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From the archives: Wiretap coverup denied; But prosecutor concedes past problems in cop drug bureau

This article was originally published in Newsday on January 15, 1988.

Suffolk's top narcotics prosecutor yesterday said he knew of no illegal wiretapping by Suffolk authorities, but conceded there appeared to be "overwhelming problems" in the police narcotics bureau two years ago.

Appearing before a packed hearing room during the second day of state Commission of Investigation hearings, Assistant District Attorney Raymond Perini said he was shocked to learn in 1986 that some narcotics officers were using drugs, allegedly were using illegal wiretaps and covered up a drug case involving the son of then-Chief of Detectives John Gallagher.

"It was the biggest bombshell of my career," Perini told the six-member commission in Hauppauge. But Perini firmly rebutted allegations by the commission that the alleged wrongdoing was covered up by the police and the district attorney's office. He said the allegations of wrongdoing were referred promptly to federal prosecutors.

Perini said he was particularly incensed by testimony Wednesday from two former police officers, who alleged that Perini knew of and encouraged illegal wiretap-ping during drug probes. In his opening remarks, David Trager, the SIC chairman, also concluded that Perini "most likely" approved of the illegal bugs. Perini, however, said that the two former narcotics officers were admitted cocaine users, and that the allegations were groundless.

"Absolutely not," said Perini, when asked if he knew of illegal listening devices being used by Suffolk police. "I read those allegations in the paper and they are absolutely untrue."

Yesterday's session focused mainly on the allegations surrounding the police narcotics unit - and certain former officers who allegedly used cocaine or helped fabricate evidence against suspects.

One former drug informant testified that under police pressure, he lied under oath in several drug arrests made in the drug-infested area of North Amityville called The Corner. And Perini and some top police officials acknowledged that some former Suffolk narcotics officers allegedly had used samples of cocaine confiscated in drug arrests. But, they testified, the problems in the narcotics unit since have been corrected.

After the hearing, Perini's boss, Chief Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Da-vid Freundlich, said he was outraged by the lack of evidence surrounding the SIC's allegations against Perini. "How do write an apology on something like this?" Freundlich said. "How do you give a man back his reputation when you base an opening statement on perjured testimony?"

But Trager defended his conclusions about Perini. He said evidence against Perini and other Suffolk authorities who allegedly were involved in illegal wiretap-ping will soon be referred to a prosecutorial authority. "His involvement will be explored in the appropriate forum," Trager said.

The commission hearings and final report are widely expected to provide further impetus for changes within the Suffolk police department. Newly elected County Executive Patrick Halpin has highlighted the choice of a new commissioner as a top priority. After the hearing, Trager said the SIC's main objective was to improve the professionalism of Suffolk law enforcement.

"I think we educated the public that there were serious problems which were be-ing ignored - the lack of responsible supervision and control in both the district attorney's office and the police department," Trager said. He has vowed that the SIC's probe will continue until improvements are made.

During yesterday's session, much of the testimony focused on the lack of over-sight on Suffolk officers who were working in the narcotics unit in the early and mid-1980s. The state panel took testimony from a drug informant who recanted his previous testimony and said he lied under pressure from police in several cases. It also took testimony from a narcotics supervisor who acknowledged that one of his street agents had been demoted for twice tasting samples taken from packages of cocaine.

And the hearing was peppered by caustic remarks and exchanges between SIC members and some of the police witnesses and their lawyers. In one exchange, Trager was outraged by what he considered inappropriate comments by James O'Rourke, an attorney for two police officers who appeared.

"I think you owe us an apology," Trager demanded.

"I'm sorry," O'Rourke responded, his voice filled with contempt.

"I'm guess I'm a naughty boy."

But the hearing room was hushed during Perini's testimony, as the most serious allegations were reviewed.

Perini recalled a February, 1986, conversation with then-Suffolk police internal affairs chief Donald Jeffers, who outlined the allegations of wrongdoing surrounding then-Suffolk narcotics officers James Kuhn and Raymond Gutowksi.

"Jeffers tells me that Kuhn and Gutowski have been hitting the packages," Perini testified. "They were taking the dope out and replacing it with non-narcotics substances . . . He tells me it could impact on 140 cases. He tells me there could be a problem with illegal wiretaps." And Jeffers explained the allegations of a coverup surrounding the Gallagher case. A special prosecutor is investigating the Gallagher matter.

But Perini said he was taken back by the extent of the problems. Immediately after speaking to Jeffers, he said, he was "trying to determine the extent, in my mind, of overwhelming problems in the narcotics bureau."

The alleged wrongdoing by another Suffolk narcotics teams also was examined during testimony yesterday.

The former informant, Kevin Eason, recanted his testimony in several drug cases, some of which resulted in convictions and were part of numerous arrests by Suffolk narcotics officers in North Amityville's Corner.

Eason said he was pressured by police to fabricate stories. Based on Eason's previous closed-door testimony to the SIC, Suffolk Legal Aid has asked the courts to reopen four cases in question.

"I was young and I said to myself, 'They want me to lie.' And that's what I did for them," said Eason, who was 16 when he became a informant. Eason said he lied when he identified suspects based on information provided by then narcotics officer Warren Savage, rather than first-hand observation. "I testified falsely on the same information that Officer Savage told me to say," Eason said.

In court, Eason added, Suffolk prosecutors would say there were no promises made for his testimony. But yesterday, Eason, who said he was paid $ 1,300 as an informant, claimed three pending charges against him - including assault and grand larceny - never were pursued because of his cooperation.

Said Eason: "I was told by Ray Perini, 'You take care of us and we'll take care of you.' I just smiled 'cause I knew I was doing wrong." Perini never was asked by the SIC about Eason's comments, but has denied wrongdoing in any drug cases. Subsequent testimony by other police officers, however, contradicted Eason's claims that any promises had been made.

Savage also strongly denied the charges. Though he had been an informant, Eason sometimes lied and could not be fully trusted, Savage said. "I think you'd be naive to think an informant is telling the truth 100 percent of the time," said Savage, now a Fourth Squad detective. 

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