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December 5, 2008

Chief Kaz: cheap apology, cheesy chivalry

Filed under: Schenectady Synecdoche,viewpoint — David Giacalone @ 8:40 am

Schenectady’s Lesson for Civic Leaders: If a cop has the nickname “Sgt. Snow,” or even “Lt. Noriega,” don’t make him Chief of Police.

unseen eyes —
an apology made
behind dark shades

…. by dagosan

.. After years of tarnishing the reputation of the chronically-troubled Schenectady Police Department, its former police chief, Gregory Kaczmarek pled guilty on Tuesday to third degree criminal possession of cocaine (with intent to sell).  Six years after he retired his position under a cloud, he’s heading for two years in prison, with his stepson looking at three years (and his stepdaughter already doing 6 years for another drug bust), while his wife will spend six months in the County jail.  See,  “Ex-chief heading to prison: Schenectady’s Gregory Kaczmarek admits to drug charge” (Albany Times Union, Dec. 3, 2008); and “Kaz Family Plan” (Carl Strock’s Freestyle Blog, Dec. 2, 2008)

The story is well-known here in Schenectady, but I thought I’d give it some space here at f/k/a, as a civics lesson (or a shot of schadenfreude) for our readers, and because a little venting might help get the bad taste of Kaz’s career out of my mouth.  The convictions are part of a larger drug case that has already sent almost two dozen participants to prison.  Greg and Lisa Kaczmarek, who operated a pizza shop they called Capo di Pizza for a few years after he retired in 2002, were minor dealers and users.

Here are excerpts from the Schenectady Gazette’s Kaczmarek Timeline: that should give you a good idea of the odorific tale of Chief Kaz (and see “Kaczmarek: ‘I sincerely apologize’” (Schenectady Gazette, December 2, 2008) [words in brackets are my filler explanations]:

Gregory Kaczmarek had a colorful career on the Schenectady police force, including a six-year tenure as chief, and spent much of that career dodging allegations of drug use.

1975 — Kaczmarek begins his career in law enforcement. Drug rumors would begin as early as five years later, when he is called “Sgt. Snow” and “Lt. Noriega” behind his back by some.

September 1992 — Kaczmarek rises to assistant chief in charge of the Field Services Bureau. He is in line for the chief’s job, but is opposed as critics argue Kaczmarek is being pushed because he worked on Mayor Frank Duci’s 1991 campaign. The police chief’s position is abolished, but the move is later ruled illegal by the courts and the position is reinstated.

June 19, 1996 ­— After 21 years on the force and years of whispers about drug use, Kaczmarek holds a news conference to deny those allegations. A week later he is appointed police chief by Mayor Al Jurczynski, one of those who had opposed Kaczmarek’s appointment earlier. Jurczynski would say Kaczmarek, with hard work, could become “perhaps the best chief in the history of the department.”

July 26, 2002 — Kaczmarek offers his resignation after a turbulent six years that saw an FBI investigation [which has never been officially closed] lead to four officers being sent to prison. The retirement also came as he was stung by criticism for playing golf while out on sick leave with a bad back.

Feb. 18, 2008 — In [wiretapped] calls identified early on as being made by Lisa Kaczmarek with Gregory present, Lisa badgers [the drug ring-leader Terry] Kirkem for cocaine to celebrate Gregory’s upcoming birthday. Those allegations also included an alleged offer by Gregory to pick up a shipment himself Feb. 18 and that he would “flash his badge” [if there were any problems from law enforcement].

Feb. 20, 2008 — On Gregory Kaczmarek’s birthday, a $150,000 shipment of heroin and cocaine en route from Long Island is surreptitiously seized during a traffic stop by state police. Drug mule Misty Gallo frantically calls Kirkem after she discovers the drugs are gone. Kirkem calls Lisa Kaczmarek, asking for advice. Kirkem and Lisa and Gregory Kaczmarek meet that night at DiCarlo’s, a topless bar on Central Avenue in Colonie. It was there that prosecutors alleged Gregory Kaczmarek told Kirkem he needed to move his stash houses and change telephone numbers.

Call me a cynical old curmudgeon, but my disdain for Greg Kaczmarek got even deeper after seeing him and his lawyer, Thomas O’Hearn, on the steps of the Schenectady Courthouse on Tuesday (for a short video clip with highlights, linked in the Sidebar of a Times Union article).   Admittedly, as I confessed here, courthouse-step statements by lawyers and arrested cops often give me agita. Here are some of my printable reactions to the Kaz and O’Hearn show:

  • When you’ve been scamming the public for a couple decades, apologies on a courthouse steps are virtually meaningless.
  • . . . . that’s especially true when said behind a pair of sunglasses (a sentiment echoed by radio personality Al Roney, in the Dec. 3 blog post “Lose the Shages,” where he notes: “You can’t look ‘us’ in the eye, when we can’t see your eyes”)
  • It’s hard enough to take your apology to other police officers seriously after two shady decades, but it’s even harder to swallow when you first point out that your conviction shouldn’t really affect them, because you’ve “been out of law enforcement for seven years.”
  • Please stop insulting our intelligence by telling us — as your mouthpiece Tom O’Hearn did over and over — that taking the plea “ultimately . . . was a pretty stand up thing for him to do,” because it allowed his wife, against whom there was more-compelling evidence, to avoid going to the penitentiary.  O’Hearn says he’d prefer his client take his chances with a jury.  Carl Strock had an appropriate response to the so-called “Family Plan” propaganda:

“ ‘The family plan’ is what Greg Kaczmarek’s lawyer called it today outside the Schenectady County Courthouse.  . . .

“I don’t know if anything can be said to be ‘stand up’ about coke-snorting and coke-dealing after a career in law enforcement, but maybe there is an element of nobility in a man’s taking a hit for his wife, if that is indeed how this worked out. I hope so. I would like to see something besides utter shame and disgrace in a former police chief pleading guilty to criminal possession of cocaine with intent to sell.”

  • It was a slight breath of fresh air to hear Lisa Kaczmarek’s lawyer Keven Luibrand say: “Six months, given the wiretaps, is a good deal.”

The Gazette article “Kaczmarek will be matched to prison” (Dec. 4, 2008) tells of likely conditions in prison for Kaz and jail for Lisa, his wife. In it we learn that “In addition to the $1.05 per day, Kaczmarek will also receive his state pension of $36,096 annually, officials with the state Comptroller’s Office said. The pension for his police career is guaranteed and not affected by criminal convictions.”

As I’ve said before, the worst thing about a bad cop is how much more difficult they make the job of the good cops.  For a taste of the public’s reaction to Kaz’s plea, see Gazette Editor Mark Robarge’s post in their Editor’s Notes weblog, where he compiles quite a few reader comments from several related Gazette articles.  Let’s cap this Kaz memorial with the words of our local journalist, Carl Strock (who always liked Chief Kaczmarek and seems particularly disappointed byhis shameful downfall), on the day of the plea, from his “The View from Here” column in the Schenectady Gazette (Dec. 2, 2008):

“With all the scandal, corruption and internal crime that the Schenectady Police Department has been party to over the past 20-some-years that I have been observing it, for the department’s chief, upon retirement, to have become a low-life, small-time drug-snorter and drug dealer, head of a family of low-life snorters and dealers, I do believe tops all. Or bottoms all.”

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