Leonard Levitt is the author of “NYPD Confidential: Power and Corruption in the Country's Greatest Police Force."
Bernard Kerik vs. Joe Tacopina could be the hottest show in town this year.
The city's disgraced former police commissioner is suing the celebrity criminal lawyer -- whose clients include Victoria Gotti and Alex Rodriguez -- for negligence and malpractice. Kerik blames Tacopina -- once his business partner -- for his 2009 conviction on eight federal felony counts, including filing false income tax returns, lying about his apartment renovations and misleading the White House during his 2005 Homeland Security nomination.
Between 2009 and 2013, Kerik sat in the Cumberland, Md., federal prison, convinced that Tacopina had sold him down the river.
In 2006, Tacopina convinced Kerik he could end his legal liability by pleading guilty in a Bronx case to accepting $165,000 in free renovations to his Riverdale apartment from a firm that sought a city contract while Kerik was corrections commissioner. "We got everything we wanted," Tacopina wrote in a memo to Kerik on June 20, 2006, the day Kerik pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts. NYPD Confidential obtained a copy of the memo.
Instead, the feds seized on the guilty plea and began sweeping through the dark corners of Kerik's life. They indicted him the following year on 16 counts of conspiracy and tax fraud. The feds then disqualified Tacopina from representing Kerik, saying they might call him as a witness against Kerik, a rare move in a criminal case. They also got Kerik's second attorney, Kenneth Breen, disqualified, claiming he was party to Tacopina's negotiations in Kerik's Bronx case.
In his suit, Kerik claims that Tacopina met secretly with federal prosecutors and provided information about Kerik the feds used against him in their prosecution. That is a stunning revelation that, if true, raises questions about Tacopina and the feds.
Their meeting, Kerik claims, occurred as the feds were investigating an alleged fee-splitting case involving Tacopina and attorney Ron Fischetti.
Neither Tacopina nor Fischetti, a well-regarded criminal attorney, was indicted. The two did not return calls or emails seeking comment.
Tacopina denies Kerik's allegations and has countersued for defamation, seeking $5 million. Tacopina also sued the Daily News, which reported on Kerik's allegations in December while Tacopina was representing Rodriguez, claiming the newspaper and Kerik conspired against him.
Tacopina told the News he met with prosecutors but said the meetings were not about Kerik but about financial records the feds had subpoenaed. But in a Dec. 12, 2007, affidavit seeking Breen's removal -- and obtained by NYPD Confidential -- Assistant U.S. Attorney Elliott B. Jacobson appeared to contradict Tacopina.
In the affidavit, Jacobson said he and Tacopina discussed "conversations with past and present Assistant District Attorneys in the Bronx County District Attorney's office . . ."
Tacopina, Jacobson stated, had told representatives of the Bronx District Attorney's Office that Kerik "had paid for all of the renovations to the Riverdale Apartment himself and that the total amount of the renovations he had paid for was approximately $50,000 . . .
"After [Kerik] pleaded guilty in the Bronx case and during the pendency of this Office's investigation," Jacobson said, "we questioned Mr. Tacopina concerning the statements made above.
"The questioning took place in the presence of Tacopina's attorney, Michael Ross, who is one of New York State's leading legal ethicists and experts on the law of privilege, including the attorney-client and work-product privileges. Tacopina confirmed he had made the above statement to the Bronx County District Attorney's Office. Tacopina also stated that the information he had conveyed . . . had been provided by the defendant."
It looks just like the beginning.