Shelly Feuer Domash


Defend The Police, Don’t Defund Them

Cops are not like the rest of us. They cannot be. A cop will see more devastation, violence, and heartbreak in a week than most people will in a lifetime — and that is just one of many things that makes them different. 

I first learned about it more than 25 years ago while writing crime stories for The New York Times. I became fascinated by the “blue wall” that cops put up. But despite my enthusiasm, I quickly learned that I was considered an outsider, a civilian, and most of all a reporter that could not be trusted. I was determined to get through that wall if I were to write stories that were honest and fair. 

With much reluctance, my Times editor approved my attending the Nassau County Police Department Academy with a new class and writing a series of articles on what it was like to become a police officer. 

My class, as most were and still are, was an interesting mix of ages, professions, and personalities. The only common bond was their desire to become a police officer. They were excited and ready to learn. Since they were new, they accepted me, especially after my first story. They trusted I would be fair in my reporting and so they slowly let me into their world. 

The days I did spend there were long ones, the training draining and hard. I went through a ‘burning building’ taking longer than any recruit and thinking I was going to die. (Later I learned it was payback for a not-so-positive story on firefighter training.)

Then there was water rescue, gun training, emotionally disturbed encounters, domestic violence calls, and EVOC that consisted of driving a car through obstacles at an extremely high rate of speed,

But all the things I saw and all the things I learned could not prepare me for what happened on the street when these recruits, after six months of military-style training, were deemed ready to start their training in a patrol car with a supervisor. 

I spent weeks in the patrol cars observing them. What they dealt with horrified me. 

There were active shooter calls, a grandmother who hung herself, a person shot dead in the head, and a decomposed dead body found in a home. There were high-speed chases that caused me to wonder what the hell I was doing there. And then there were the babies. I do not think anything affects a cop more than a child who has died. It strips away their armor and tears at their hearts. 

When field training ended, the class that was once a loosely tied group of recruits morphed into a family as part of the police department. They were expected to be always physically and mentally alert to make instantaneous life-and-death decisions that could later be scrutinized for weeks and months after. They had to be no less than perfect because that is what is expected from cops. 

After that experience I did a lot more stories, but I insisted on learning not from the top brass spokespeople but from the cops on the street. That would often wind up in some difficult and scary places. One of those places is relevant today. 

A call of a mentally disturbed man resulted in cops putting a more than 300-pound man into an ambulance to wait while police finished up some last-minute details. He seemed docile, and aware — almost a gentle giant. But I couldn’t be more wrong. As I stepped into the ambulance to get my notebook, he lunged at me. 

My heart stopped for a second until we were both distracted by the loud voice saying, “stop!” That one second or so of a distraction gave one of the cops time to stop the man. I still think of that incident and what would have happened if that cop did not know to shout out. More importantly, what if that was a social worker answering a call alone. 

Police get an enormous amount of ongoing training but sometimes even that isn’t enough. They can’t deflect bullets, but they can learn to rely on instinct. It is only when politics and politicians interfere that things can become a disaster. Police officers in departments that pay well, require a higher education, and continually train officers tend to be the ones that have the fewest complaints. As one cop once told me, “I get paid too much to risk my job taking a cup of coffee for nothing.”

Not all cops are saints, or even come close. One of the last stories I did was on some bad cops. As a direct result of my story in the Press, the then-Nassau County District Attorney had three former top cops indicted, writing in her press release, “The charges stem from an investigation that began following Shelly Feuer Domash’s article in the Long Island Press.” Two pleaded guilty and one was convicted by a jury. 

Some cops felt I betrayed their trust. But at that time, what no one knew was that the story could not have been written without the help of literally dozens of cops who wanted these bad apples exposed. Nassau police, like most departments, is made up of good cops who come to work each day wanting to do the right thing. But any time a police department comes under political influence instead of police management, little good can come. 

Cops are different from civilians for many reasons. They deal with the things we do not want to and most of the time they do it very well, with nobody knowing about it. I have dealt with dozens of departments across this country and never saw anything but pure professionalism.  

Over the years I have spent literally hundreds of hours observing police officers. Most times they did not know who I was. We are now bombarded with cries of defunding and abolishing the police. 

Sure, get rid of bad apples and let the other 99.9 percent do their job. How can we so quickly forget the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks when we needed cops and they were there? They risked their lives at the crash sites, not thinking twice about it. 

Once again, they ran into a burning hell while others ran out. They were our nation’s heroes. So many sacrificed their own lives. What happened? While protesters in New York had marched while chanting “what do we want? Dead cops!” the New York City police officers just walked with them to protect them. Now in the city, right in front of Gracie Mansion, are signs that read “kill the cops,” “kill the pigs,” and other messages too disgusting to mention here.

The silent majority must speak up now or it will be too late. Our cops need our vocal support. In the past few weeks hundreds of them were injured and some even gave their lives. A young pregnant mother ready to give birth waited for her husband, a police officer, to come home. He never did. Instead, he was ambushed, shot, and killed. She will give birth next month without her husband by her side. Does the public protest that? 

Or the black retired police captain who was shot and killed trying to protect a friend’s store. His five children and 10 grandchildren have lost him forever. A senseless shooting that was videotaped and put on Facebook. No sign of any protestors.  

And this month on a hot summer late afternoon, a 1-year-old baby was with his mother in a stroller when the sound of gunfire shattered the air. One of the bullets hit that baby in the stomach. 

Do babies’ lives matter? Where were the protests? Where were all the angry people? 

Why do we let a few outspoken people be the only ones that have a say? Where is that silent majority that supports our police? How long will our cops have deadly threats shouted at them, or being spit on? 

How long will they stand being the target of abuse and the target of mentally ill people who just want to kill a cop? How did they go so quickly from heroes to bad guys and how long is it until they say “enough,” the good cops retire, and no one wants the job? It may not be long when you call for help no one comes.

We need to more vocally support our police or we will have none left and more importantly, no one wanting to become the next generation of police officers. 

While gun stores are selling record numbers of guns and ammunition, does that make the rest of us safer? We do not need more guns on the streets: we need our cops.

Broadcast executives are taking all the cop shows off the air. Violent factions of the protesters are continually, tearing down statues, attacking police officers, all for what reason? Does looting and destroying the famous Macy’s in New York City accomplish anything? Does looting down 5th Avenue make the city better? Does painting Black Lives Matter on streets bring back all the children we have lost to gun violence in the past few months?

One monster cop who killed George Floyd is part of an exceedingly small group of rogue cops. They must and now will be dealt with. Our justice system is ready to do that, but at the same time, we cannot let violence become the initiator of change. We need to talk.

It is important to remember that cops are different from us. Their job is to protect us from bad people and dangerous, unexpected situations and they suffer the price for it. Their lives are changed because of it. 

They are trained for almost every situation. They are the ones that will come when you dial 911 and for that you should be vocally grateful. That little baby in New York never had a chance.  

NYPD is decimated and morale is low. Retirements are submitted faster than they can be processed. A new class of more than 1,000 new recruits was cancelled. NYPD had $1 billion taken from its budget. Once the safest city in the world it is now becoming like the Wild West. 

Shut out the sounds of the protesters and for one moment think of 9/11. In a time of a true national emergency who did you want in control? Some loud protesters or trained law enforcement? Those men and women are our country’s true heroes. Without them we have only chaos.

Shelly Feuer Domash is an investigative journalist. 

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Long Island Marathon: A Headache for Local Residents

Long Island Marathon
Long Island Marathon (Michael Damm)
Long Island Marathon
Long Island Marathon (Michael Damm)

It’s like a snow storm in May for the people living in parts of Westbury and Salisbury. They can get out of their homes but they can’t drive anywhere. For them, the running of the Long Island Marathon on Sunday means not being able to run away.

With the road closures, local residents say they feel like prisoners with no way in or out of their community.

In an effort to show them the way, the Press asked Nassau police for a map that could show even one route out of the community during the marathon. A police spokesman sent the Press directions.

Unfortunately it contained streets that were closed. They have not gotten back to the Press with a valid route.

While the same complaints are voiced every year, little has been done to help the residents.

Rich Cardoza, president of the Carmen Community Association, which represents much of the area, told the Press that he is getting complaints all the time.

He said he was told that the runners didn’t like “running at Jones beach because there is no one there to cheer them on. Well hey, who says you have to run 26 miles in a day? You want to exercise, fine, but your right to run shouldn’t impede my right to go to church.”

“Everybody is worried about everybody else’s rights but people have the right here to go to church and to go out,” Cardoza continued. St. Bridget’s Roman Catholic Church is shut down for about two hours. That is a big church.”

The closures affect more than churches and recreation. Small businesses in the area of the closures are affected as well.

Alphonse Lentz III, Owner of B & G Deli on Carmen Ave., (he said he is also the dishwasher, painter, bookkeeper, and general handyman,) has been complaining for years with nothing to show for it. He said the politicians have told him the Marathon is “written in stone and there is nothing I can do.”

And that stone is crushing down on him. After losing 99 percent of his Sunday business each year during Marathon Sunday, this year he decided to just close for the day. He said he is tired of being annoyed and frustrated.

“You just can’t get out of the neighborhood. It is land locked. It is very frustrating and just not fair,” he said, adding “It is not fair to all the local merchants. I work 7 days a week 95 hours a week. My only two days off are Christmas and Thanksgiving.” He also employs three people, who he tells the Press, will not be getting paid Sunday.

The Westbury Fire Department has been forced to take extra precautions to ensure the safety of the residents as well. According to Chief Doug Ingram, they plan to set up crews at three locations in the area because of the “difficulty getting around. We had an incidence one year where members couldn’t respond to a call. Now they have to spend hours standing by.”

Ingram expressed the frustration many in the area share.

“Every year it is the same neighborhood that is totally inconvenienced. It is not just the fire department it is the local residents,” he said. “Why can’t they have it somewhere else one or twice, share the wealth type of thing?”

With thousands of runners from all over the tri-state area expected to take part in the annual event, there are many who argue an inconvenience to one community pales in comparison to the magnitude of the event. They say revenue will be brought into other parts of the county.

And then there are the runners, who spend months training for the grueling race.

Amanda O’Rourke has spent the last 14 years running in the marathon. She also grew up in the area that is closed off by the marathon.

“For me it is like coming back home—that is how welcoming the race is,” she said, adding that, “A huge part of achieving your goal is feeling safe in that all the cars are off the road as well as having the support of the local spectators. It takes more than just the physical endurance to get through that number of miles.”

O’Rourke said changing the location of street closures every year would hurt runners who have become accustomed to the course.

“I think if they did it every five years or so runners wouldn’t mind as much.”

Lentz, the business owner, said based on his own frustrations and those of his customers, he intends to start a petition this Monday.

“Rights are usually a two way Street,” Cardozo said, citing a well bandied quote, “the right to stretch my arm should end before your nose.”

Lufthansa Heist: Nassau Cop Breaks Silence on Mob Case that Left 16 Dead, $6M Missing

The masked men had gone through endless weeks of planning and false starts before arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport in the middle of the night on Dec. 11, 1978.

Despite the frigid air they were determined to execute a plan that would net them nearly $6 million—$21 million in today’s dollars—the largest theft of untraceable money in the country. Tonight they would score.

A Ford Econoline van pulled into the cargo area of Lufthansa Airlines at 3:12 a.m. Inside were six hooded men, four of whom jumped out and entered the building.

As expected, the guard was on his scheduled break. They ran up a flight of stairs, unfettered by security.

Meanwhile, the van positioned itself inside a gated area while a late model car, its headlights off, pulled into the terminal parking lot.

Tension filled the van, and despite temperatures in the 20s, the two men inside were sweating. They removed their masks to cool down. That was their first mistake.

They did not expect to be confronted by two employees, who could now identify them. One witness was beaten and pistol whipped. Bloodied and bruised, the victim would be held up as the example to show other workers what would happen if they did not cooperate.

Inside the cargo area, other Lufthansa employees were being threatened with their lives and ordered to lie on the floor. One employee was forced to open the vault and the gang took out cartons of money and jewelry.

Just over an hour later, at 4:21 a.m., the robbers ordered their captives not to move for 10 minutes.

Outside, the van pulled up and the loot was loaded in. Four men got into the Buick and both vehicles drove off. No one tried to stop them.

What happened that night, 35 years ago this month, is a story that spawned books and movies.

Despite the media attention and teams of law enforcement agents investigating the case, a dark mystery still surrounds that night. So do the unsolved murders left in its wake.

All those involved with the robbery who knew where the stolen money went are believed to have taken that knowledge to the grave, because they’ve either been found brutally murdered or been reported missing.

Parnell “Stacks” Edwards, who was supposed to get rid of the van but instead went to his girlfriend’s house, was the first to turn up dead. Edward Eaton, who was depicted in the movie Goodfellas as dying in a refrigerator truck, was actually discovered in Brooklyn.

His body had been lying in the truck for several days. Because it was so cold, it took days to defrost.

Frank Vincent, aka Billy Batts, was murdered twice. He was shot in a bar and put in the trunk of a car. When his killers got upstate, they saw he was still alive, so they killed him again.

Tommy DeSimone was cut in half with a chainsaw and dumped into the Atlantic Ocean. After buying an expensive car with proceeds from the heist, Louis Cafora and his wife, Joanna, were never seen again. Teresa Ferrara, the alleged mistress of Tommy Desimone, was last seen hurrying from her beauty shop in Bellmore. Later she was found murdered, her body dismembered.

In total, at least 16 members of the original crew who both planned and executed the theft were reported missing or turned up dead.

Louis Werner, who died in 2007, was the only one ever convicted for the Lufthansa heist.
James Burke, the late gangster who planned the heist, was the only one convicted of a related homicide.

Despite the story being told again and again, few people knew the key role a Nassau County police sergeant played in helping to identify the perpetrators—until now. Through thorough police work and natural instincts, he turned a wannabe gangster into a witness whose testimony helped convict Werner.

Lufthansa Heist
OPENING UP: Former Nassau County Police Department Sgt. Bill Buckley shares details of his involvement trying to crack the infamous Lufthansa heist after 35 years of silence.


Bill Buckley’s story begins a week after the heist, when investigators were desperately trying to find evidence against the people who committed the crime.

On the job for more than 10 years, Buckley, at the time a Nassau County Police Department sergeant, was by all accounts a good cop. Among his other duties, he was assigned to check on ‘licensed premises’ for violations of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law. He focused on the ones that openly catered to the mob.

The mafia had found a loophole in the law that enabled them to incorporate as a not-for-profit fraternal organization, which then enabled them to serve alcohol without a license.

Many members brought their own bottles at the clubs that were known for drugs and prostitution.

“Most people going into a place like this signed their name in the membership book using a creative alias like Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck,” says Buckley, now 66, retired and living in Texas,.

While investigating one of these clubs, Buckley noticed the name of Billy Fischetti, a man Buckley knew was part owner of the Bellmore Taxi Company at the time. Buckley describes Fischetti as “a half-assed wanna-be gangster” who was always getting involved in illegal scams.

But, it appeared, he wasn’t all that smart a wise guy. Fischetti had used his real name.

Buckley knew Fischetti from Buckley’s days working for Bellmore Taxi before he became a Nassau cop and once he was on the force he used Fischetti as an informant.

Fischetti was a known gambler with an eye for women. At about 6-feet, 5-inches tall, he towered over most of his associates and he was also overweight. Buckley described him as “a baby Huey type.” His affinity toward women would later pit him against the members of a very dangerous crime family.

Fischetti’s majority interest in the taxi company was proving profitable. He owned two houses at the time, one a two-family in Merrick, and another a newly built large home in Bellmore.

Covering all the angles, Fischetti was also a member of the Bellmore Republican Club.
Buckley tried to get information on a club he wanted to bust from Fischetti. What the investigator didn’t know then was that Fischetti was in trouble and he was looking for Buckley—to ask for help.

In plain clothes and driving an unmarked police car, Buckley approached Fischetti at the cab company. They left the office together and walked to his car. Fischetti told Buckley he would help him but in exchange he needed cash and protection from the mob.

Buckley said that once Fischetti had given him the information he sought, Fischetti wanted him to go to the FBI and let agents know that Fischetti would become a witness for the feds if they paid Fischetti $40,000. Fischetti also said that if the FBI refused payment and still tried to talk with him, he would tell them Buckley had made it all up.

Buckley was intrigued. So he let Fischetti talk.

Fischetti then told Buckley that he was involved in the Lufthansa heist, and in fact had stolen money from Lufthansa—before the big heist in December. Months before, he had entered the warehouse, put on a company rain slicker and walked to the money room. He had picked up a canvas bag with $23,000 in it and walked out.

Amazed at how easy it was, Fischetti said his experience became the blueprint for the infamous Lufthansa heist by the organized crime guys.

“You really stepped in shit this time,” Buckley recalls thinking as he heard the story.

“When I asked Fischetti why he wanted to become a federal witness, he admitted it was because of him needing the $40,000 for protection. When I asked why he needed protection, he said [it was] because after the job went down and he read about how much money they had gotten, he tried to shake them down.

“Of course, the response from the bad guys was that if he opened his mouth, they would kill him,” Buckley says. “It was typical of Billy to think he could muscle, or extort, guys who had done a robbery of that magnitude. I also thought it was logical and realistic that they would kill him if he opened his mouth like he had threatened to do.”

Immediately following their meeting, Buckley wrote down all the details of his conversation and went back to see his boss.

Buckley knew the information was good. He knew Fischetti and the guys he hung out with.

The investigation was being led by the FBI and involved myriad other law enforcement agencies.

Now, because of Buckley’s snitch, Nassau County police had reluctantly become a part of it.

Lufthansa Heist
JOB WELL DONE: Former Nassau County Police Department Commissioner Samuel J. Rozzi (L) presents then-Sgt. Bill Buckley the Medal of Commendation for his role in helping crack the Lufthansa heist on May 6, 1980.


Some of the planning for the Lufthansa heist took place at the Sunrise Bowling Alley, now a parking lot in Bellmore, where there used to be a little bowling and a lot of gambling.

The bar inside was a gathering place for the guys to drink, play cards, make and settle bets. Time had stopped there in the ’50s as red plastic topped turntable bar stools surrounded the horseshoe-shaped bar. Small tables blended into the dim, smoke-filled light.

The bar was often crowded, the noise level high and the stakes even higher. The bartender doubled as a bookie. Buckley had locked him up once while working undercover.

Card games waited until the bowling alley was closed and locked up. This was a meeting place for some of the most dangerous men in the country, men who viewed murder and death as a way of life.

Ironically, about a block away was Bellmore Bowl, a meeting place for off-duty cops which is now The Pool House Billiards & Sports Café.

Back then organized crime was rampant on the Island.

Joe Coffey, an expert on La Cosa Nostra, was commander of the Organized Crime Task for the New York City Police Department.

After the Lufthansa heist, the NYPD commissioner asked Coffey, who had experience with both the mafia and homicides, to help investigate. Coffey knew immediately that it was James Burke, an associate of the Lucchese family, because the crime was too sophisticated for John Gotti, part of the Gambino family, to pull off, Coffey says.

Those were the two crime families who controlled Kennedy Airport. They both regularly robbed cargo trucks in the area and routinely bribed law enforcement to look the other way.

“They had their tentacles everywhere,” Coffey says. “Their corruption went right to the White House.”

But knowing and convicting are two very different things. At that time, “going after criminals was like pissing in the ocean,” Coffey says. Even in jail they got special privileges.


When Buckley went to see his Nassau police commanding officer about how to handle Fischetti, he landed in a political quagmire.

After the briefing, Buckley was asked to leave. A lieutenant was called in to discuss what to do next.

Cops are usually not good with waiting. They are trained to take charge and react. Buckley was no different.

About to get his first lesson in departmental politics, Buckley was “going crazy with frustration,” he says. Buckley knew his boss did not get along with his superior.

Eventually, Buckley was ordered to report to the local FBI field office, but he was surprised the police department’s Robbery Squad did not take over.

“My thoughts were that I would give our guys the information and they could feed it to New York City Robbery Squad so that they would be owed a favor back from [them] in the future,” Buckley says. “That would have been the logical thing to do, but many of the upper staff on Nassau County Police Department enjoyed attending the FBI National Academy for three months at Quantico, Virginia, and I think that because the local office of the FBI could say, ‘Yea’ or ‘Nay’ on who attended, the big bosses wanted to keep the FBI happy.”

Buckley was nervous. He felt out of his element. He already had had one negative experience with the FBI. But while Buckley was following orders to meet with the federal agents, members of Coffey’s group were already following up on their leads.

Neither were fans of the FBI, which is not unusual for local law enforcement. Coffey’s group had their own name for the FBI: “Famous But Incompetent.”

“Nobody likes working with the FBI,” Coffey says.

Buckley went to the FBI office and gave his information to the local agents. As he read from his notes, he saw a notable change in their demeanor. By their reaction he knew that he was giving them information that had never been made public.

He knew about Werner, who played a major role in the robbery. Werner was the employee at Lufthansa who had set up everything so Fischetti could walk in and walk out with a bag of foreign currency as a dry run. Werner was also part of the group that gambled at Sunrise bowl in Bellmore.

Both Nassau police and the feds asked Buckley why he believed Fischetti, considering his past.

“That was just dumb reasoning,” Buckley says, “because who would know about crime and street life if he wasn’t part of it?”

The Lufthansa heist was a key plot in director Martin Scorsese’s 1990 blockbuster GoodFellas.

Buckley was subsequently ordered to work with the FBI. Unfortunately, he says, he was not paired with one of their best agents—instead, his new partner was a rookie.

“He had no background in working the streets and was not a native New Yorker,” Buckley says.

Buckley wasn’t happy, but he had to follow orders. The pair’s first move was to call the Bellmore cab company where Buckley was told that Fischetti had taken the day off.

Buckley didn’t want to call his home, believing Fischetti’s wife was not involved in the heist herself and probably knew nothing about her husband’s involvement, either.

“I foresaw a lot of heartache coming to this lady as it was and I didn’t want to add to it,” Buckley recalls.

They drove passed Fischetti’s house and all the places where Buckley knew Fischetti hung out. There was no sign of him.

“The next day I remembered that Billy [also] owned a two-family house in North Merrick, and I thought there was a possibility he might be crashing there,” Buckley says. “Sure enough, when we drove past the house, I saw his taxi parked in the back of the driveway.

The agent wanted to leave and find a phone to call in and get direction as to how to proceed next. I was strongly against doing that. Unfortunately, the agent was driving, so after looking high and low for this guy for two days, we left the scene so he could call his boss.

“I was furious,” Buckley says. “His boss told him what I had said to do: ‘Sit on the house until Fischetti left, then stop him and pick him up.’ Even if he didn’t want to come with us, there was enough cause to bring him in anyway.”

Eventually, Fischetti appeared. On their way to the local FBI office, Buckley asked Fischetti why he was avoiding him. Fischetti told him that he had received a threatening phone call warning him about talking to the cops.

“He said that he was being watched and he had been seen sitting in my unmarked car talking to me,” Buckley says. “He told the bad guys that he didn’t tell me anything and that they should check with people from Bellmore who knew me as a cop when I often came around. The bad guys told him that if he talked to me or any other cops he would be dead. So that was why he was avoiding me.”

Fischetti was surprised when Buckley found him, the sergeant recalled.

“All this was occurring before the bodies started to pile up from fallout from the robbery,” Buckley says. “We drove back to the office, where they escorted Billy into the back and told me, ‘Thank you very much but we don’t need anything else from you from here on.’”

“I had to agree that the jurisdiction of the robbery had been within New York City, and that the type of robbery made it a federal crime,” he says. “Since we had nothing that had happened in Nassau, I just had to bow out of the case.”

Few people were even aware of what he had done. Meanwhile, the number of bodies related to the heist continued to climb.

“In about approximately 65 percent of murders, the people know each other,” Coffey says. “But, the Italian mob killed for a reason; economic, vengeance or someone was disrespected. In addition, all gangland hits had to be approved by the commission,” or heads of the five mob families.

With all the murders being committed, Buckley was happy to be back at his own job.

“After the bodies began to mount up of the guys who had been involved in the robbery, I realized that the big crime bosses were eliminating anyone who could connect them to the crime,” Buckley says. “I never believed there was a code where organized crime guys didn’t hit cops, so I began to carry my gun off-duty, even around my house.

“As far as I was concerned, if they had asked Billy who the cop was he had been talking to, he would have given me up in a heartbeat,” Buckley says. “If they thought he knew too much, they would kill him and maybe think about killing me.”


Fischetti eventually went on to testify against Werner in open court, retelling the jury the same things that he had said to Buckley during their first meeting at the cab stand in Bellmore.

“Werner called and said that I was stupid…that I had financial problems while he was set for life,” Fischetti testified, according to a report from The Associate Press at the time. “In late 1977, Lou had an idea on how to make a big hit…he said he’d grab a big package, and my job would be—a truck driver—to get it out of the airport.”

Werner’s lawyer, Stephen Laifer, was quoted at the time saying that Fischetti’s testimony would cast “a doubt big enough to drive a Brink’s [armored] truck through.” The jury didn’t buy it.

Werner was convicted for the robbery in May 1979. Buckley recalls that despite his fears Fischetti later returned to Bellmore and lived there until he died more than a decade ago.

“I can’t understand why he wasn’t murdered like so many of the other people with knowledge of this crime,” Buckley says with amazement.

The money was never found. Coffey says his guess is that “Burke’s daughter got it.”

That mystery may never be solved. The string of violent killings will probably go unpunished. Coffey says that even though Werner was the only person ever convicted for the robbery—Burke was convicted of a related murder—he has no regrets.

“I’m a believer in the criminal justice system, but the justice that they got was far greater than what we could have done to them so I was pretty happy,” Coffey says. “Burke died in prison and the other vermin died in the street. Who cares?”

In 1980 Buckley received the Medal of Commendation, the second-highest award in the Nassau County Police Department, for his work on the case. During his career he also won the respect of those he worked with.

“Good cops are always a step or two ahead of their peers,” said retired inspector John Sharp,  “Bill Buckley was way out ahead of even the best cops. He was tenacious and a leader in every sense of the word.”

Buckley had been ordered by the FBI not to tell anyone in the NCPD that he was working on the Lufthansa heist. He retired after 24 years on the job.

Now, 35 years later, Buckley’s story is finally being told.

EXCLUSIVE – Thomas Dale: Nassau County’s Top Cop Talks Crime, Scandals, and Cleaning Up the Embattled Department

Thomas Dale
Photo by Angela Datre

Thomas Dale stumbled blindly with his hands outstretched in front of him through the engulfing thick white cloud of dust, debris and human remains rolling through Lower Manhattan in the moments following the World Trade Center’s collapse.

Walking slowly, desperately hoping to reach a nearby school, the New York City Police Department veteran with 43 years on the job did his best not to fall down.

Out of the darkness someone had handed him a moist towel to help him breathe.

During a lengthy and exceptionally candid recent interview with the Press, Dale admitted to being scared, even “petrified,” yet like so many other brave first responders on the scene that day, he stuck it out, both accepting and giving orders—orders that undoubtedly helped save lives.

Sept. 11, 2001 was a defining and life-changing moment for the now-63-year-old, he says, and has forever shaped his outlook on life and the way in which he handles his job—which since his December 2011 appointment by Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, has been heading the Nassau County Police Department, an agency that for the past several years has been the subject of not only an unprecedented downsizing, but several high-profile scandals.

Dale has been charged with cleaning up the mess.

“I almost died that day and I felt a lot different toward people after that day,” he confides, following a pause. “I saw tragedy that day and I saw people working with one another that I had never seen in my lifetime. The entire city, the entire Island, the entire United States—we worked together,” he recalls.

As much as a team player the former NYPD chief of personnel is, Dale’s not afraid to go it alone, something he’s had to do since nearly his first day at the helm—whether in front of the county legislature defending Mangano’s controversial plan to shutter half its precincts (to jeers from even “people who worked for me,” he says), or taking it upon himself last month to travel upstate to personally inform 21-year-old Hofstra University student Andrea Rebello’s parents that their daughter was accidentally killed by one of his officers May 17.

“It was the right thing to do,” he says of his visit to Tarrytown. “I’m the head guy. I thought that’s what a man should do.”

“The investigation is going on as we speak,” he continues, “we’re not finished with it. Every time there is a shooting we want to go through the procedure: Can we do something not to shoot? Can we make it better? This one is more exaggerated because of the seriousness of it and you always try to find if there is something we can do better.”

“Doing better” could be the mission statement of Dale’s administration thus far. Almost immediately upon his appointment he’d been thrust into the hot seat.

Dale was tapped shortly after New York State Inspector General Ellen Biben issued a report on the department’s troubled crime lab, which in 2010 became the only such laboratory in the nation to be put on probation following a scathing accreditation agency inspection report that November highlighting 26 areas of noncompliance with universally accepted standards. (It’s still closed and officials at the time had put the cost for outside testing and analysis of narcotics, blood and ballistics at $100,000 per month.)

“When I got here I found a lot of problems that I don’t think people thought about when they said, ‘Just close the lab,’” he says. “We are the people that bring the product in. We bring the evidence in here every day, the fingerprints, the blood sample, DNA. These are the other things. What are we going to do with it if we don’t have a lab to deal with it? Who do we give it to? There was no one to give it to.”

Dale appointed his new deputy commissioner to deal with “this very complicated issue.”

His goal is to have the lab completely outside the purview of the police department.

“It just doesn’t make sense anymore,” he says, “why have officers in there? You can have civilians who went to school for that. Put a sergeant in there and the sergeant gets promoted. I have an evidence management team that has set up a report every month on every piece of evidence.”

Dale hopes to stop sending out their evidence to numerous different places including Pennsylvania, Westchester and Texas, and to set up a complete lab in the county medical examiner’s office.

Three months on the job, Dale had to handle a different type of scandal. A March 31, 2011 Press investigation into the department and nonprofit Nassau County Police Department Foundation had resulted in a probe by the Nassau District Attorney’s Office and the indictment of three of the county’s top former cops a year later for their roles in covering up a burglary committed by a wealthy foundation donor’s son.

Former Nassau Police Second Deputy Commissioner William Flanagan was convicted of conspiracy and official misconduct this February. Ex-Deputy Chief of Patrol John Hunter pleaded guilty last month to the same charges. Retired Det. Sgt. Alan Sharpe’s next court date is June 26.

After reading our series and subsequent agency reports, Dale was swift with his response.

“I realized I could do some things right away,” he says. “So one thing was they [foundation members and donors] all have these special ID cards. I asked them and they agreed from now on everybody has the same ID card. We do have a lot of civilians with ID cards. We have an Explorer board that have ID cards, we have a foundation board, we have some honorary surgeons that we deal with. A lot of people who have ID cards, but I want everybody’s to be the same so there’s no one special.”

In addition to the police IDs the members had police shields, though putting the kibosh on those wasn’t going to be that easy.

“I can’t tell them not to buy a shield,” he explains. “I don’t give them a shield, they buy it themselves. I can’t stop it. I said, ‘Guys, you should not be showing them, that’s not appropriate.’”

Dale did “immediately” cancel a department-wide order requesting officers verify foundation membership, however.

“We revoked that order immediately,” he says, adding that the group’s members no longer have free access into police headquarters, nor an office there, as was the situation under his predecessor former Nassau Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey (who retired the following day of our series’ first installment). Dale closed that down, too.

After researching other foundations, Dale says he told members that there had to be a separation between him and the organization. Regarding the larger issue of monetary donations often coming with strings attached, Dale says:

“There are two ways that we are approaching it. One way is basically what has happened, which scared the pants off of most everybody here. The other way is internally. What I do now is every day I read every complaint that comes in. If someone makes a complaint anywhere—Internet, any government office, or through us—I get it and I read it. I get briefed from our internal affairs on a lot of the cases that were always handled out there. Now they are not handled by them, they are handled by me.”

As a result of his changes, Dale believes that “the guys out there on the street know that I mean business. These were very serious cases that I have been dealing with since I got here. Can I ever prevent somebody not to call up somebody? I told them, I met them in person and spoke to them—man to man, woman to woman—‘If you do this, you’re going to get in trouble.’”

“I have to do everything in my power to prevent that, but it’s a very difficult thing to prevent, very difficult. It would be naïve to say it would never happen again.”

Dale says one of his goals was to reinforce the authority of supervisors. Prior to his taking office, he said the route was a cop would go to the union, who would go to the government and do an end-run around their supervisors, leaving those supervisors without any authority. He was able, he says, to get a “bill passed where I am in charge of discipline.” Now, when a cop is put on disciplinary probation, a supervisor can write them up and they may be terminated. “I have empowered the sergeants and lieutenants. They had no power before—I needed to empower my bosses.”

“They weren’t being supported so I’ve supported them,” he continues. “Now they know when they do something they’re going to have to pay the price. I’m not looking to fire anybody. I’m looking to just maintain discipline. We don’t have enough people to go around firing everybody, that’s just crazy. Everybody is saying, ‘He is firing everybody.’ I’m not firing everybody that comes before me. You don’t have to agree to with what I said. You can go to trial. You can do this you can do that. They don’t want to go to trial.”

The department, according to numerous sources, had become lax when it came to discipline. Dale said his job was to turn that around. He said while he couldn’t discuss specific cases, “I have been strict.” He added that “A couple of people have been terminated.”

Some of the cases he has dealt with, he says, include an officer shoplifting, officers using internal records to run plates for friends, officers involved in the Jo’Anna Bird domestic violence murder case and several “Romeo” cases, whereby officers were involved with women while on the job.

“There was some pretty serious stuff,” he says.

Dale’s been spearheading the internal housecleaning while also keeping his eye on what he says is his main priority: crime. That is no easy task with a depleted department and a shortage of cops.

“Crime is our number-one issue and I think the best way to attack it is to be smart, as we don’t have the personnel,” he says.

Doing more with less has become a major challenge for Dale. He believes the biggest difference between Nassau County and New York City police departments is “we don’t have enough people.”

The city can direct personnel to problem areas, whereas Nassau doesn’t have the manpower to do so, he explains.

“We don’t have that luxury,” he says. “We have to do it with intelligence policing that we developed to try to be smarter with what we got.”

“Omnipresence is our goal but we are so short right now,” he adds. “I am hoping as time goes by and things get better and we start hiring a little bit more, I think it will get better. I know it will get better. I know it’s getting better.”

The grandfather of four doesn’t know how long he will keep working, but one thing he is sure of: “In 1970 my first day on the police department I got up and I had like a fire in my belly and now at 63 years old I still feel the same thing when I go to work.”

When that feeling stops, he stops, he says.

“Now I’m in a position where I can do something some really good things,” he says. “I’ve seen so much, I could use all that experience, and I really try to do that in Nassau County. I have family here, I pay taxes like everybody else and I want to make sure that we get a good product.”

Dale thinks back to that tragic day in September 2001 for inspiration and guidance.

“There was no crime, we were working for a purpose, together, and I’ve accepted that into my own life,” he says. “That is the way we should be all the time.”

He has the towel the stranger handed him during those darkest of hours to prove it.