“By soliciting funds for police operations that are normally government’s responsibility we are now granting a special status to those that can afford to make donations and consequently buy influence,” contends a 25-year veteran of the department.
Finding out the names of foundation members was no easy task; unlike other nonprofits with similar purposes, such as the NYPD, Nassau’s foundation does not list its members or its donors on its website. Nor were information requests seeking this information fulfilled by the police department or the group itself. Mulvey’s lips were sealed shut, too, when questioned by the Press in a phone interview as to the identities of its member-donors. As with other requests, he said to file a Freedom of Information request and would not comment on the department’s refusal to respond to such requests. He also refused to comment on the incident at John F. Kennedy High School.
In 2009, after the theft of equipment at John F. Kennedy High School was reported, its principal signed a statement agreeing to prosecute anyone found taking computers and the projector. But, according to sources within the department, including detectives and officers involved in the case, calls from the commissioner’s office were made and police officers were pressured not to make an arrest, despite knowing the perpetrator.
Although identified, the student involved was never prosecuted. His father remains an associate of the police foundation and did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.
Given the student’s name and date of the incident, Michelle Gagnon, spokesperson for the Bellmore-Merrick Central School District, refused to comment about it, explaining it’s the district’s routine policy not to do so on ongoing investigations. Although more than a year has passed since the incident, Gagnon tells the Press it is still an “open case.”
When asked if it is the policy of the district not to press charges when a felony is committed by a student, Gagnon explained that the district proceeds on a “case-to-case” basis. She added that she would not comment on why the district decided not to press charges.
Commissioner Mulvey, during an interview, denied knowledge of the incident. Immediately following his denial, the Press requested to speak with Nassau Police Chief John Hunter—who current police officials say was the supervisor allegedly involved in communicating the directive that the student should not be arrested. Mulvey’s immediate response was to initially grant the request. When the Press asked he inform the public information office after our interview to officially authorize it, however, Mulvey quickly retracted his authorization and said to file a Freedom of Information Act request, which is unnecessary when requesting interviews; the commissioner can simply okay it.
The NCPD case file, which the Press was granted access to by one of the officers involved in the investigation with the strict understanding we would not reveal his/her name or take a copy—includes a statement from the school’s principal, Lorraine Poppe, declaring that the person responsible for the larceny should be prosecuted. In addition, there is a signed statement from the student’s friend, attesting that he received the stolen goods—computers and a projector, it notes—from the student, and at his behest, returned them to the police.
The Press began filing written Freedom of Information requests (followed up with verbal requests) last June for details on the foundation, its members, those of the Nassau County Law Enforcement Exploring Board and Nassau County Crime Stoppers, donors, contributions and information regarding the department’s asset forfeiture bureau—which Mulvey also oversees and which current and former members also allege has questionable practices taking place—to no avail. This includes additional phone calls, letters and a request to forward the Press’ unanswered requests to an appeals officer.
Robert J. Freeman, the executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government and a nationally recognized expert on open government issues, such as Freedom of Information law, explains that a local or state agency has five days to respond in some manner. It cannot simply ignore requests. If the requests are ignored, or the time has gone by with no response, he tells the Press, an appeal can be filed, which must be answered in 10 days. If that time expires, then the petitioner must turn to the courts, a process that could entail an additional amount of time—and cost taxpayers a bundle.
“Taxpayers are interested in this kind of situation because the court has the ability to award attorney fees that are payable by the government when an agency ignores a request for information,” he explains.
In Freeman’s expert assessment, Nassau County’s actions are in violation of state Freedom of Information law regarding a timely response to FOIL requests concerning the foundation and asset forfeiture funds.
“There are some law enforcement agencies that are exceedingly responsive to FOIL requests and others that are extreme in the other direction,” he explains.
“Even the police have an obligation to comply with the law,” says Freeman.
Since the Press’ initial inquiries last summer, the foundation did finally post a website, but it still does not list the names of its members. Nor would representatives from Community Counselling Service Co. LLC (CCS), an international fundraising consulting and management firm handling the foundation’s efforts, return repeated requests for comment for this story. The group’s address is a mailbox number at a UPS store in Garden City and its listed phone number is routed to police headquarters in Mineola, where the group has offices and conducts fundraising efforts through campaign consultant Elizabeth Shaw and Deputy Inspector Kenneth Lack. Mulvey’s retirement wish—featured prominently on flyers circulated about his retirement party March 24—advised well-wishers to make donations to the Foundation in lieu of plaques, which are the customary departure gifts for outgoing police officials.
In contrast, the NYPD’s Foundation website not only lists names of foundation staff, trustees and donors, but the actual amounts donated and a complete breakdown of program services and complete, detailed financials. In addition to listing the names of board members, staff and its chairman, The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund also posts its annual financial reports and independent auditors’ reports.
Here in Nassau, not so much.
“The Nassau County Police Department does not maintain records relating to the board members of the listed organizations,” writes Karen Taggart, a deputy county attorney assigned to the police department in a June 28 response to one of the Press’ Freedom of Information requests.
The lack of transparency baffles John Jay College’s King.
“It is extremely odd that a police foundation that is modeled on other foundations which are fully open and above board in their dealings would be secretive,” he says.
The Press also sent a written request to interview Mulvey’s newly appointed deputy commissioner, William Flanagan, whom current Nassau police officials say keeps close special ties with Foundation members, oftentimes enjoying rounds of golf and dinners together, and is also active in Foundation fundraising efforts. He was also the overseer of the department’s asset forfeiture bureau. The head of the department’s Public Information Office, Det. Lt. Kevin Smith, responded to the inquiry curtly: “I regret to inform you that we will not be honoring your request for an interview.”
No explanation was given.
Taggart, in a subsequent interview, acknowledged the police department issued police identifications to foundation members, but would not provide the names of those who received them. When asked if that meant that the department issues police identifications and shields to foundation members but does not keep records of their names, Taggart replied tersely: “No they do not keep records.”
Fortunately, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, does.