Bernard Kerik

6 minute read
Randy James

Few Americans have experienced as swift a rise and dramatic a fall as Bernard Kerik. A high school dropout who was abandoned by his mother as a toddler, Kerik became commissioner of the New York Police Department and nominee to head the U.S. Department of Homeland Security before his checkered past caught up with him. On Thursday, Nov. 5, the gruff, muscle-bound 54-year-old pleaded guilty to tax fraud, making false statements and other felonies in a federal courthouse in suburban New York. The man who once oversaw the nation’s largest municipal jail system — and whose name once adorned a New York correctional center — now faces more than two years behind bars.

(Read “Rudy Giuliani’s Kerik Problem.”)

Fast Facts:
• Born Sept. 4, 1955, in Newark, N.J., “Bernie” grew up in a tough neighborhood of Paterson, N.J., a suburb of New York City. His mother abandoned him when he was a boy, and he lived with friends and relatives until his father took custody of him. In his autobiography, Kerik says his mother was a prostitute who might have been killed by her pimp.

• Dropped out of high school in 1974 to join the military police corps. Later worked as a corporate security officer in Saudi Arabia.

• Capitalizing on a relationship with a New Jersey sheriff, became warden of the Passaic County, New Jersey, jail at age 30 — the youngest warden in county history. He quit the post in July 1986 to join the New York Police Department. He worked as an undercover drug officer, donning a long ponytail and earring, and earned numerous awards for his police work, including the department’s Medal of Valor.

• Continuing his penchant for befriending powerful people, served as Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s bodyguard and driver in 1993. Giuliani appointed him a deputy city corrections commissioner in 1995 and corrections commissioner in 1998, where he became known for making unannounced visits to cell blocks at 2 a.m. and successfully lowered inmate violence and sick-day abuse by guards.

(Read “Can a New York Cop Tame Baghdad?”)

• Appointed police commissioner in 2000 by Mayor Giuliani, despite concerns from many aides about Kerik’s reputation for flouting rules and his lack of a college degree — a requirement for senior police officers. Along with Giuliani, he won national praise for his response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He stepped down from the NYPD when Giuliani left office at the end of 2001 and joined Giuliani’s consulting firm, where he reportedly earned millions, and published a best-selling memoir in 2001, The Lost Son: A Life in Pursuit of Justice.

• Appointed by President George W. Bush as the interim Iraqi Interior Minister to help train the country’s security forces. He would join commandos on late-night raids in Baghdad but left abruptly after 3½ months.

• Nominated by President Bush as the second Secretary of Homeland Security in 2004. He withdrew his nomination a week later after revealing he had not paid taxes related to a nanny who was an illegal immigrant. Kerik’s Nannygate, however, was followed by revelations of a flood of more scandalous missteps, including an affair with the publisher of his memoirs, Judith Regan, in an apartment near ground zero intended for weary 9/11 rescue workers. Regan later said she hired a bodyguard after the relationship ended and Kerik continued pursuing her.

• In 2006, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor ethics violations committed while serving as corrections commissioner; Kerik admitted accepting $165,000 in renovations to his Bronx apartment from a company accused of having ties to organized crime that sought city business. He paid $221,000 in fines, and under orders from Mayor Mike Bloomberg, his name was removed from the Bernard B. Kerik Complex, a Manhattan jail, which reverted to its original name, the Manhattan Detention Complex.

• Indicted on federal corruption charges in November 2007 and on tax fraud and other charges in May 2009. He was accused of failing to report $200,000 in rental income and failing to disclose a $250,000 loan to White House officials vetting him for the Homeland Security role, among other crimes. His legal troubles would end up damaging Giuliani’s 2008 presidential bid.

• His bail was revoked and Kerik was sent to jail on Oct. 20 by an angry federal judge who accused him of leaking legal information to an outside attorney, who later provided that information to the Washington Times, seeking favorable coverage (the newspaper did not print the material). Kerik became Inmate No. 210717 at the Westchester County jail in Valhalla, N.Y.

• Lived in Franklin Lakes, N.J., with his third wife, Hala Matli. He has four children; Giuliani is godfather to two of them.

• Has a black belt in karate.

Quotes By:

“I’m not big on doing things that are a waste of time. If it’s a waste of time, get rid of it. If it’s a bad manager, get rid of them.”
— Summarizing his management philosophy (New York Times, Dec. 3, 2004)

“This is my responsibility, this is my mistake. I didn’t want this to be a distraction going forward.”
— After withdrawing his name to be Secretary of Homeland Security (CNN, Dec. 12, 2004)

“If you took everything that’s been written and everything that’s been said, there are 10, 12 events that people have capitalized on out of a 30-year career.”
— (ABC, April 13, 2005)

“My life has been marked by challenge. Whether it was growing up, being a cop, Rikers Island, the New York City Police Department, or the worst challenge, until this time, my challenges during and after 9/11. This is a battle I’m going to fight.”
— After his 2007 indictment (New York Times, Nov. 10, 2007)

Quotes About:

“He sees the court’s rulings as an inconvenience, something to be ignored and an obstacle to be circumvented.”
— Federal Judge Stephen Robinson, revoking Kerik’s bail and describing him as a “toxic combination of self-minded focus and arrogance.” (New York Times, Oct. 20, 2009)

“Congratulations. You’ve just hired Rambo.”
— An unnamed city official, to New York’s corrections commissioner after hiring Kerik as a deputy. (New York Times, Dec. 3, 2004)

“Bernard Kerik has devoted his life to protecting his fellow citizens, and his example has led many others to take up that calling. He loves his country. He has gained the trust and admiration of millions. I call on the Senate to promptly confirm his nomination as the Secretary of Homeland Security.”
— President Bush, nominating Kerik to his Cabinet (White House transcript, Dec. 3, 2004)

“I have pointed out that I have made a mistake. I made a mistake in not clearing him effectively enough.”
— Rudy Giuliani, then a presidential candidate, responding to criticism for recommending Kerik to President Bush to be Homeland Security Secretary (New York Daily News, Nov. 9, 2007)

(Read “Inside Kerik’s Fall.”)

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