Good career move: Driving Miss Libby
By Wayne Barrett and Tom Robbins
Having a state worker drive his ailing wife around may turn out to be a career-killer for comptroller Alan Hevesi.
But shepherding Governor George Pataki's wife to her daily appointments has been a career enhancement of the first order for state police officers.
That job assignment has worked out splendidly for New York State Police Major Gary Berwick who has been part of Governor Pataki's hush-hush security detail since the former state senator from Peekskill took office in 1995. Berwick, a state trooper since 1982, began rising through the ranks after he began protecting first lady Libby Pataki. State records show he worked his way up from $55,000 a year as an investigator in 2000, to $67,500 as a senior investigator in 2004.
Last year Berwick was promoted again, this time to the rank of Major, in charge of the state police's "executive service detail" – overseeing all of the Pataki family's security. His salary shot up to $120,490, making him one of the highest earners among his rank in the department. "Berwick drove [Libby Pataki] for years and was then promoted," said a state police source with knowledge of the detail.
Berwick refused to discuss his job. "I absolutely can't comment on that," he told the Voice when reached at his home in New Windsor. "We have a personnel department that handles matters like that. I suggest you call them."
But spokesmen at the state police's public affairs unit also refused to discuss Berwick's job, or anything else concerning the governor's security unit. "He is a major in charge of the executive services detail," said spokesman Sergeant Kern Swoboda. "They are exclusively responsible for protecting the governor. We can't discuss the security of the family."
As overseer of the Pataki protection detail, Berwick replaced another state police star, Colonel Dan Wiese, who also climbed swiftly through the ranks after his friend and neighbor, Pataki, became governor.
As the Voice reported in January, 2004, ("A Dirty Cop at the Top" ) Wiese was such a loyal supporter of his boss that he took the Fifth Amendment rather than testify before a federal grand jury in 1998 that was probing a scandal in which Pataki campaign contributions were solicited in exchange for promises of winning early parole for felons. Normally, for a law enforcement officer to invoke his constitutional right not to testify because he could be incriminated by his own testimony is grounds for firing. But Wiese sailed on with the governor, his salary climbing from $89,528 in 1998 – the year he took the fifth – to $120,238 when he retired in 2003. Wiese then began collecting a $73,000 annual pension, with a waiver to continue collecting it even as he earned $170,000 a year job as the inspector general at the patronage-filled New York state Power Authority.
This week the Voice reported that another Pataki aide, ex-NYPD cop Edward Keegan, drove Libby Pataki and her mother, while working as a special assistant to the commissioner of the state's Office of General Services, a catch-all agency that handles building management and procurement. But records show that the Pataki team initially sought to place Keegan with the state police as well, at a salary of $64,415 when the administration began in January, 1995. Some difficulties must have developed about having a civilian on the state police payroll driving a member of the governor's family. So, two months later, in late February, 1995, Keegan was switched over to the general services office, with the amorphous "special assistant" title.