Monday, May 09, 2005

Probe twist: cash & Bern
Probe twist: cash & Bern

Kerik hit up pal for apt.


Bernard Kerik was desperately worried about being able to afford a Bronx apartment that is now at the center of a bribery investigation involving the former NYPD boss, his E-mails show.

Kerik repeatedly asked a friend for money to help buy the Riverdale co-op in the summer of 1999, saying he felt like a "schmuck" because he didn't have cash for closing costs, let alone the remodeling needed to make it "livable."

Despite saying he was broke, Kerik managed an overhaul that included top-of-the-line appliances, a granite kitchen counter and three new marble bathrooms, including one with a Jacuzzi, an appraiser noted.

Kerik's attorney says he paid $170,000 for the apartment and up to $65,000 for renovations. Somehow, though, the three-bedroom unit sold 3-1/2 years later for $460,000, records show.

Since a Daily News story in December, investigators have zeroed in on whether the apartment was part of a bribery scheme in which Kerik helped a city contractor, Interstate Industrial, appease regulators in exchange for the renovations.

The story was published as Kerik withdrew his nomination to head the federal Department of Homeland Security, citing a nanny's documentation problems.

The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement in March subpoenaed records from Kerik related to the apartment and Interstate, noting that a bribe, if proven, would make Interstate ineligible to build casinos. Kerik recently agreed to be deposed.

The city Department of Investigation is probing similar issues.

Kerik's attorney, Joseph Tacopina, said Kerik hired a company not affiliated with Interstate for the renovations. He has refused to disclose the name until the investigations end.

When he bought the apartment, Kerik was the city's correction commissioner. He lived in a one-bedroom apartment in the same building, at 679 W. 239th St., with his pregnant wife, Hala.

From April through July 1999, Kerik wrote six E-mails to a close friend, Lawrence Ray, asking for money to help with the apartment. Ray was then working for Interstate, a job Kerik helped him get with a positive reference.

Ray last year provided the E-mails to The News, and later to investigators.

Tacopina has called the purchase of the apartment a "modest" cost to Kerik at $170,000.

But in the E-mails, Kerik described himself as too worried to sleep and demeaned by having to beg for cash. He said he had drained his pension of available funds and couldn't bear to ask his wife's family for money.

"I've got to make sure we can do the renovations, mostly, the new kitchen and the two small bath rooms, or else I can't do this because it's not livable as is," he wrote on April 29, 1999.

Kerik added that because of his bad credit, the bank had demanded a bigger down payment, money "that I would have used to fix it up."

His despair only rose.

"I'm walking on eggshells until this apartment is done," he wrote on July 24, 1999. "I had to beg, borrow and [humiliate myself] for the down payment and I'm still [sweating] over the $5,000 I need for closing if it happens. Then the renovations."

But the renovations happened. Tacopina has described them as minor, costing Kerik $50,000 to $65,000. But advertisements and an appraisal done after Kerik put it on the market in December 2001 sound closer to magnificent.

John Edwards Real Estate, Kerik's agent, raved, "Renovated kitchen with a granite countertop, modern appliances, and marble baths. ... A Gem!"

A Foxtons ad mentioned the "elegant marble foyer."

Edwards listed it at $775,000 - more than three times what Kerik said he invested. Tacopina said Edwards determined the price. Edwards referred questions to Kerik.

Edwards advertised the apartment for 14 months, dropping the price to $547,000 when it was last listed, in February 2003. Kerik signed a contract to sell it for $460,000 in April 2003, according to court records filed by the buyer.

Oddly, buyers Kay and Gerald Nugent got the money for the purchase from a $3.75 million legal settlement with the city, stemming from Nugent's 1996 auto accident with a police cruiser.

Originally published on May 8, 2005