Bernard Kerik, a protege of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani who once led the US' largest police department, pleaded not guilty to a wide-ranging indictment charging him with "selling his office" and lying to cover up the scheme.
The 16-count federal indictment sets up a legal battle that will rage throughout next year as Giuliani, his former boss, tries to win the US presidency. It comes three years after Kerik's career peaked with his doomed, Giuliani-backed nomination to be director of Homeland Security in US President George W. Bush's Cabinet.
"It's an extremely difficult time for me and my family," Kerik, 52, said on Friday outside court. Citing the World Trade Center attack, which happened while he was police commissioner, he said, "My life has been marked by challenges ... This is a battle. I'm going to fight."
US Attorney Michael Garcia said Kerik, as both corrections commissioner and later, police commissioner, plotted "to deprive the city of New York of his honest services."
"It's a sad day when this office returns an indictment against a former law enforcement officer, particularly one who served in positions as high as those held by Bernard Kerik," Garcia said.
He cited allegations against Kerik that included:
* Accepting US$255,000 in renovations to his Bronx apartment -- including a marble entrance rotunda, marble bathrooms and a Jacuzzi -- from a construction firm in exchange for helping the company get a business license. Kerik had complained to one of the company officials that "he felt like he was on `welfare,'" the indictment says. The company was being investigated for ties to organized crime.
* Allowing an official of the same company to pay more than US$236,000 in rent for another Kerik apartment.
* Omitting those payments from his financial disclosure forms, his tax returns and the state grand jury that investigated him.
* Getting witnesses to lie about the payments to investigators.
* Falsely answering written and oral questions from federal agencies as he applied for federal posts that included Homeland Security director.
* Falsely claiming US$80,000 in charitable contributions and a home-office deduction on his income tax forms.
* Not reporting the wages he paid to a nanny for his children and not paying her Social Security and Medicaid taxes.
* Not reporting royalties from a forward he wrote for a book.
* Falsifying a mortgage application by not disclosing that he had borrowed -- from a real estate agent doing business with the city -- the funds he was using as a down payment.
Kerik surrendered earlier on Friday to the FBI in suburban White Plains, where he was fingerprinted and processed before his court appearance.
Standing before the judge, Kerik appeared calm and spoke only to say, "Not guilty, your honor," and answer a few personal questions. He was ordered to surrender his passport and any firearms, and to have no contact with potential witnesses.
He was released on a promise of US$500,000 bond. The next scheduled court date is Jan. 16.
"It's a sad day because Bernie Kerik was a hero police officer," Giuliani said on Friday in Henderson, Nevada.
Giuliani appointed Kerik police commissioner in 2000 and endorsed his 2004 nomination to head the Department of Homeland Security. Days after Bush introduced Kerik as his nominee, however, Kerik announced he was withdrawing his name because of tax issues involving his former nanny.