Serpico sets the record straight, Part 5

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Editor’s Note: Read the complete series on Frank Serpico as it unfolds in “Special Reports.”

Now you’re under arrest

Frank Serpico: I was going to work one night. I always went the same way, it was over the Williamsburg Bridge. The traffic was pretty tied up going over the bridge. I’m on my motorcycle, I have a tour to go to, I’m a cop.  I pull up alongside the traffic and there’s a cop directing traffic. I show him my badge and he said pull over there and wait. I could have said screw you and kept on going, but when a cop tells me to pull over, I pull over. His name was White, never forget it. 

I pull over, he comes over and said give me your license and registration. I said what. I said I’ll give you my license and registration, it will be before the lieutenant in the precinct. He said have it your way. We get into the precinct and I show the captain my shield and ID and he said to me, so you’re Serpico, okay wise guy, now you’re under arrest, give me your shield and gun. I said wait a minute. Before you arrest me, I quit. I said you’re not going to arrest me as a police officer, I resign.   

He said go sit in the back. My commander came out and said, come on, what are you doing, you must go to work here. I said I would rather eat out of garbage cans, than to work with the likes of him.  his is the pressure they put on you, this is how they build it up. They just wanted to arrest me to put pressure on me. They knew who I was. 

What were they going to arrest you for? Failure to obey.

Then they write on the Internet, yeah Serpico, he got arrested once. He told this cop to go fuck himself and the inspector came down, told him to go fuck himself. They created this whole bullshit scenario that just wasn’t true. That’s what they do.

The next night is when at the end of the tour this black cop comes up to me and he said Serpico, and hands me an envelope. I said what’s this. He said it’s from “Jewish Max.” That was my first three-hundred dollars in an envelope. So that’s how they work it. Little by little they put pressure on you, and they try to turn you.

Nobody seems to get it right, or wants to get it right. Even with Antonino, the director, in the documentary, I had to tell him half a dozen times what the envelope looked like. It started at the top with thousands of dollars and then it was crossed out, crossed out and the last figure was 300. The next thing I see in the documentary, they got the envelope with all these guys names and I said where the hell did you get that from, you think they’re going to put guys names all over it. It really didn’t matter, to me it’s getting it right.  

Frank Serpico testifying before the Knapp Commission in 1972

Face down in the East River

I got the envelope and that’s when I called up David Durk and he said oh boy, I know exactly where to go with this.  I’ll go to my boss, Capt. Foran.  I said to Durk, Captain Foran, there was a Lt. Foran in plainclothes, was he in plainclothes?  Durk said to me, you think you’re the only honest cop Serpico?  I said I never said that.  So, we go to see Capt. Foran in the office of the Department of Investigations under Mayor Lindsey.  

I showed him the $300 in the envelope. Foran said you could force my hand to go to the commissioner and the next thing they’ll find you face down in the East River. This was said right in front of Durk. Durk said, what’s the other thing?  He said forget about it.  That was the first shot.  A lot of stuff happened after that.

I was just doing my job and trying to stay alive. Durk wanted to be police commissioner. He was using me to accomplish that. Durk knew all these people, he was a socialite. He would go to parties and socialize. I met Durk in plainclothes school. He would walk in; telephone call for Detective Durk and walk out anytime. They sent him to plainclothes school to get some smarts. He was always bragging.

He never made an arrest in his life that amounted to anything and he got a gold shield. I saw him flash his shield on many occasions, like it was a credit card. Durk never saw crap in his life, he never really was a street cop. I will say, he was on college campuses telling students to become cops, that was the sum of his doing something good, which was a good idea. He never got any real cases. He was a glory hound.

Durk was twirling his baton in Central Park. He’s talking to some kids and along comes this guy with his girlfriend and they start talking. The guy said you sound rather educated and Durk tells him he is an Amherst graduate. The guy said really, Amherst graduate and your twirling your baton, is that the best you can do? Here’s my card he told Durk, call me on Monday. Who’s the guy talking? Another Amherst graduate, Jay Kriegel, Mayor Lindsey’s right-hand man. Then suddenly Durk is working for the Department of Investigation for Mayor Lindsey.  

He was always bringing me down, like when I was locking up prostitutes, like this was a bad thing.  I’m in plainclothes, they assigned me to prostitution in Manhattan.  What am I going to say, no.  That would be the end of my career.  So, he was always telling me this underhanded crap.   

Durk didn’t know diddly squat. He only knew what I told him. He knew nothing. I hung out with him until I see he’s a schmuck. He told me he had connections, until he nearly got me killed.  Durk kept running his mouth about who he knew. They said if it wasn’t for Durk, you know, nothing would have happened. Yeah and I wouldn’t have gotten shot in the head and maybe we would have gotten somewhere.

When David Durk testified at the Knapp Commission he stated, “At the very beginning, the most important fact to understand is that I had and have no special knowledge of police corruption.”

What David Durk did testify to was that Serpico’s complaints to the NYPD brass over the years, fell on deaf ears.

David Durk died in November 2012.

He was no prince of the city 

Bob Leuci was another corrupt cop.  I knew Leuci when I was on the job. 

I was in the elevator once with him when we were going up to the Knapp Commission. He was wearing a wire then when we were in the elevator. David Durk was bringing him in there. Durk was reaching out, he thought all these guys were honest.

I told Durk that Leuci was dirty because he was in SIU [Special Investigating Unit of the Narcotics Division]. SIU everybody knew was as dirty as they come. SIU were the dirtiest human beings that ever carried a police badge.  

Leuci knew the noose was around his neck. He told his wife that he would never turn in his own buddies. He wore a wire and did it anyway to save his own ass.  

[Assistant U.S. Attorney Rudolph] Giuliani said to him, tell me you never killed nobody. Leuci said are you kidding and Giuliani said that’s what I wanted to hear. 

Doug, do you know how they got rid of informants?  

They gave them the “cure.”  The cure was one-hundred percent pure [heroin] and no one would ever suspect anything.

I ran into Leuci once after we had made an arrest and they found some bags on the guy. I had heard that Leuci was a dirty cop. So, I’m setting him up, well not setting him up, but I’m trying to see what he is going to tell me. I said I just arrested this guy and found twenty-five bags [of heroin] on him, what should I do. Leuci said, well give them to somebody who can use it. I said really, like who. He said well like any of the guys in Narcotics. He didn’t say re-arraign him.  

Leuci, may he rest in peace. He was another one of these guys that were also racist and homophobic. I remember when I was getting out in 1972 he wanted to talk to me. We were going to meet for dinner at night. I didn’t trust him. He said he was going to pick me up. I waited for him to go around the block and pass me once to see if he was alone in the car. Somebody could have been laying down. On the second time around I stepped off the curb.  I opened the door, I looked in, and I got in. He took me to his house, but first we went to dinner. He said where are we going to eat? I said just keep driving I’ll tell you where to turn and park.  

So, we were in the West [Greenwich] Village. Over by Banks and Greenwich there’s a gay restaurant right on the corner. They had good simple food. I said anywhere over here you can park. Leuci said this is a gay neighborhood. I said what are you afraid of.  

So, then we go to the restaurant and the waiter comes over to me. The waiter was gay. He says, hi Paco, how are you doing tonight? Leuci almost shit a brick. He said these guys are sick. I said really. He said yeah. He said he didn’t want to eat there.

Doug, you know the drugs that were seized in the French Connection case were stolen by some of the guys in the SIU. It was discovered when the property clerk saw these bugs eating the heroin. Bugs don’t eat heroin. The heroin had been replaced with flour.

That’s another thing Leuci said about me. I should have been a Hare Krishna instead of a cop. 

He made a deal with the NYPD. They let him stay on for the remainder of his twenty years. So, he retired and collected his pension. So, you live to talk about it and get away with it if you play the game. 

I don’t want to hit on Leuci. That was what he was. I told him when you’re ready to tell the truth I’ll talk to you. We were getting old and I just wanted the facts the way they were. He never called. 

Michael Armstrong, the chief counsel for the Knapp Commission who wrote the book, They Wished They Were Honest, said in his book that Frank Serpico had told them that they should talk to Leuci because he thought that Leuci had a real need to talk. Armstrong wrote, “Serpico was right.”

The Knapp Commission’s report states that were looking for a corrupt cop to talk and they found the best one in Robert Leuci.

What Frank did not know at that time according to Armstrong was that Leuci was already working for the Knapp Commission and then he was turned over to the Feds where he worked for them, until he was placed in the Witness Protection Program for a short time while he testified.

Because of Leuci’s undercover activities of the 70 men assigned to the SIU, 52 were indicted.  Two committed suicide. Two died of a heart attack after having been indicted and one went insane.

According to prior published reports, starting in March 1969 some detectives in the SIU had started to siphon off confiscated narcotics from the NYPD property room including the 97 pounds of heroin that was seized during the famous French Connection case in 1962. By 1972 the police were responsible for returning almost 400 pounds of heroin and cocaine worth an estimated $73 million dollars onto the streets of New York City.

The author, Nicholas Pileggi, wrote an article in New York Magazine that was published on August 31, 1981 titled The Not Quite Prince of the City.  Pileggi wrote that the film and the book on which it was based, The Prince of the City, by Robert Daley, were little more than self-serving conceits built on an account by Robert Leuci. Pileggi went on to say that the film even more than the book, made heroes out of some of the most corrupt and dangerous cops in the country at the time. According to Pileggi, Prince of the City was essentially an extraordinary fabrication masquerading as the real thing.

Leonard Levitt, the author of the book NYPD Confidential, wrote that Leuci was a pathological liar.

Leuci told The Washington Post in 1979 that the way the system is, 80 percent of the time when a cop takes the witness stand, whether it’s a speeding ticket or a drug case, that the police must perjure themselves. Otherwise Leuci said, nobody would get convicted.

Frank Serpico today

I would expect nothing less coming from the mouth of a corrupt cop.

That reminds me of what another corrupt cop, Michael Dowd, said when he testified at the Mollen Commission. “You, the public are not going to beat us, the cops, in the streets. We can have our way when we put on the badge.” 

I told Frank that I knew Bob Leuci.  I had first met him in the 1980s. He had just started doing lectures around the country, now get this; on corruption, ethics and morality in police work. Leuci would always make a point to say that he was never caught doing anything wrong.

Leuci would lecture about how a good cop can slowly progress into a corrupt cop. When I told Frank that he responded, now all this bullshit about how it starts is all bullshit. You’re either a freaking crook or you’re a cop. Frank is correct.

Years later, Leuci and another cop I knew were doing a lecture on ethics in policing, at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Academy in Las Vegas. They wanted me to come down and speak to the class, which I did. Leuci had spoken the day before I did. He had told them that you need to hear from a guy who wasn’t corrupt, but lost his police career because all he did was tell the truth.

Leuci was an affable person to talk to. But make no mistake about it. You could tell that he had a dark side that he never discussed.

Frank Serpico and Bob Leuci were complete opposites. Serpico wasn’t corrupt, he didn’t take money, he just wanted the system to change. Leuci was corrupt and profited from his illegal acts when he was a cop.

When he heard that the Knapp Commission was investigating, Leuci strung David Durk along for no other purpose than to attempt to find out what the Commission had on the SIU. Leuci cooperated because he knew that the criminal acts of the SIU would be exposed, if not by him then someone else.  Self-preservation took over and he went undercover because he didn’t want to go to prison. That was it in a nutshell.

It was a travesty of justice that Bob Leuci, a corrupt cop, could remain on the NYPD and retire with a pension.

I have no problem with Bob Leuci going under to expose other corrupt cops, because he was going after criminals who just happened to be carrying badges, like himself.

Leuci was rewarded for his endeavors by not being indicted and going to prison. Giving him a police pension was a disgrace.

Leuci lucked out in life as he became a New York Times bestselling author and later taught writing at the University of Rhode Island.

Leuci died in October 2015.

Top photo of the East River from Wikipedia