Bail revoked for Bernard Kerik

October 20, 2009 2:59:40 PM PDT
An angry federal judge sent former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik to jail Tuesday for sharing secret pretrial information with a "propagandist" who Kerik claimed was really his lawyer. Kerik will be forced to await his upcoming corruption trial behind bars. Judge Stephen Robinson found probable cause to believe he was in contempt of court and revoked his $500,000 bail.

His lawyers said they did not know if Kerik, who has been New York City's correction commissioner as well as police commissioner, had ever spent a night behind bars.

The judge said he could not find another way to keep Kerik, 54, from trying to contaminate witnesses and the potential jury pool.

"Mr. Kerik, if left to his own devices, will obstruct justice," the judge said. "My fear is that he has a toxic combination of self-minded focus and arrogance, and I fear that combination leads him to believe that his ends justify his means."

"Mr. Kerik's not special," the judge said at another point. "He thinks he is."

Kerik, who wore a suit to court, took off his tie, emptied his pockets of wallet and keys, removed a ring and gave them to a lawyer, then walked off in the custody of two marshals. He did not speak.

The U.S. Marshals Service said he would be taken to the Westchester County jail in Valhalla.

Defense attorney Barry Berke said he would appeal the ruling and seek a stay. Robinson denied a request to keep Kerik out of jail pending the appeal.

Kerik was police commissioner when terrorists crashed jetliners into the two World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001. He and then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani received glowing reviews for their leadership in the crisis. Kerik was later President George W. Bush's pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security, but withdrew as corruption allegations mounted.

Kerik's trial is scheduled to begin Monday with jury selection.

He is accused of accepting apartment renovations from a construction company in exchange for recommending the company for city contracts. He has pleaded not guilty.

The issue in Tuesday's court session was Kerik's relationship with Anthony Modafferi, an Oakland, N.J., lawyer who at least until recently was the trustee of Kerik's legal defense fund and has written what the judge called "scurrilous" Internet articles berating prosecutors.

Robinson said last month that Modafferi had sent The Washington Times an e-mail that contained some information that was supposed to be under seal and some inaccurate information. The material was not published and has still not been disclosed in court. Times Executive Editor John Solomon said, "because the court was not more specific, we're not sure what they claim was under seal."

The judge suggested at that court session that Kerik was feeding information to Modafferi for fundraising and propaganda purposes.

He demanded an affidavit describing Kerik's connection to Modafferi and warned Kerik he could be jailed for inappropriate behavior.

On Tuesday, the judge disclosed that there had been a similar episode earlier, involving a lawyer who talked to potential witnesses. The judge said he had sternly warned Kerik then, as well, but no one told him about Modafferi.

Kerik lawyer Michael Bachner told the judge Kerik had sent the sealed information to Modafferi but did not expect him to disseminate it. The judge called that "nonsense."

Bachner also said Kerik had hired Modafferi to work for him as a lawyer, though without pay and without any written agreement. Bachner said that meant it was not wrong for Kerik to send the sealed information to Modafferi. The judge said that was a "sham" arrangement, created after the fact.

When Bachner contended that the court order was vague, the judge said, "I understand that's your position, and I find that ridiculous." He also berated a contention that Kerik had forgotten about the order at some point.

"The rulings of this court are not an inconvenience to be forgotten or an obstacle to be circumvented," the judge said. "We risk creating the impression that some are above the law and therefore above us all."

Kerik faces a second trial on tax charges, and a third that claims he lied to White House officials vetting him for the position of Homeland Security chief.

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