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Rough diamond loses some shine

July 2, 1996

Ever since the Mollen Commission on police corruption disclosed pervasive corruption in the 30th Precinct, tensions have existed between the police department and state and federal prosecutors over the role of the precinct's former executive officer, Capt. Lewis Manetta.

During the Mollen Commission's hearings in 1993, its star witness, ex-cop Barry Brown, identified Manetta, the precinct's Number 2 man from 1990 to 1992, as condoning corruption.

The following year, Sgt. Kevin Nannery, who commanded 10 rogue 30th Precinct cops known as Nannery's Raiders, told prosecutors Manetta had witnessed the Raiders' "booming," or busting down drug dealers' doors without warrants.

Yesterday, William Knox, one of those raiders who along with Nannery subsequently cooperated with the government, was sentenced in federal court to six months in prison. In what may be a final postscript to Manetta's role, the government submitted a letter to the sentencing judge, Lewis Kaplan. The letter quoted Knox and other unnamed officers corroborating what Nannery had said about Manetta.

Despite the earlier allegations, Manetta appeared untouched by the Dirty Thirty scandal. Brown was forced to resign from the department after admitting he committed perjury. Nannery's allegations were discounted as those of a rogue cop trying to save himself.

About the closest anyone came to questioning Manetta occurred when the feds issued him an "invitation" to tell them what he knew. Manetta declined.

Two years ago, Manetta was promoted to commanding officer of the 33rd Precinct. Then First Deputy Commissioner John Timoney, who was respected by some of the very prosecutors who were pursuing 30th Precinct cases, dismissed their concerns and described Manetta as "a tough, unpolished diamond in the rough."

A Dirty Thirty prosecutor put it another way. "I think John was right. Manetta was a diamond in the rough - but maybe too rough."

Printable versionSaid Timoney: "He epitomizes the type of commander I'd want. He gives 110 percent every day of the year." Of the corruption allegations, he said: "I just don't believe them."

Last year, Manetta was rated first in a department survey of all captains in the city. The survey, conducted of the department's entire top brass above the rank of captain, is the first step in the promotion procedure for deputy inspectors. But Manetta wasn't promoted because of the uncorroborated allegations.

Two months later, Brown was forced to resign from the department, after he admitted committing perjury. Two weeks later Manetta retired. "Now that Brown is discredited," said a top cop at the time, "he can walk away."

That appeared to be the last of it - until yesterday, when the Assistant United States Attorney Michael Horowitz submitted the letter for Knox.

"According to Knox and several other members of Nannery's unit who cooperated with the government's investigation," the letter said, "rather than conduct their patrols in a legal manner, the unit members quickly began a practice of booming,' or breaking in, doors in these apartment buildings even though they did not have search warrants . . . In fact Knox and these other former officers told of how, shortly after the . . . unit was first created, the unit members went to an apartment building with the second highest ranking officer in the precinct at the time, who participated with the officers in booming' a door."

That officer was, of course, Louie Manetta.

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Email Leonard Levitt at llevitt@nypdconfidential.com

© 1996 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.