Thursday, June 16, 2016
Top NYPD Banked on NYPD Rank and File?
Alleged Unethical Behavior: Ranking Officers $$ Making Millions $$
Top Cops Made Bank on NYPD Rank and File
By Robert Lewis — Thursday, June 16th, 2016 ‘WNYC News’ / New York, NY
In 1999, the same year he was promoted to captain, Philip Banks III and three other high-ranking NYPD officers formed a private, for-profit company to charge subordinates hundreds of dollars each to help them prepare for NYPD promotion exams. It was a lucrative business. By 2011, Banks reported earning between $250,000 and $500,000 from BBYZ Promotions Inc., according to his financial disclosure form.
Banks, who rose to become chief of department, the highest-ranking uniformed officer in the NYPD, is now at the center of an unrelated federal corruption investigation looking at whether high-ranking officers received gifts from businessmen. But financial disclosure forms, business records and court filings show many top cops didn’t need to leave the department to make a bundle of cash.
WNYC found more than 15 high-ranking NYPD officers in recent years who moonlighted for or had an ownership stake in a for-profit company that charged rank-and-file officers for promotion test prep. Much like SAT prep, these companies help officers trying to pass the civil-service exams to become a sergeant, lieutenant or captain.
Among those whom WNYC identified areCommissioner William Bratton’s current chief of staff and a captain who actually helped write a promotion exam, even though he’d spent years as an instructor for one of the companies.
Current and former NYPD officials say such courses have been around for decades and that it makes sense for high-ranking officers to teach the material. After all, it's highly specialized and they've already passed the tests. And, they contend, it's not as if course instructors can promote officers who pay for classes. Civil service rules prevent such favoritism.
But such relationships can, at the very least, give the appearance of a conflict of interest. And the city's conflict of interest law generally prohibits such outside employment.
“They’re cashing in on their knowledge while being active members of the force and then providing outside service to the benefit of those over whom they have supervisory responsibilities.That itself is just unethical and unseemly,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a good government group.
“Are you serving the public interest?" he asked. "Are you serving those who are the residents of the city as a member of the force or are you serving the private interests of an outside firm that is also paying you to moonlight to take advantage of your knowledge and your connection as an active duty member of the force?”
The NYPD’s legal department has signed off on high-ranking officers working such jobs. The fire department and police departments outside the city also engage in such practices.
But city law frowns on conflicts. Municipal workers can’t moonlight at companies that do business with the city without permission, and supervisors can’t do business or have a financial relationship with subordinates, which the city defines as any city employee “whose terms and conditions of employment the public servant has the power to affect.”
The city's Conflicts of Interest Board can issue a waiver upon request, but the board says none have been issued to the NYPD employees identified by WNYC. Officials wouldn’t comment on the propriety of specific cases absent a full inquiry by the Department of Investigation.
To put the top cops' side gigs in context: The board advises supervisors that they are barred from selling their daughters' Girl Scout cookies to employees - because that is considered a conflict of interest. Yet top cops made thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars, off of subordinates seeking promotions.
There are different kinds of test-prep companies that made money for NYPD brass. One offers study guides. Another makes flash cards called CopCards. There’s even a $35 iPhone app from a company called The Key, which also runs weekly classes. In an iTunes review, one cop wrote “My bosses all swear by The Key.”
A couple bosses who might are Bratton’s chief of staff, Kevin Ward, and Deputy Commissioner for Operations Dermot Shea. Ward is a co-owner of the company while Shea is a long-time instructor. Neither responded to interview requests.
Shea earned between $5,000 and $48,000 from The Key in 2014, according to his financial disclosure form. It’s unclear how much Ward made. After WNYC asked the Conflicts of Interest Board for his disclosure forms, he formally requested, as the law allows, that they remain confidential. The board has yet to decide if it will release the records.
John Monaghan, a retired captain who founded The Key when he was an NYPD lieutenant in 1998, said most officers who take the course don’t even know who Ward is or that he is a co-owner of the company.
“If you’re a good teacher and have good material, they’ll come to your class,” Monaghan said.
He added that the company works hard. Its website says that the sergeant’s course runs for 24 weeks. There’s a digital patrol guide, online videos and sample questions, all for $500.
It’s unclear just how much money private companies like The Key take in. Monaghan said there are years where the company makes no money because there are no promotional exams scheduled. But earnings can be “substantial” in other years, with as many as 1,000 officers taking the class to prepare for the sergeant’s exam. He declined to give an exact revenue amount.
There are other hints at the size of the industry. In 2011, Deputy Inspector Mike Yanosik quit The Fast-Track — the name used commercially by the company he helped found in 1999 with Banks and two others — to form his own solo company called Elite Strategic Training. That prompted Banks’ two other partners to file a multi-million dollar lawsuit, which settled for an undisclosed amount. Banks, who retired in 2014, and an attorney representing him in the unrelated federal investigation did not respond to interview requests.
Yanosik said when he started the company he was working primarily in building and facility management for the NYPD, overseeing mostly civilians. That meant he rarely had subordinates take his course. He offers three-and-a-half hour classes for 23 weeks at a cost of $799 per student.
Yanosik is retired now, but he employs an active-duty NYPD Inspector to teach courses.
“You have to have credibility and you have to have knowledge of the department to teach this course," he said. "It’s not like you could just have somebody off the street.”
He added that officers work very hard to move up in rank. And he noted that the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau has a dedicated unit to investigate complaints against supervisors.
“There’s a lot of safeguards. I couldn’t imagine putting myself in jeopardy to gain an extra student,” he said.
The promotion test prep industry has been around for decades - and some former officers said this is just the way it’s always been.
Professor John Eterno, who runs Molloy College’s criminal justice program, said high-ranking officers have unique insight into helping officers prepare for the tests. Before entering academia, he was a captain in the NYPD.
“I did take courses. I studied very hard to become captain,” Eterno said. “I found them to be very helpful in preparing for these exams much like you’d prepare for the LSAT.”
Eterno added that, unlike in private industry, civil service rules prevent top cops from having any real say in who gets promoted.
The Department of Citywide Administrative Services writes the promotional exams for the rank of sergeant, lieutenant and captain. A handful of high-ranking officers assist but they’re sworn to secrecy. Test-takers are promoted in order based on their scores.
That means no one should get promoted just because they paid a fee to Chief Ward’s company or another of the test prep businesses.
“It really doesn’t matter if you have face-time with the captain who is teaching the courses. It’s based on your score,” Eterno said.
At least it shouldn’t matter. But some cops believe paying for a high-ranking officer's course can give them an edge. Some former officers said there’s a suspicion that high-ranking instructors get questions leaked to them. So some junior officers take the classes to try to get ahead, and out of fear they’ll be at a disadvantage if they don’t.
“There’s always been an impression that they have some type of insider knowledge of what would be on the exam,” said Anthony Miranda, the executive chairman of the National Latino Officers Association and a former NYPD sergeant.
Miranda said he went to three different test prep courses, all affiliated with high-ranking officers.
“No one will come out and say, 'I saw this on the examination.' They’ll come out and say, 'I strongly suggest that you pay special attention to this,' ” he said.
George Mifsud is a long-time instructor for The Key. In a 2013 op-ed in The Chief-Leader, a newspaper for civil servants, company co-owner John Monaghan revealed that Mifsud had helped write a promotional exam.
The Department of Citywide Administrative Services declined to comment. In an interview with WNYC, Monaghan said Mifsud — then a captain — was sworn to secrecy and didn’t give any inside information to anyone affiliated with The Key. Mifsud has since retired. He declined an interview request.
Yanosik, owner of Elite Strategic Training, acknowledged some officers think the schools have inside information as to what will be on the exam.
“I just try to open their eyes up on how the process really works,” he said, adding that he has never gotten inside information.
Posted by Suzannah B. Troy artist at 2:31 PM