A weeping Bernard Kerik pleaded guilty Thursday to federal fraud and tax charges that could land him in prison for more than two years.
Inside a packed White Plains courtroom Kerik, who once ran the NYPD and the City Department of Correction, admitted to eight felonies in a sweeping corruption case that he has been vigorously fighting -- until today.
Kerik, 54, admitted to cheating on his taxes, lying about accepting apartment renovations from a construction firm accused of having mob ties and omitting that information from his 2004 application to become the nation's homeland security director.
He broke down in tears when Federal Judge Stephen Robinson hinted at his past accomplishments, saying they would be a factor in his sentencing, set for Feb. 18.
“It's a sad day for you," said the judge. ”You’ve lived a full life and I should be able to take into account that full life.”
Before he wept, Kerik said "Guilty" eight times for crimes that could have sent him to prison for 60 years. He is expected to receive a prison term of 27 to 33 months.
During his plea, Kerik explained that he had failed to disclose potential problems in his past while going through the application process to join President Bush's cabinet as homeland security czar.
“At the time I sent the email, [to Washington] I had accepted the renovations,'' Kerik said.
He then said, "I did your honor," when Judge Robinson asked if he realized that conduct was wrong.
"It's a sad day when the former chief law enforcement officer of New York city pleads guilty to eight felonies, but no one is above the law," said Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Hailed as a hero for leading the NYPD during the 9/11 attacks, Kerik now faces the prospect of becoming the first New York city police commissioner ever imprisoned on federal crimes.
His fall from grace exploded into view days after Bush nominated him for the Homeland Security post. Kerik abruptly withdrew his name just a week later blaming immigration and tax problems over the hiring of a household nanny. Soon more serious problems surfaced, stemming from $255,000 worth of renovations to his Riverdale, Bronx apartment allegedly supplied by a construction firm seeking more business with the city.
Those allegations led to Kerik pleading guilty in Bronx Supreme Court to two misdemeanor charges for accepting gifts from the construction firm and lobbying on its behalf. He avoided a felony conviction and prison time with that 2006 plea but had to pay $221,000 in fines.
However federal authorities expanded on the original Bronx case -- slapping Kerik in November 2007 with a 15 count indictment that included allegations that he cheated on his taxes, lied on his loan application for the Riverdale apartment and told White House officials that he had no financial entanglements with firms seeking business with the city.
Kerik's mounting legal problems clouded the political fortunes of other elected officials, especially that of his mentor, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
The two had met when Kerik volunteered to chauffeur Giuliani and provide security during his first unsuccessful race for mayor. Once elected in 1993, Giuliani promoted Kerik, a high school dropout, to the highest levels of city government.
The mayor eventually tapped his former bodyguard as the city's 40th police commissioner in 2001 despite his attaining only the lowest rank for a detective and failing to earn a college degree -- a requirement for officers above the rank of sergeant. During his failed presidential bid in 2008, Giuliani had to admit that he erred in recommending Kerik to President Bush.
Kerik's dealings with former Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro also caused her embarrassment during her failed bid for New York State Attorney General in 2006. During that campaign, she was under criminal investigation for allegedly conspiring with Kerik, then a private eye, to secretly tape record her husband in an attempt to confirm whether he was having an affair with another woman. Pirro was never charged in that investigation and Kerik's plea today clears him in the matter, according to court documents released Thursday.
Kerik had steadfastly maintained his innocence in the federal case. He recently ran afoul of Judge Robinson, who revoked his $500,000 bail on October 20th for allegedly leaking confidential case information in an attempt to taint the jury pool. Behind bars in the Westchester County Jail for two days, he agreed to be transferred to the facility's psychiatric unit to deal with symptoms of stress. After 10 days, jail officials gave him a clean bill of mental health.
Kerik remained in jail after his plea. His lawyers have asked for bail before his sentencing in February and Judge Robinson agreed to consider the request.
Jonathan Dienst WNBC