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Cooking books could be stew for Bronx captain

October 28, 1996

Capt. Luis Vega of the 41st Precinct in the Bronx is to be questioned today as the final witness in the department's investigation into whether he manipulated his precinct's crime stats.

Two witnesses testified Friday that Vega ordered them to downgrade arrests for grand larceny, a felony, to petty larceny, a misdemeanor, and to upgrade arrests from criminal trespass, a misdemeanor, to burglary, a felony. Under Vega's command, major crimes fell nearly 40 percent, the greatest decline in the Bronx.

Once the investigation hit the newspapers, Vega was booted from his command, even before the department completed its probe. Chief of Department Louis Anemone, the force's dark prince, announced the action to top brass last week. This apparently reflects Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's concern that doctoring the city's ballyhooed crime-reduction statistics is an explosive political issue.

The NYPD being a swamp of innuendo, people at One Police Plaza were already whispering of intrigues. Was Vega's removal from his command a contract from the Patrolman's Benevolent Association in retaliation for Vega's flopping the precinct's union delegate from an elite warrant squad back to patrol?

Contrast Vega's case with that of Anthony Kissik, formerly captain of the 50th Precinct, who a year ago was accused of ordering his officers not to make arrests in certain assaults. Instead, attackers were charged with harassment, which under the state's penal law is a violation and technically not a crime. Now a year later, Kissik has been promoted to inspector because, the line goes, his actions had no significant impact on precinct crime stats.

Then there's the suggestion that by railroading Vega, the department is swiping at John Timoney, the ex-first deputy, currently the mayor's Public Enemy No. 1. When passed over for the police commissioner's job last April, Timoney called incoming Commissioner Howard Safir a "lightweight" and Giuliani "nuts." The mayor still froths whenever his name is mentioned.

Years ago, Timoney worked under Vega in a Bronx narcotics unit. More recently Vega served as a Hispanic liaison in the Chief of Department's Office, where Timoney worked.

A year ago Vega retired as a lieutenant to head security at Lehman College. While at Lehman, he learned he had made the NYPD's captain's list. He then gave up his police pension and his $65,000 Lehman salary to Printable versionreturn under Timoney to the first deputy's office. Vega has told friends he reported crime only as instructed. Whoever told him that reporting reduced crime could advance his career could become the subject of an expanded investigation.

Still, those familiar with Vega's case say there's no question Vega cooked his precinct's books. "It may be true the PBA was involved," said a top chief. "It may be true he owes his job to Timoney. But I heard the testimony and it's clear what he did. Until last Thursday, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Now it's hard to sympathize."

Vega is resisting urgings of department friends to retire quickly to preserve his pension and reputation. Meanwhile, mayoral wanna-bes are circling like wolves. Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger took the first nip last week, calling for an outside investigation.

Departmental politics being what they are under Giuliani, Vega's friends say his best hope may be his name: not his 35-year reputation as a solid cop, but the fact that he was one of but a handful of Hispanic precinct commanders where in next year's mayoral election Hispanics are seen as the key swing vote.

Unseen and Unheard From. Last week, this column noted that Marilyn ("I have nothing for you") Mode is the department's first deputy commissioner for public information in 20 years to refuse to give her beeper and home phone number to reporters. In the interests of full disclosure, here is the number where she can be reached through the end of the month: 602-252-1234. That's the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Phoenix, where Mode is booked as one of Safir's entourage at the week-long conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police: all expenses paid by the department's private charity, the Police Foundation.

Three of Mode's predecessors, Tom Kelly, John Miller and Alice T. McGillion, never attended the freebee conference, because, said one of them, "There was no reason for the DCPI to be there." A fourth, Suzanne Trazoff, did attend, when former commissioner Lee Brown was sworn in as association president. "I worked all the time I was there," Trazoff reports.

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© 1996 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.