Bernie Kerik had a talent for making wealthy friends — and then hitting them up for money. It was a talent that prosecutors say crossed the line into bribery on at least one occasion.
Over the weekend, The New York Times revealed the details of another one of those deals. In 2003, while Kerik was on his short stint with the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, Israeli billionaire and industrialist Eitan Wertheimer loaned Kerik $250,000.
But it wasn’t what you’d call a straightforward loan. The money went first to Kerik’s friend and Brooklyn businessman Shimon Cohen, who then passed it on to Kerik. It was provided with no interest, no conditions, and seemingly no questions asked.
There’s even more grounds for suspicion. The loan only came to light after the Bronx district attorney’s office and New York Cityâs Department of Investigation launched an investigation of Kerik’s personal finances in 2005. They interviewed Cohen in June of that year about the loan — he fessed up to having given the money, but said nothing about the fact that Wertheimer had financed it. Nine days later, two years after the loan was originally given, Kerik paid off the loan in full — with interest.
The indictment of Kerik earlier this month included a charge of lying to the Federal Government about the loan (Both Wertheimer and Cohen are identified only as John Does in the indictment.). That’s because when Kerik filled out a financial disclosure form that covered his time in Iraq, he didn’t report it. Prosecutors pointedly mention that Wertheimer’s companies do “business with the federal government.” In other words, it was precisely the sort of conflict of interest that financial disclosure requirements are designed to expose.
Now, the open question is what Wertheimer thought he was getting for his money.
As the Times notes, his “familyâs vast holdings include companies with United States Defense Department contracts.” One of those companies is Blades Technologies, which makes engine parts for Pratt & Whitney, a giant manufacturer of jets for the U.S. He’s also a shareholder of a company called Orsus, a company that designs software for control rooms, which is also a contractor for the DoD and Department of Homeland Security. The list goes on. Presumably Kerik would have been available for a favor.
And keep in mind that at the time Kerik went to Iraq, he was still a partner with Giuliani’s consultancy Giuliani Partners, which he’d joined after stepping down as New York City Police Commissioner at the end of 2001. A spokeswoman for the firm told the Times “the company had not had any business relationship with any of Mr. Wertheimerâs companies during the time Mr. Kerik was affiliated with the business.”
Of course, there’s always the chance that Wertheimer, a noted philanthropist, was just being generous.
Note: The Times has a funny detail that will strike Kerik muck aficionados as classic Kerik:
Mr. Wertheimer met Mr. Kerik through Mr. Cohen, a longtime friend, according to associates, and the two spent time together during Mr. Kerikâs trip to Israel in August 2001. Later that year, as he left his New York City police post, Mr. Kerik handed out 19 gold and blue enamel badges that declared the recipients âHonorary Police Commissioners,â and Mr. Wertheimer received one, as did [Nathan Berman, a real estate developer who has also lent Mr. Kerik money] and Judith Regan, then Mr. Kerikâs lover and publisher. The real estate developer Steven C. Witkoff, who is listed in the indictment as John Doe No. 5, who paid more than $236,000 in rent for Mr. Kerik from 2001 to 2003, also received one of the badges.
Do you see a pattern?