When the Long Island Press sent us to cover the 2008 presidential debates at Hofstra University, Secret Service agents detained me for three hours, claiming my computer’s allegedly sketchy WiFi signals aroused their suspicion. This spring, one of my four interrogators was arrested in an alleged police cover-up the Press exposed.
William Flanagan, the former second deputy Nassau County police commissioner, had only identified himself to me as “Bill” when we first met in a tiny office as spooks pored over my laptop. Months later, when we bumped into each other at the county legislature, he conceded he had let me falsely believe he was a federal agent.
“Bill, the eldest … looked like he had lost a few nights’ sleep over the top secret national security threat alerts weighing on his mind,” I had written of him. At the legislature, he recited the description back to me.
Memories of my grilling are still tough to shake: swallowing my anger at being repeatedly asked the same questions; defending a bad Sarah Palin joke a friend had sent me; wondering just what, if anything, the feds did with all the info they got off my computer.
Were “volatile” WiFi signals just their excuse to question a journalist they already had an eye on? Should I have refused to cooperate? Will I get detained again this time?
For the record, I wasn’t charged back in ’08. In March “Mr. Bill” and his two fellow ex-commanders pleaded not guilty to misconduct and conspiracy. They’re due back in court Oct. 26.
Prosecutors cited a Press story on police favoritism to donors of a certain nonprofit when Flanagan and his compatriots were accused of quashing the probe of a donor’s son who had burglarized John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore—also coincidentally my alma mater.
If only the coincidences ended there. Flanagan also lives in my hometown of Islip. And spends downtime where I do, in Ocean Beach. There have been random sightings.
So now the disgraced ex-third top cop who’s presumably seen my Secret Service file has one more reason not to like my newspaper.
Sure, I didn’t personally break the story of the alleged favoritism-for-profit police scam. That honor goes to Shelly Feuer Domash, the seasoned veteran and Press contributor who’s endured intimidation amid foul blowback. But I have been covering his case.
Rumor has it Flanagan was a good source to a few fellow reporters working the crime beat, so his resignation screwed the competition, too. Not that there’s any love lost there.
Flanagan was no stranger to the harsh glare of media scrutiny before his arrest, either. He was named last year’s highest paid cop on LI at $225, 929 annually before he resigned.
Back in the Hofstra women’s soccer coach’s office that had been converted into a makeshift interrogation room, Flanagan was tasked with questioning my mental health—they really left no stone unturned.
Should he be convicted and jailed or imprisoned, he’ll likely hear the same line of inquiry. We’ll see if Flanagan’s case goes to trial and his attorney proves reasonable doubt.
As one of the agents combing my hard drive said while sharing a Secret Service saying: “When there is no doubt, there’s no doubt.”