one almost expects Kelleher to ask his friend, "Is that your final answer?"
KELLEHER: Within the 3-2 Precinct how would you describe the gambling problems, if any, and what enforcement was taken . . . during your tenure as a sergeant, and later as a captain, and deputy inspector?
ANEMONE: During, I guess all three of those descriptionsas a sergeant, captain, deputy inspectorgambling enforcement was really the domain of the Police Morals Division, and if we had complaints from the public or requests from the public about them, we'd turn that information over to Public Morals for action.
KELLEHER: At that time did you have any specific procedures for uniform personnel to respond to gambling?
ANEMONE: No, just whatever was in the Patrol Guide. That's it.
KELLEHER: Then in fact Public Morals assume most of the gambling enforcement?
ANEMONE: Yes, they do.
KELLEHER: During the time you were assigned there, did the 3-2 Precinct or 3-2 Precinct personnel become actively involved in gambling enforcement?
ANEMONE: No, they did not.
Although as a rising law-enforcement star in Harlem, Anemone must have been aware of key figures associated with illegal gambling, he told Kelleher only one such suspect, Tommy Green, came to mind. Anemone said Green was a numbers kingpin, and that the reason he remembered Green was because he'd busted a cop on "an allegation of improper conduct" for associating with Green. Kelleher never asked Anemone to identify the officer or delved into the outcome of the allegation. Green could not be contacted.
Kelleher then asked Anemone if he was familiar with the Florence E. Browne Funeral Home at 436 Lenox Avenue. Anemone said he was not.
KELLEHER: Do you have occasion to recall ever entering a funeral home at that particular location?
ANEMONE: I, I really don't know.
KELLEHER: Or telephone that location?
KELLEHER: Were you then or are you now familiar with the owners or operators of that particular funeral home?
ANEMONE: I don't believe so.
KELLEHER: Although you indicated that you are not familiar with this, do you recall . . . that a funeral home on 131st Street was involved in illegal activity?
KELLEHER: Were the owners of a funeral home at that location . . . specifically named Browne, involved in community affairs within the precinct?
A spokesperson for the Florence E. Browne Funeral Home, who asked not to be identified, denies that anyone associated with the mortuary has ever engaged in wrongdoing.
At this point in the interview, Kelleher suddenly brought up the name of former police officer Roosevelt Pickett, whom Anemone knew.
KELLEHER: Can you describe Pickett and please explain any interactions you may have had with him?
ANEMONE: Uh, he was a, uh, male black. I think he [is] retired from the police department now. My interactions with him were the normal ones of a sergeant/supervisor. He was still there when I, uh, came back as the executive officer, and he was in the precinct again when I returned as the commandingofficer. . . . He had diabetes, and as a result he had to, uh, leave the command."
KELLEHER: Do you recall when that was?
ANEMONE: Eighty-seven, '88, like that.
KELLEHER: How would you evaluate Officer Pickett as a police officer?
ANEMONE: Uh, he needed a little additional supervisionmore than the average.
KELLEHER: Did you ever have any unusual dealings with him or remember anything specifically that stands out about him?
ANEMONE: Uh, no. I think he had an off-duty shootingshot and killed somebody within the confines of the precinct in Washington Heights.
Pickett died last year.
As the session wore on, Chief Kelleher seemed to veer off course, asking whether Anemone was familiar with Phillip Norris, the late numbers banker and proprietor of a candy store at 761 Lenox Avenue in Harlem.
"No," Anemone said coolly, "I can't say I [am]. I [don't] know even the name or the location." Kelleher then paused and asked whether Anemone had ever visited the store.
"Uh, I, I don't recall," he responded. "You know, I, I very well may have, but uh, [it] doesn't ring any bells right now." From then on, Kelleher turned to extremely broad questions. At any time during Anemone's tenure in the 32nd Precinct did he ever take dirty money?
"No," Anemone replied.
"From any gamblers or gambling locations?"
"No," Anemone insisted.
Kelleher then dropped the name of Barrington Myvet, a 22-year department veteran who reportedly was among the first cops to confide in Officer Acosta about allegations that Anemone was accepting payoffs from gamblers. Anemone explained that he had recommended that Myvet be assigned to a security post he was interested in at Harlem Hospital after "someone else there . . . lost the assignment."
"How would you evaluate Officer Myvet as a police officer?" Kelleher asked.
"Uh, he was, uh, he was better than average," Anemone said.
"You recall any unusual dealings with Myvet?"
"You recall the last time you saw or spoke to Officer Myvet?"
"Uh, in the last few years, I think I've seen him once or twice. . . . "
In December 1995, Internal Affairs launched simultaneous investigations of Myvet and Acosta. The investigators accused Acosta of lying, claiming that Myvet never gave him damaging information about Anemone. But Acosta insisted he had a taped telephone conversation with Myvet, spewing all he knew about their boss. Internal Affairs charged Acosta with impeding an official department investigation by failing to provide a tape of the conversation. In 1996, rather than be tied up in legal battles with the NYPD, Acosta resigned. Shortly afterward, the department initiated disciplinary proceedings against Myvet for denying to investigators that he was Acosta's confidential informant. Acosta subsequently defied a subpoena to testify against Myvet, who was hit with a 30-day suspension. Myvet, who is currently assigned to the 25th Precinct in Harlem, did not return calls for comment.
Next, Kelleher floated the name of Officer Jeff Christopher, who served under Anemone in the 32nd Precinct. "Um, I think [Christopher] ran into some problems after I left, but I may have had him at some point or another on a, uh, ICO [Integrity Control Officer] list as a potential target to be watched."
"Any particular reason why?" Kelleher asked.
"I think it might have had to do with off-duty conduct or possibly use of, uh, controlled substances," Anemone replied, adding that the last time he saw Christopher was when the officer "may have had business" at police headquarters after Anemone had been promoted either to chief of patrol or chief of department. Then, for the first time, Kelleher asked Anemone about the allegation that he had ripped off a dying man in Harlem.
"Chief, do you recall an incident whereby you responded to a . . . call of a male shot [at] 420 St. Nicholas Avenue, sometime during 1988?"
"Four-twenty St. Nicholas?" Anemone mused.
Kelleher quickly rephrased the question: "Let me, let me repeat it, just to make it clearer," he said. "You recall an incident whereby you responded to a [call about] a male shot? This male subsequently expired at the hospital. Location of the aid was 420 St. Nicholas Avenue, which is at 131st Street."
"I can't say I do right now," Anemone said.
Well, had Anemone heard about the allegation that money retrieved from the man "may have been missing or possibly mishandled"? Anemone claimed he hadn't.
"You don't recall the EMS responding or anything else regarding the, uh, the case?"
"Uh, just to . . . clarify," Anemone said, chuckling. "I responded on an awful lotta those over the years there."
Finally, Kelleher got to the point. "Do you recall an incident with an aided, in the street, where Officer Christopher ever handed you money to be vouchered?"
"Yes," Anemone emphatically replied.
Asked to elaborate, Anemone said that Christopher may have been the first officer on the scene after the shooting, "and may have handed me money that he had found on the, uh, victim." Anemone added that he "may have handed" the money to someone else, who had responded with him, and that it eventually was vouchered. Did Anemone recall counting the money? "I may have," he said. "I may not have."
"Do you believe that you may have handed someone else the voucher?"
"I do not," Anemone said.
"Do you recall who that was?"
"At, at this point, I don't."
Sergeant McInnis says Jeff Christopher was fired from the force in December 1996 for his involvement in a domestic incident. Efforts to contact Christopher proved futile, but a police officer close to Christopher denies that Christopher used or sold drugs.
Anemone said that he was not aware that Internal Affairs and another NYPD agency had conducted investigations into the missing money. He couldn't recall anyone being approached by investigators. "I don't think so," he said.
"Were you the precinct commanding officer at that time?" Kelleher pressed.
"In 1988, yes," Anemone replied. It was one of the few times during the interview that Kelleher seemed to get a straight answer out of Anemone.
"Specifically, in this case, did you, an officer, take or remove money from an aided male without having authority or justification to do so?"
"No," Anemone insisted.
"Follow-up to that, did you ever take, in this instance, or in any other instance . . . U.S. currency unlawfully, at any time, while assigned to the 3-2 Precinct?"
"No," Anemone reiterated.
"Did you then or do you now have any information or knowledge relative to members of the service in the 3-2 Precinct that are involved in corruption or misconduct, that had to do with numbers and policy?"
"No." The interview ended abruptly. Anemone could not be reached for comment.
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Louis Anemone "retired" with a full pension and a pat on the back from his friend in Internal Affairs. William Acosta isn't so lucky. He is broke and often portrayed by critics within the NYPD as a Serpico-type pariah because of his whistleblower activities. Acosta's allegations against Anemone, however, are representative of the kinds of claims that likely would be aired if a wrongful-dismissal lawsuit brought against the department by the crusading cop goes to trial in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
In his suit, which seeks unspecified damages, Acosta alleges that before he was firedfrom March 1996 through April 9, 1996he was suspended from the department for exposing corrupt officers. Acosta, who now runs the Equalizer private investigative agency in Manhattan, claims he was harassed by other officers when he was assigned to the 32nd Precinct, after he had worked as an undercover officer for Internal Affairs. Normally, the lawsuit notes, Internal Affairs undercovers are not transferred to uniform patrol because they may face cops and other individuals they have previously investigated. As a result, Acosta alleges, he received death threats and was routinely harassed, threatened, and intimidated.
Acosta is unflinching. Whenever the opportunity arises, he confronts current and former NYPD commanders about police corruption and their alleged failure to stop it. Toward the end of a televised town hall meeting last week in Manhattan to discuss police brutality, Acosta cornered former police commissioner William Bratton, charging that despite Bratton's knowledge of allegations of misconduct against Anemone, Internal Affairs never launched a serious investigation. In the waning seconds of the town hall meeting, Bratton was not given the time to respond.
Additional reporting: Danielle Douglas
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