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Skeletons Pour From Kerik's Closet

Bernard Kerik took another skewering in New York City newspapers on Wednesday. The former nominee to become the nation's Homeland Security chief came under attack on three fronts:

  • Newsday reported that Kerik has been married three times, and appears to have concealed the existence of his first marriage. The newspaper said that even Kerik's friends were unaware of the first union, and that Kerik had made no mention of the marriage in his autobiography.
  • WCBS-TV reported that a Manhattan apartment Kerik reportedly used to conduct extramarital affairs with two women overlooked Ground Zero and was supposed to be for the use of exhausted 9/11 workers.
  • The New York Daily News raised fresh questions about Kerik's personal finances. The newspaper said Kerik had been able to carry out a lavish renovation of two apartments in 1999 despite the fact that he appeared to have a cash shortage.

    Questions about Kerik's history and background began to percolate immediately after President Bush tapped him to become the nation's No. 1 anti-terror official. Last Friday, he withdrew as Mr. Bush's nominee, saying he had discovered he had employed an illegal nanny. Since then, there have been a stream of negative press reports about Kerik.

    Newsday said investigators doing a background check on Kerik, who served as New York City's corrections chief and later police commissioner under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, discovered last week that he had been married three times.

    The newspaper said his marriage to the former Linda Hales in 1978 lasted for nearly five years. The couple separated in 1982 and divorced in 1983. Newsday said Kerik's friends knew nothing of the marriage, and that it was never mentioned in his best-selling autobiography.

    A Kerik aide told Newsday that Kerik and his first wife "made a mutual agreement between the two of them never to talk about it [the marriage]." The aide also said the White House had been informed of Kerik's first marriage.

    Kerik, 49, married a New Jersey woman in 1983. He married his current wife, Hala, in 1998. The Keriks have two children.

    Kerik has not denied conducting two extramarital affairs at a New York City apartment during his 18-month tenure as head of the nation's largest police department.

    One of the women been identified as New York publishing star Judith Regan, who handled Kerik's autobiography. WCBS-TV reported that the private apartment in question overlooked Ground Zero and had been made available to the city for use by exhausted 9/11 workers who were combing the ruins of the World Trade Center.

    The CBS-owned TV station said that Kerik subsequently rented the two-bedroom apartment for his own use.

    Kerik's relationship with Regan first drew public scrutiny in 2001 after Kerik reportedly dispatched detectives to question people whom Regan had accused of stealing her cell phone.

    In 2002, Kerik was ordered to pay a conflict-of-interest fine for using three police officers to do research about his mother for the book.

    Other press reports claim that around the time of the reported affairs, Kerik accepted unreported gifts of thousands of dollars in cash and other items from associates at a New Jersey construction company while serving under Giuliani. Authorities suspect the company, Interstate Industrial Corp., has ties to organized crime.

    Kerik said he was unaware of any mob allegations involving Interstate, which has denied any wrongdoing.

    On Wednesday, the Daily News reported that Kerik was able to lavishly renovate two apartments he owned in 1999 despite an apparent cash shortage. The News noted that Kerik's best man and another friend had covered much of the cost of Kerik's wedding reception, which occurred a few months before the renovations were carried out.

    The News said the contractor listed for Kerik's apartment renovations was indicted in a bid-rigging scheme and served 4-1/2 years in prison. The newspaper also reported the man listed as the engineer on the project was indicted for filing false documents with the city Department of Environmental Protection a few months after the renovations began.

    When Mr. Bush picked Kerik on Dec. 3 to succeed Tom Ridge as homeland security chief, he won early support in Republican and some Democratic quarters based on his leadership of the Police Department following the Sept. 11 attacks.

    But others questioned whether Kerik had the management experience to continue the nearly 2-year-long effort to meld the pieces of the sprawling Homeland Security Department, which has more than 180,000 employees from 22 federal agencies.

    Democrats also were focusing on Kerik's recent windfall from exercising stock options in a stun gun company that does business with the department. He earned $6.2 million from the options received from Taser International.

    Those around Kerik - and even Kerik himself - may have paid the price for becoming too enamored of his image as a brash, self-made law enforcer, said Stanley Renshon, a political scientist at the City University of New York's Graduate Center in Manhattan.

    "Kerik is a great rags-to-accomplishment story and Bush really likes that because it fits into is view of the American dream," Renshon said. "What's different about them is that Bush is pretty much a straight shooter. He's a straight-and-narrow kind of guy, and Kerik clearly is a lot less that."

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