Bernard Kerik
Bernard Kerik ()

Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik is in federal court in Newark, suing lawyers for alleged misconduct he claims contributed to his 2009 tax fraud conviction.

Kerik says the lawyers, Joseph Tacopina and Michael Ross, both of New York, secretly gave or conspired to give privileged information to federal officials that led to his prosecution.

Kerik was released from prison in May 2013 after serving three years on charges stemming from the federal investigation. The conviction came after his June 2006 guilty plea in Bronx County Supreme Court to misdemeanor ethics violations stemming from $255,000 in renovations to his Riverdale apartment that were paid for by a New York City contractor while he was commissioner of the city’s Department of Corrections.

Kerik claims Tacopina falsely represented to him that the offense he was pleading to in the Bronx case was “a violation, no different than pissing on the sidewalk.” But while negotiating the plea agreement and persuading Kerik to set aside his reservations about the deal, Tacopina was a target of a federal criminal investigation and allegedly held secret meetings with federal authorities and provided them with privileged information.

Tacopina withdrew from representing Kerik after being served with a grand jury subpoena in March 2007 in the federal investigation.

Tacopina “sold Mr. Kerik down the river through a series of events reminiscent of The Godfather,” the suit says.

Kerik also claims Ross, who represented Tacopina in connection with the subpoena, conspired with Tacopina “to fraudulently disclose, create, conceal, destroy and/or spoliate evidence with the intent to damage” Kerik.

In the suit, filed Jan. 23, Kerik seeks compensatory and punitive damages on counts of legal malpractice, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, negligent misrepresentation, fraudulent disclosure of evidence and intentional interference with a business relationship.

Tacopina, of New York’s Tacopina, Seigel & Turano, is a high-profile lawyer whose clients have included Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees and Joran van der Sloot, a Dutch man questioned but not charged in the 2005 disappearance of American vacationer Natalee Holloway in Aruba.

Tacopina’s lawyer, Judd Burstein, a New York solo who has not yet entered an appearance in the case, calls it “an extraordinarily frivolous lawsuit for a host of reasons.” He says he will move to change the venue to New York and to dismiss the suit.

Kerik, a resident of Franklin Lakes, brought the case in the District of New Jersey on diversity jurisdiction.

Burstein says that the suit is time-barred, whether under New Jersey’s six-year statute of limitations or the three years afforded in New York, and that Kerik’s allegations that Tacopina divulged privileged communications with him are contradicted by a ruling by a judge in the federal criminal case.

On Jan. 24, the day after the malpractice suit was filed, Tacopina sued Kerik for defamation in New York County Supreme Court over statements he made to New York Daily News reporters in connection with the case.

Kerik allegedly told the reporters that Tacopina met with federal prosecutors about him and “discussed privileged conversations with them,” that Tacopina knowingly allowed Kerik to perjure himself in the Bronx case, and that after Tacopina was subpoenaed in the federal case, he failed to notify Kerik.

Tacopina further claims Kerik falsely stated to Geraldo Rivera in an interview on radio station WABC that Tacopina “received from the feds a proffer agreement that shielded him from criminal charges as long as he cooperated with prosecutors following the Bronx case.”

Tacopina says in his suit that the federal prosecutors’ questioning of him was limited to confirming that he had made certain statements to Bronx prosecutors about Kerik’s conduct, which Kerik had already authorized. He says he was required to answer the questions as a matter of law.

In 2010, U.S. District Judge Stephen Robinson wrote in Kerik’s federal criminal case that Tacopina’s statements to prosecutors “cannot be considered confidential and privileged,” Tacopina alleges.

The defamation suit seeks $1 million in compensatory damages and $4 million in punitives. None of the reporters or media are defendants.

Kerik’s attorney, Athan Tsimpedes of Washington, D.C., did not return calls. Nor did the attorney for Ross, Clifford Robert of Melville, N.Y.

An affidavit of merit for Kerik’s suit was issued by Bennett Wasserman of Davis, Saperstein & Salomon in Teaneck. He declined to comment.

Kerik was New York City’s corrections commissioner from 1998 to 2000 and police commissioner from 2000 to 2001. In late 2004, President George W. Bush nominated him as secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Kerik then withdrew his name from consideration a week later, amid media scrutiny that led to his admission that he hired an undocumented alien as his housekeeper. The home renovations by a city contractor also came to light then.