A federal grand jury has voted to indict former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik on charges stemming from the acceptance of free rent and apartment renovations, tax evasion and lying on his application for the job as head of the Department of Homeland Security, two federal sources and a source involved in the defense told ABC News.
As news of the indictment spread, police in suburban White Plains, N.Y., prepared for an expected onslaught of media by setting up police barricades in front of the courthouse and a parking area for television trucks directly across from it, police officials said. And several of Kerik's closest supporters planned to spend the evening with their friend before he turned himself into the government, sources said.
The indictment caps a wide-ranging federal probe into Kerik's affairs that has spanned about a year. While it was not immediately clear what the specific charges were, the government's case as it has been presented to the grand jury has multiple components that would be reflected in a multiple count indictment.
One component stems from $165,000 worth of renovations to an apartment he owned in an upscale section of the Bronx from a contractor who had sought business with New York City.
He was convicted on charges stemming from those same renovations in a state of New York case brought by a prosecutor in the Bronx.
Another component of the case, according to federal sources and sources involved in the defense, stems from a second apartment Kerik used on East 79th Street in Manhattan's posh Upper East Side. In that instance, the rent -- for approximately two years -- was paid by a third party, Steve Witkoff, a commercial real estate developer. Witkoff is in no way implicated in any wrongdoing.
A third part of the case stems from the failure to pay taxes on imputed income stemming from the value of the rent and the renovations -- an amount estimated to be in excess of $300,000. According to sources familiar with the case, at least part of that failure to pay taxes component is linked to Kerik's 2000 federal tax return .
The government is also expected to charge that Kerik lied on a mortgage application and on his application for the job as head of the Department of Homeland Security.
Kerik's reputation took on heroic proportions in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Side by side with "America's Mayor" Rudolph Giuliani, Kerik was seen as part of the glue that held the city together and soon, owing to the support of Giuliani and a bond he had developed with President George Bush, Kerik was nominated to be "America's Police Commissioner" -- the head of the Department of Homeland Security.
The former New York City mayor told ABC News' Jake Tapper in an exclusive interview today that Kerik's indictment does not sully his mayoral record.
"You have to judge that in the overall context, in everything that I did, and how many right decisions did I make and how many wrong decisions did I make," he said. "And the balance is very much in favor of -- I must have been making the right decisions if the city of New York turned around; if crime went down by 60 percent, if homicide went down by 70 percent."
Kerik's fall from grace began on Dec. 3, 2004, the same day that the president announced his appointment.
"Bernie Kerik is one of the most accomplished and effective leaders of law enforcement in America. In his career, he has served as an enlisted military police officer in Korea, a jail warden in New Jersey, a beat cop in Manhattan, New York City corrections commissioner, and as New York's 40th police commissioner -- an office once held by Teddy Roosevelt. In every position, he has demonstrated a deep commitment to justice, a heart for the innocent, and a record of great success," President Bush said.
But by late that same evening, a swirl of allegations of misconduct began to surface. They included the employment of an undocumented immigrant as a nanny and the acceptance of what amounted to large gratuities, according to ABC News accounts at the time and other published reports. Soon Kerik was the subject of a criminal investigation by a New York prosecutor. And within about 18 months after his nomination for the job as head of Homeland Security, on June 30, 2006, Kerik pleaded guilty to accepting more than $165,000 in gifts while a city official and failing to report the money as required. He paid more than $200,000 in fines and was spared any jail time.
Kerik, according to sources involved in preparing his defense, had expected his indictment, and since Wednesday night, his associates have been attempting to raise money for a legal defense fund.
"The Bernard Kerik Legal Defense Trust has been established to allow Mr. Kerik's friends and supporters to assist him in defending himself against possible charges that may be brought against him by the United States Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York," an e-mail sent by the defense fund stated.
The indictment is the latest twist in the tale that began when the child of a prostitute rose to police commissioner of New York City through the edict of Rudy Giuliani, then achieved heroic proportions in the shadow of the collapsing World Trade Center, was gifted a diamond-encrusted chief's badge by a supporter, awarded millions of dollars in stun gun stock options by business clients and given the proffer of a presidential appointment by President Bush to head the Department of Homeland Security.
The early chapters were well-documented by Kerik in his autobiographical account "The Lost Son." The final chapters have yet to be written.
They will very likely include a struggle to pay legal bills, as the defense fund e-mail suggests. They also could result in the sale of his multi-million-dollar New Jersey mansion, a long stretch in federal prison and severe damage to his consulting practice, which includes lucrative contracts with U.S. ally Jordan, according to multiple sources involved in the investigation.
Last spring, Kerik turned down a plea bargain in which the government offered a short prison sentence. Now friends of Kerik attempting to raise money for his defense have found the early going difficult, given that many of Kerik's associates may also have relationships with presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani who is routinely questioned about his relationship with Kerik.
On Monday, Giuliani said that whatever Kerik's failings, he had been an effective corrections commissioner and an effective police commissioner for the city of New York.
"There were mistakes made with Bernie Kerik," Giuliani said in an interview with the Associated Press while in New Hampshire. "But what's the ultimate result for the people of New York City? The ultimate result for the people of New York City was a 74 percent reduction in shootings, a 60 percent reduction in crime, a correction program that went from being one of the worst in the country to one that was on '60 Minutes' as one of the best in the country, 90 percent reduction of violence in the jails."
Giuliani was a staunch supporter of Kerik's nomination by President Bush to head the Homeland Security Department. That nomination fell apart amid allegations that Kerik, while corrections commissioner, paid less than $18,000 to a contractor for nearly $200,000 worth of renovations to his apartment. In 2006, Kerik pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges related to the renovation.
"It was a mistake not checking him out as thoroughly as I should have," Giuliani told the AP about the failed nomination.
Longtime Kerik attorney Joseph Tacopina declined to comment.
Kerik's tax attorney, Ken Breen, was not immediately available for comment, his office said.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York said it does not confirm or deny the existence of the investigations.