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Drug lords duped media, Safir says

December 6, 1996

Police Commissioner Howard Safir yesterday blamed "criminal elements" and "irresponsible politicians" for his fast-fading Dominican drug offensive.

Safir also blamed the media for falling for a public relations offensive by Dominican drug lords, who Safir said are "funding a great deal of this spin" to scuttle his plan.

"Some of you have been victims of that spin," he told reporters at One Police Plaza yesterday.

Safir did not mention the Caribbean nation's Roman Catholic cardinal, Nicholas DeJesus Lopez Rodriguez, who in his homily Sunday criticized what has become Safir's Dominican debacle.

Instead, without naming anyone, Safir said, "The criminal element in the Dominican Republic is funding a great deal of this spin as well as irresponsible politicians who are trying to use this as a political issue."

Safir did name Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger, who recently visited the Dominican Republic, saying she "didn't have a clue to what is going on and is running for mayor and not caring about criminals."

Standing at his side, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani called Safir's plan - which Safir now says was limited to stationing two cops in the Dominican Republic's capital - "courageous" and "a valid law enforcement objective."

Giuliani added, also without naming anyone: "People deliberately misinterpreted his proposal."

Actually, the details of the proposal, first reported in the New York Post on Nov. 18 under the front-page headline, "RUDY TO THE RESCUE," implied much more. Two subheadlines read: "He's off to close deal to station NY cops in Dominican Republic" and "Rudy to seal deal for NYPD's Dominican drug outpost."

Neither Giuliani nor Safir objected to the way the Post trumpeted the story.

After the plan drew flak in the Dominican Republic, Giuliani denied ever saying he planned to visit there. Printable versionSafir now criticizes the word "outpost" as incorrect, although there is no indication he objected when it was first reported.

Safir's most recent attempt to justify his program has caused him and Giuliani all sorts of grief, even with such recognized pro-Giuliani organizations as the Hispanic Society of Police Officers.

On Tuesday, the society's president, Robert Maldonado, demanded Safir apologize for statements in the Daily News by department spokeswoman Marilyn Mode, who was quoted as saying that the Dominican Republic's president, Leonel Fernandez, "may not fully understand the proposal."

"The obvious implication," said Maldonado, "is that President Fernandez is not sophisticated enough to understand what Safir wanted to do."

A call by Newsday to Mode was referred to Yolanda Jimenez, the deputy commissioner for Community Affairs, the department's highest-ranking Hispanic official. Meanwhile, Messinger lambasted Safir and Giuliani for their most recent justification of the program, which called for the return of three killers, supposedly hiding in the Dominican Republic. They are suspects in the murders of three children in New York from 1989 to 1993.

"I was astonished to read . . . that only very recently has the NYPD decided to place the alleged murderers of three New Yorkers at the top of our department's most wanted fugitives," Messinger said yesterday. "While your decision is a sound one, your timing is very, very suspect and, some have even suggested, politically motivated."

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Email Leonard Levitt at llevitt@nypdconfidential.com

© 1996 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.