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Posts Tagged ‘ROBERT LEUCI’

A TALE OF TWO EMPERORS—ROMAN AND AMERICAN: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 11, 2019 at 12:06 am

Unlike Gaius Caligula, Donald Trump hasn’t yet been charged with murder. But he has often boasted: “Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe that.”

And during his rise as a business mogul, he hired mobbed-up firms to erect Trump Tower and his Trump Plaza apartment building in Manhattan. Among his business associates: Mafia bosses Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno and Paul Castellano.

If Trump hasn’t ordered rub-outs, there’s no question that many of the mobsters he’s dealt with have.

And during his second Presidential debate with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, he previewed the dangers of a Trump Justice Department: “If I win I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation.”  

Reports have since emerged that he tried to pressure Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein into prosecuting Clinton—even though there was no evidence that she had committed a crime.

As emperor of Rome, Caligula’s egomania soon reached psychotic heights.

  • He  gave himself several surnames: “Pious,” “Child of the Camp,” “Father of the Armies,” and “Greatest and Best of Caesars.”
  • Flattered that he had risen higher than princes and kings, he began to believe himself a god.
  • He appeared at the temple of Castor and Pollux to be worshiped as Jupiter Latiaris.
  • He also set up a special temple to his own godhead.

Gaius Caligula

Trump’s egomania is literally stamped on his properties. Of the 515 entities he owns, 268 of them—52%—bear his last name. He often refers to his properties as “the swankiest,” “the most beautiful.”  

Among the references he’s made to himself: 

  • “My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.” 
  • “I think the only difference between me and the other candidates is that I’m more honest and my women are more beautiful.”
  • “My Twitter has become so powerful that I can actually make my enemies tell the truth.”
  • “My IQ is one of the highest—and you all know it.”

When Caligula wasn’t ordering wholesale Stalin-like purges—ranging from Roman aristocrats to slaves—he was setting new records for debauchery.

According to the Roman historian Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus: “He lived in habitual incest with all his [three] sisters, and at a large banquet he placed each of them in turn below him, while his wife reclined above. Of these he is believed to have violated Drusilla when he was still a minor.”

Trump has never been charged with incest, but he’s repeatedly made sexually inappropriate comments about his daughter, Ivanka:  

  • “Yeah, she’s really something, and what a beauty, that one. If I weren’t happily married and, ya know, her father …”
  • When Trump appeared on the Dr. Oz Show, he was joined on stage by Ivanka. After they kissed, Dr. Oz said: “It’s nice to see a dad kiss his daughter.” Trump: “I kiss her every chance I get.”  The remark was edited before the show aired.
  • When asked how he would react if Ivanka, a former teen model, posed forPlayboy, Trump replied: “I don’t think Ivanka would do that, although she does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”  

I

Ivanka Trump

For all his cruelty and egomania, the trait that finally destroyed Caligula was his joy in humiliating others. 

His fatal mistake was to taunt Cassius Chaerea, a member of his own bodyguard. Caligula considered Chaerea effeminate because of a weak voice and mocked him with names like “Priapus” and “Venus.”

On January 22 41 A.D. Chaerea and several other bodyguards hacked Caligula to death with swords before other guards could save him.

Like Caligula, Trump may find that his joy in inflicting suffering on others may ultimately destroy him.

By December 28, 2018, the New York Times estimated that Trump had insulted 551 people, places and institutions since declaring his candidacy for President in 2015.  

Before taking office as President, Trump added to this list the United States Secret Service. He did so by keeping his longtime private security force, and combining its members with those of the elite federal agency.

Marginalizing the Secret Service sent a clear and insulting message: “You’re not good enough, and I don’t trust you.”

Among the agencies directly affected by the Trump-ordered government shutdown, now into its 18th day: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—whose employees include the Secret Service agents who protect Trump.

In short: The men and women guarding Trump are facing financial ruin—along with their families—because Trump didn’t get his way on “The Wall.” 

In the 1981 movie, Prince of the City—based on the real-life career of NYPD Detective Robert Leuci—a Mafia killer warns a cop who will soon testify against police corruption: “Anybody can be hit. You know that. All those guards have to do is look the wrong way for a second.”

Secret Service agents now face a choice: To take a bullet for a tyrant masquerading as President—or for their families threatened with ruin.

It remains to be seen if Trump suffers the same fate of Caligula.

A TALE OF TWO EMPERORS—ROMAN AND AMERICAN: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 10, 2019 at 12:06 am

Like Gaius Caligula, the “mad emperor” of ancient Rome, Donald Trump can truly say: “Let them hate me, so long as they fear me.”

In fact, he said exactly that to Bob Woodward, the legendary Washington Post investigative reporter: “Real power is—I don’t even want to use the word—fear.”

Similarities between Trump and Caligula emerged well before Trump entered the White House.

On October 7, 2016, The Washington Post leaked a video of Donald Trump making sexually predatory comments about women.

The remarks came during a 2005 exchange with Billy Bush, then the host of Access Hollywood (and now host of Today). 

Billy Bush

Daniel S.-L. [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

The two were traveling in an Access Hollywood bus to the set of the soap opera Days of Our Lives, where Trump was to make a cameo appearance.

Neither Trump nor Bush could be seen during the exchange–the video focuses entirely on the bus. But the audio came in clearly–and, for Trump, damningly:

Donald Trump:You know and I moved on her actually. You know she was down on Palm Beach. I moved on her and I failed. I’ll admit it.  I did try and fuck her. She was married.

Unknown: That’s huge news.

Trump:No, no, Nancy. No this was—and I moved on her very heavily, in fact, I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture.

I took her out furniture. I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there, and she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.

[At that point, they spot Arianne Zucker, the starring actress in Days in Our Lives.] 

Arianne Zucker

Greg Hernandez from California, CA, USA [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Bush: Sheesh, your girl’s hot as shit. In the purple. Yes! The Donald has scored. Whoa, my man!

Trump: Look at you. You are a pussy. Maybe it’s a different one.

Bush: It better not be the publicist. No, it’s her. It’s—

Trump: Yeah, that’s her. With the gold. I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.

Bush: Whatever you want.

Trump: Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything. 

Gaius Caligula—who lived in open incest with his three sisters—couldn’t have said it better. 

When the Washington Post broke the story on October 7, the reaction was immediate—and explosive. 

Caligula’s life spanned August 31, 12 A.D. to January 24, 41 A.D. His chief biographer was Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus.

Gaius Caligula

Trump was born on June 14, 1946.

Caligula became Emperor in 37 A.D. after succeeding the Emperor Tiberius, his uncle who had adopted him as a son after his father died.

Trump was elected President on November 8, 2016, after winning 304 electoral votes to 227 for his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Trump began his real estate career at his father’s real estate and construction company. He rose to wealth and fame after his father, Fred, gave him control of the business in 1971.

Caligula’s reign began well—and popularly. He gave Tiberius a magnificent funeral—then recalled to Rome all those whom Tiberius had banished, and ignored all charges that Tiberius had leveled against them.

He gave bonuses to the military and destroyed lists of those Tiberius had declared traitors. He allowed the magistrates unrestricted jurisdiction, without appeal to himself.

Similarly, soon after acquiring the family business, Trump set out to build his own empire—hotels, golf courses, casinos, skyscrapers across North and South America, Europe and Asia. He named many of them after himself.

He appeared at the Miss USA pageants, which he owned from 1996 to 2015. He hosted and co-produced The Apprentice, an NBC reality television series from 2004 to 2015.

The ancient historians describe Caligula as a noble and enlightened ruler during the first six months of his reign. But in October 37 A.D. he fell seriously ill or perhaps was poisoned.

Caligula soon recovered but emerged a changed man. He began laying claim to divine majesty, and killing or exiling anyone he saw as a threat.  

Among his litany of crimes, according to his biographer, Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus:

“He forced parents to attend the executions of their sons, sending a litter for one man who pleaded ill health, and inviting another to dinner immediately after witnessing the death, and trying to rouse him to gaiety and jesting by a great show of affability.”

He favorite method of execution was to have a victim tortured with many slight wounds. His infamous order for this: “Strike so that he may feel that he is dying.”   

Similarly, Trump delights in personal cruelties. During his campaign he encouraged Right-wing thugs to attack dissenters, even claiming he would pay their legal expenses.

He mocked  Christine Blasey Ford, the psychology professor who accused his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, of trying to rape her when she was a teenager. 

And he delights in belittling his own Cabinet members: “He’s like a little rat. He just scurries around,” he said of Reince Priebus, his chief of staff.

A TALE OF TWO EMPERORS—ROMAN AND AMERICAN: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 9, 2019 at 12:11 am

January 20, 2019, will mark exactly two years since Donald Trump’s took the oath of office as the 45th President of the United States. 

He’s thus held power almost as long as Gaius Caligula, who ruled the Roman empire for three years, ten months and eight days.

It was Caligula who, as the “mad emperor” of Rome, once said: “Bear in mind that I can treat anyone exactly as I please.” And Trump has made it abundantly clear he believes he has the same right. 

Latest case in point: The continuing shutdown of the Federal Government.

The reason: Trump’s demand for $5.billion to partially fund a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border—and the refusal of House Democrats to give it to him. 

As a Presidential candidate in 2016, Trump had claimed: “I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great great wall on our southern border and I’ll have Mexico pay for that wall.” 

To Trump’s rabidly anti-Mexican audiences, that sounded great. It was the most important reason most of them had—and gave—for voting for him.

But then something unexpected—at least by Trump—happened: Mexico refused to pay for it. 

That left Trump scrambling.

So that left Trump with only one way out: Forcing  Americans to pay for it.

Threatening to shut down the Federal Government if he didn’t get his way—and his wall funding.

Donald Trump

On December 11, he met in the Oval Office with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer. And, true to his love of publicity, Trump made sure it was televised live. 

He lost no time in making his demand—and threat:“And one way or the other, it’s going to get built. I’d like not to see a government closing, a shutdown. We will see what happens over the next short period of time.” 

“One way or the other”—“so doer so”—was a favorite phrase of Adolf Hitler’s, meaning: If he couldn’t bully his opponents into surrendering, he would use violence.

Pelosi responded: “I think the American people recognize that we must keep government open, that a shutdown is not worth anything, and that you should not have a Trump shutdown.”

“We do not want to shut down the government,” said Schumer, echoing her. You have called 20 times to shut down the government….We want to come to an agreement.

“If we can’t come to an agreement, we have solutions that will pass the House and Senate right now, and will not shut down the government. And that’s what we’re urging you to do. Not threaten to shut down the government because you can’t get your way.”

Trump, taking the bait, then said: “I’ll take it. You know what I’ll say: Yes, if we don’t get what we want, one way or the other…I will shut down the government. Absolutely.” 

But Republican leaders in Congress didn’t want to be blamed for shutting down the government, seemed to persuade him to back away from his threat. The Senate passed a short-term funding measure without his wall money. Vice President Mike Pence told lawmakers that Trump was open to approving it 

Then the Fox News Network stepped in.

Related image

“I think a lot of people who voted for President Trump counted on him on this particular issue,” Fox & Friends host Jedediah Bila said.

“I think their feet were to the fire. And you see a lot of people around the country saying: ‘Hold on a second. You told us that you weren’t afraid to shut down the government, that’s why we like you. What happened? You just gave in right away?’”

And Right-wing columnist Ann Coulter said: “Trump will just have been a joke presidency who scammed the American people, amused the populists for a while, but he’ll have no legacy whatsoever.

“Trump will very likely not finish his term and definitely not be elected to a second term.”

For a man who has “joked” that having a “President-for-Life” would be “great,” Coulter’s words are a nightmare.

On December 22, 2018, Trump shut down the government.

Well, not entirely.  An estimated 380,000 government employees were furloughed and another 420,000 were ordered to work without pay.

By January 9, 2019, Trump showed no signs of backing down. 

So the Federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) suggested that employees unable to pay rent could work for their landlords as a form of compensation! 

Seal of the United States Office of Personnel Management.svg

The OPM also tweeted a link to letter templates that could be sent to creditors, mortgage companies or landlords explaining why bills couldn’t be paid.

The message ended:  “If you need legal advice please consult with your personal attorney.” 

That assumed that Federal workers could afford a personal attorney.  A 2017 survey from CareerBuilder found that 78% of fulltime American workers lived paycheck-to-paycheck.

COPS AND DRUGS

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on February 26, 2016 at 12:05 am

It’s a movie that appeared in 1981–making it, for those born in 2000, an oldie. 

And it wasn’t a blockbuster, being yanked out of theaters almost as soon as it arrived. 

Yet “Prince of the City” remains that rarity–a movie about big-city police that:

  • Tells a dramatic (and true) story; and
  • Offers serious truths about how police and prosecutors really operate. 

It’s based on the real-life case of NYPD Detective Robert Leuci (“Danny Ciello” in the film). 

Robert Leuci (“Danny Ciello” in “Prince of the City”)

A member of the elite Special Investigating Unit (SIU) Ciello (played by Treat Williams) volunteers to work undercover against rampant corruption among narcotics agents, attorneys and bail bondsmen. 

His motive appears simple: To redeem himself and the NYPD from the corruption he sees everywhere: “These people we take from own us.” 

His only condition: “I will never betray cops who’ve been my partners.” 

And Assistant US Attorney Rick Cappalino assures Ciello: “We’ll never make you do something you can’t live with.” 

As the almost three-hour movie unfolds, Ciello finds–to his growing dismay–that there are a great many things he will have to learn to live with. 

Treat Williams as “Danny Ciello”

Although he doesn’t have a hand in it, he’s appalled to learn that Gino Moscone, a former buddy, is going to be arrested for taking bribes from drug dealers. 

Confronted by a high-ranking agent for the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency, Moscone refuses to “rat out” his buddies. Instead, he puts his service revolver to his head and blows out his brains.  

Ciello is devastated, but the investigation–and film–must go on. 

Along the way, he’s suspected by a corrupt cop and bail bondsman of being a “rat” and threatened with death. 

He’s about to be wasted in a back alley when his cousin–a Mafia member–suddenly intervenes. The Mafioso tells Ciello’s would-be killers: “You’d better be sure he’s a rat, because people like him.”

At which point, the grotesquely fat bail bondsman–who has been demanding Ciello’s execution–pats Danny on the arm and says, “No hard feelings.”

It is director Sidney Lumet’s way of graphically saying: “Sometimes the bad guys can be good guys–and the good guys can be bad guys.”

Prince Of The City folded.jpg

Lumet makes it clear that police don’t always operate with the Godlike perfection of cops in TV and films. It’s precisely because his Federal backup agents lost him that Ciello almost became a casualty.  

In the end, Ciello becomes a victim of the prosecutorial forces he has unleashed.  Although he’s vowed to never testify against his former partners, Ciello finds this is a promise he can’t keep.

Too many of the cops he’s responsible for indicting have implicated him of similar–if not worse–behavior. He’s even suspected of being involved in the theft of 450 pounds of heroin (“the French Connection”) from the police property room.

A sympathetic prosecutor–Mario Vincente in the movie, Rudolph Giuliani in real-life–convinces Ciello that he must finally reveal everything he knows.

Ciello’s had originally claimed to have done “three things” as a corrupt narcotics agent. By the time his true confessions are over, he’s admitted to scores of felonies.

Ciello then tries to convince his longtime SIU partners to do the same. One of them commits suicide.  Another tells Ciello to screw himself:  “I’m not going to shoot myself and I’m not going to rat out my friends.”

To his surprise, Ciello finds himself admiring his corrupt former partner for being willing to stand up to the Federal case-agents and prosecutors demanding his head.

The movie ends with a double dose of irony.

First: Armed with Ciello’s confessions, an attorney whom Ciello had successfully testified against appeals his conviction. But the judge rules Ciello’s admitted misdeeds to be “collateral,” apart from the main evidence in the case, and affirms the conviction.

Second: Ciello is himself placed on trial–of a sort. A large group of assistant U.S. attorneys gathers to debate whether their prize “canary” should be indicted. If he is, his confessions will ensure his conviction.

Some prosecutors argue forcefully that Ciello is a corrupt law enforcement officer who has admitted to more than 40 cases of perjury–among other crimes. How can the government use him to convict others and not address the criminality in his own past?

Other prosecutors argue that Ciello voluntarily risked his life–physically and professionally–to expose rampant police corruption. He deserves a better deal than to be cast aside by those who have made so many cases through his testimony.

Eventually, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York makes his decision: “The government declines to prosecute Detective Daniel Ciello.”

It is Lumet’s way of showing that the decision to prosecute is not always an easy or objective one.

The movie ends with Ciello now teaching surveillance classes at the NYPD Academy. 

A student asks: “Are you the Detective Ciello?”

“I’m Detective Ciello.”

“I don’t think I have anything to learn from you.”  And he walks out.

Is Danny Ciello–again, Robert Leuci in real-life–a hero, a villain, or some combination of the two? It is with this ambiguity that the film ends–an ambiguity that each viewer must resolve for himself.

INFORMANTS VS. RATS

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement on December 3, 2014 at 12:00 am

In the 1981 police drama, “Prince of the City,” both cops and criminals use plenty of four-letter words.

But the word both groups consider the most obscene is spelled is spelled with three letters: R-a-t.

The movie is based on the true-life story of former NYPD detective Robert Leuci (“Danny Ciello” in the film, and played by Treat Williams).  It’s based on the best-selling nonfiction book, Prince of the City, by Robert Daley, a former deputy commissioner with NYPD.

Leuci/Ciello volunteers to work undercover against massive corruption among lawyers, bail bondsmen and even his fellow narcotics agents.

Along the way, the movie gives viewers numerous insights into not only how real-world cops work but how they see the world–and their role in it.

Robert Leuci (“Danny Ciello” in “Prince of the City”)

In its first scenes, “Prince” shows members of the elite Special Investigating Unit (SIU) preparing for a major raid on an apartment of Columbian drug-dealers.

Ciello, sitting in a restaurant, gets a tip on the Columbians from one of his informants.  He then phones it in to his fellow officers.  Together, they raid the apartment, assault the dealers, and confiscate their drugs and money.

The film makes it clear that even an elite detective squad can’t operate effectively without informants.  And in narcotics cases, these are either addicts willing to sell out their suppliers or other drug-dealers willing to sell out their competitors.

For the cops, the payoff is information that leads to arrests.  In the case of the SIU, that means big, headline-grabbing arrests.

Drug raid

With their superiors happy, the stree-level detectives are largely unsupervised–which is how they like it.  Because most of them are doing a brisk business shaking down drug-dealers for their cash.

For their informants, the payoffs come in several forms, including:

  • Allowing addicts to continue using illegal drugs.
  • Supplying addicts with drugs, such as heroin.
  • Allowing drug-dealers to continue doing business.
  • Supplying drug-dealers with information about upcoming police raids on their locations.

All of these activities are strictly against the law.  But to the men charged with enforcing anti-narcotics laws, this is the price to be paid for effective policing.

But not all police informants are criminals.  Many of them work in highly technical industries–such as  phone companies.

A “connection” such as this is truly prized.  With it, a detective can illegally eavesdrop on the conversations of those he’s targeting.

He doesn’t have to go through the hassles of getting a court-approved wiretap.  Assuming he has enough evidence to convince a judge to grant such a wiretap.

A top priority for any cop–especially a narcotics cop–is protecting the identities of his informants.

At the very least, exposing such identities could lead to embarrassment, unemployment, arrest and imprisonment.  At worst, it could lead to the murder of those informants by enraged criminals.

But there is another reason for protecting the identity of informants: The cop who amasses a roster of prized informants is seen as someone special within the police department, by colleagues and superiors alike.

He knows “something” they do not.  And that “something” allows him to make a lot of arrests–which, in turn, reflects well on the police department.

If those arrests end in convictions, his status within the department is further enhanced.

But while a cop is always on the lookout for informants against potential targets, that doesn’t prevent him from generally holding such people in contempt.

“Rats,” “finks,” “stool pigeons,” “canaries,” “informers”–these are among the more printable terms (for most media) cops use to describe those who betray the trust of others.

Such terms are never used by cops when speaking to their informants.

For cops, the most feared- and -hated part of every police department is its Internal Affairs Division (IAD).  This is the unit charged with investigating allegations of illegal behavior by police.

For most cops, IAD represents the devil incarnate.  Any officer who would be willing to “lock up” a “brother officer” is considered a traitor to the police brotherhood.

Even if that “brother officer” is engaging in behavior that completely violates his sworn oath “to protect and serve.”

In “Prince of the City,” Danny Ciello gives voice to just these feelings.

He’s preparing to betray the trust of his fellow narcotics officers by exposing the massive corruption among them.  Yet he fiercely rejects the idea that he is a “rat.”

“A rat is when they catch you and make you an informer,” he tells his wife.  “This is my game.”

Ciello has volunteered to obtain evidence of corruption; he’s not under some prosecutor’s thumb.  That, to him, makes him different from a “rat.”

Of course, once Ciello’s cover is blown and his fellow cops learn what he has done, they will forever brand him a “rat,” the worst sort of turncoat.

The movie ends with Ciello now teaching surveillance classes at the NYPD Academy.  A student asks: “Are you the Detective Ciello?”

“I’m Detective Ciello.”

“I don’t think I have anything to learn from you.”

For viewers seeking to learn the workings–and mindsets–of real-world police agencies,  “Prince of the City” has a great many lessons to teach.

THE TRUTH ABOUT COPS–AND DRUGS

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on May 7, 2014 at 12:02 am

It’s a movie that appeared 32 years ago–making it, for those born in 2000, an oldie.  And it wasn’t a blockbuster, being yanked out of theaters almost as soon as it arrived.

Yet “Prince of the City” (1981) remains that rarity–a movie about big-city police that

  • Tells a dramatic (and true) story, and
  • Offers serious truths for those who want to know how police and prosecutorial bureaucracies really operate.

It’s based on the real-life case of NYPD Detective Robert Leuci (“Danny Ciello” in the film).

Robert Leuci

A member of the elite Special Investigating Unit (SIU) Ciello (played by Treat Williams) volunteers to work undercover against rampant corruption among narcotics agents, attorneys and bail bondsmen.

His motive appears simple: To redeem himself and the NYPD from the corruption he sees everywhere:  “These people we take from own us.”

His only condition: “I will never betray cops who’ve been my partners.”

Assistant US Attorney Rick Cappalino assures Ciello: “We’ll never make you do something you can’t live with.”

As the almost three-hour movie unfolds, Ciello finds–to his growing dismay–that there are a great many things he will have to learn to live with.

Although he doesn’t have a hand in it, he’s appalled to learn that Gino Moscone, a former buddy, is going to be arrested for taking bribes from drug dealers.

Confronted by a high-ranking agent for the Drug Enforcement Agency, Moscone refuses to “rat out” his buddies.

Instead, he puts his service revolver to his head and blows out his brains.

Prince Of The City folded.jpg

Ciello is devastated, but the investigation–and film–must go on.

Along the way, he’s suspected by a corrupt cop and bail bondsman of being a “rat” and threatened with death.  He’s about to be wasted in a back alley when his cousin–a Mafia member–suddenly intervenes.

The Mafioso tells Ciello’s would-be killers: “You’d better be sure he’s a rat, because people like him.”

At which point, the grotesquely fat bail bondsman–who has been demanding Ciello’s execution–pats Danny on the arm and says, “No hard feelings.”

It is director Sidney Lumet’s way of graphically saying: “Sometimes the bad guys can be good guys–and the good guys can be bad guys.”

Lumet makes it clear that police don’t always operate with the Godlike perfection of cops in TV and films. It’s precisely because his Federal backup agents lost him that Ciello almost became a casualty.

In the end, Ciello becomes a victim of the prosecutorial forces he has unleashed.  Although he’s vowed to  never testify against his former partners, Ciello finds this a promise he can’t keep.

Too many of the cops he’s responsible for indicting have implicated him of similar–if not worse–behavior.

He’s even suspected of being involved in the theft of 450 pounds of heroin (“the French Connection”) from the police property room.

A sympathetic prosecutor–Mario Vincente in the movie, Rudolph Giuliani in real-life–convinces Ciello that he must finally reveal everything he knows.

Ciello’s had originally claimed to have done “three things” as a corrupt narcotics agent.  By the time his true confessions are over, he’s admitted to scores of felonies.

Ciello then tries to convince his longtime SIU partners to do the same.

One of them commits suicide.  Another tells Ciello to screw himself:  “I’m not going to shoot myself and I’m not going to rat out my friends.”

To his surprise, Ciello finds himself admiring his corrupt former partner for being willing to stand up to the Federal case-agents and prosecutors demanding his head.

The movie ends with a double dose of irony.

First: Armed with Ciello’s confessions, an attorney whom Ciello had successfully testified against appeals his conviction.  But the judge rules these to be “collateral,” apart from the main evidence in the case, and affirms the conviction.

Second: Ciello is himself placed on trial–of a sort.  A large group of assistant U.S. attorneys gathers to debate whether their prize “canary” should be indicted.

If he is, his confessions will ensure his conviction.

Some prosecutors argue forcefully that Ciello is a corrupt law enforcement officer who has admitted to more than 40 cases of perjury–among other crimes.  How can the government use him to convict others and not address the criminality in his own past?

Other prosecutors argue that Ciello voluntarily risked his life–physically and professionally–to expose rampant police corruption.  He deserves a better deal than to be cast aside by those who have made so many cases through his testimony.

Eventually, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York makes his decision: “The government declines to prosecute Detective Daniel Ciello.”

It is Lumet’s way of showing that the decision to prosecute is not always an easy or objective one.

The movie ends with Ciello now teaching surveillance classes at the NYPD Academy.  A student asks: “Are you the Detective Ciello?”

“I’m Detective Ciello.”

“I don’t think I have anything to learn from you.”

Is Danny Ciello–again, Robert Leuci in real-life–a hero, a villain, or some combination of the two?  It is with this ambiguity that the film ends–an ambiguity that each viewer must resolve for himself.

INFORMANTS VS. RATS

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on October 31, 2013 at 2:09 am

In the 1981 police drama, “Prince of the City,” both cops and criminals use plenty of four-letter words.

But the word both groups consider the most obscene is spelled is spelled with three letters: R-a-t.

The movie is based on the true-life story of former NYPD detective Robert Leuci (“Danny Ciello” in the film, and played by Treat Williams).  It’s based on the best-selling nonfiction book, Prince of the City, by Robert Daley, a former deputy commissioner with NYPD.

Leuci/Ciello volunteers to work undercover against massive corruption among lawyers, bail bondsmen and even his fellow narcotics agents.

Along the way, the movie gives viewers numerous insights into not only how real-world cops work but how they see the world–and their role in it.

In its first scenes, “Prince” shows members of the elite Special Investigating Unit (SIU) preparing for a major raid on an apartment of Columbian drug-dealers.

Ciello, sitting in a restaurant, gets a tip on the Columbians from one of his informants.  He then phones it in to his fellow officers.  Together, they raid the apartment, assault the dealers, and confiscate their drugs and money.

The film makes it clear that even an elite detective squad can’t operate effectively without informants.  And in narcotics cases, these are either addicts willing to sell out their suppliers or other drug-dealers willing to sell out their competitors.

For the cops, the payoff is information that leads to arrests.  In the case of the SIU, that means big, headline-grabbing arrests.

With their superiors happy, the stree-level detectives are largely unsupervised–which is how they like it.  Because most of them are doing a brisk business shaking down drug-dealers for their cash.

For their informants, the payoffs come in several forms, including:

  • Allowing addicts to continue using illegal drugs.
  • Supplying addicts with drugs, such as heroin.
  • Allowing drug-dealers to continue doing business.
  • Supplying drug-dealers with information about upcoming police raids on their locations.

All of these activities are strictly against the law.  But to the men charged with enforcing anti-narcotics laws, this is the price to be paid for effective policing.

But not all police informants are criminals.  Many of them work in highly technical industries–such as  phone companies.

A “connection” such as this is truly prized.  With it, a detective can illegally eavesdrop on the conversations of those he’s targeting.

He doesn’t have to go through the hassles of getting a court-approved wiretap.  Assuming he has enough evidence to convince a judge to grant such a wiretap.

A top priority for any cop–especially a narcotics cop–is protecting the identities of his informants.

At the very least, exposing such identities could lead to embarrassment, unemployment, arrest and imprisonment.  At worst, it could lead to the murder of those informants by enraged criminals.

But there is another reason for protecting the identity of informants: The cop who amasses a roster of prized informants is seen as someone special within the police department, by colleagues and superiors alike.

He knows “something” they do not.  And that “something” allows him to make a lot of arrests–which, in turn, reflects well on the police department.

If those arrests end in convictions, his status within the department is further enhanced.

But while a cop is always on the lookout for informants against potential targets, that doesn’t prevent him from generally holding such people in contempt.

“Rats,” “finks,” “stool pigeons,” “canaries,” “informers”–these are among the more printable terms (for most media) cops use to describe those who betray the trust of others.

Such terms are never used by cops when speaking to their informants.

For cops, the most feared- and -hated part of every police department is its Internal Affairs Division (IAD).  This is the unit charged with investigating allegations of illegal behavior by police.

For most cops, IAD represents the devil incarnate.  Any officer who would be willing to “lock up” a “brother officer” is considered a traitor to the police brotherhood.

Even if that “brother officer” is engaging in behavior that completely violates his sworn oath “to protect and serve.”

In “Prince of the City,” Danny Ciello gives voice to just these feelings.

He’s preparing to betray the trust of his fellow narcotics officers by exposing the massive corruption among them.  Yet he fiercely rejects the idea that he is a “rat.”

“A rat is when they catch you and make you an informer,” he tells his wife.  “This is my game.”

Ciello has volunteered to obtain evidence of corruption; he’s not under some prosecutor’s thumb.  That, to him, makes him different from a “rat.”

Of course, once Ciello’s cover is blown and his fellow cops learn what he has done, they will forever brand him a “rat,” the worst sort of turncoat.

The movie ends with Ciello now teaching surveillance classes at the NYPD Academy.  A student asks: “Are you the Detective Ciello?”

“I’m Detective Ciello.”

“I don’t think I have anything to learn from you.”

For viewers seeking to learn the workings–and mindsets–of real-world police agencies,  “Prince of the City” has a great many lessons to teach.

THE TRUTH ABOUT COPS–AND A GREAT MOVIE

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on October 30, 2013 at 1:36 am

It’s a movie that appeared in 1981–making it, for those born in 2000, an oldie.  And it wasn’t a blockbuster, being yanked out of theaters almost as soon as it arrived.

Yet “Prince of the City” remains that rarity–a movie about big-city police that

  • Tells a dramatic (and true) story, and
  • Offers serious truths for those who want to know how police and prosecutors really operate.

It’s based on the real-life case of NYPD Detective Robert Leuci (“Danny Ciello” in the film).

A member of the elite Special Investigating Unit (SIU) Ciello (played by Treat Williams) volunteers to work undercover against rampant corruption among narcotics agents, attorneys and bail bondsmen.

His motive appears simple: To redeem himself and the NYPD from the corruption he sees everywhere:  “These people we take from own us.”

His only condition: “I will never betray cops who’ve been my partners.”

Assistant US Attorney Rick Cappalino assures Ciello: “We’ll never make you do something you can’t live with.”

As the almost three-hour movie unfolds, Ciello finds–to his growing dismay–that there are a great many things he will have to learn to live with.

Although he doesn’t have a hand in it, he’s appalled to learn that Gino Moscone, a former buddy, is going to be arrested for taking bribes from drug dealers.

Confronted by a high-ranking agent for the Drug Enforcement Agency, Moscone refuses to “rat out” his buddies.

Instead, he puts his service revolver to his head and blows out his brains.

Prince Of The City folded.jpg

Ciello is devastated, but the investigation–and film–must go on.

Along the way, he’s suspected by a corrupt cop and bail bondsman of being a “rat” and threatened with death.  He’s about to be wasted in a back alley when his cousin–a Mafia member–suddenly intervenes.

The Mafioso tells Ciello’s would-be killers: “You’d better be sure he’s a rat, because people like him.”

At which point, the grotesquely fat bail bondsman–who has been demanding Ciello’s execution–pats Danny on the arm and says, “No hard feelings.”

It is director Sidney Lumet’s way of graphically saying: “Sometimes the bad guys can be good guys–and the good guys can be bad guys.”

Lumet makes it clear that police don’t always operate with the Godlike perfection of cops in TV and films. It’s precisely because his Federal backup agents lost him that Ciello almost became a casualty.

In the end, Ciello becomes a victim of the prosecutorial forces he has unleashed.  Although he’s vowed to  never testify against his former partners, Ciello finds this a promise he can’t keep.

Too many of the cops he’s responsible for indicting have implicated him of similar–if not worse–behavior.

He’s even suspected of being involved in the theft of 450 pounds of heroin (“the French Connection”) from the police property room.

A sympathetic prosecutor–Mario Vincente in the movie, Rudolph Giuliani in real-life–convinces Ciello that he must finally reveal everything he knows.

Ciello’s had originally claimed to have done “three things” as a corrupt narcotics agent.  By the time his true confessions are over, he’s admitted to scores of felonies.

Ciello then tries to convince his longtime SIU partners to do the same.

One of them commits suicide.  Another tells Ciello to screw himself:  “I’m not going to shoot myself and I’m not going to rat out my friends.”

To his surprise, Ciello finds himself admiring his corrupt former partner for being willing to stand up to the Federal case-agents and prosecutors demanding his head.

The movie ends with a double dose of irony.

First: Armed with Ciello’s confessions, an attorney whom Ciello had successfully testified against appeals his conviction.  But the judge rules these to be “collateral,” apart from the main evidence in the case, and affirms the conviction.

Second: Ciello is himself placed on trial–of a sort.  A large group of assistant U.S. attorneys gathers to debate whether their prize “canary” should be indicted.

If he is, his confessions will ensure his conviction.

Some prosecutors argue forcefully that Ciello is a corrupt law enforcement officer who has admitted to more than 40 cases of perjury–among other crimes.  How can the government use him to convict others and not address the criminality in his own past?

Other prosecutors argue that Ciello voluntarily risked his life–physically and professionally–to expose rampant police corruption.  He deserves a better deal than to be cast aside by those who have made so many cases through his testimony.

Eventually, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York makes his decision: “The government declines to prosecute Detective Daniel Ciello.”

It is Lumet’s way of showing that the decision to prosecute is not always an easy or objective one.

The movie ends with Ciello now teaching surveillance classes at the NYPD Academy.  A student asks: “Are you the Detective Ciello?”

“I’m Detective Ciello.”

“I don’t think I have anything to learn from you.”

Is Danny Ciello–again, Robert Leuci in real-life–a hero, a villain, or some combination of the two?  It is with this ambiguity that the film ends–an ambiguity that each viewer must resolve for himself.

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