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Rumors of Kaczmarek drug use go back years

Rumors of Kaczmarek drug use go back years

They were two statements from Greg Kaczmarek 12 years apart, each with high stakes and each with nea

They were two statements from Greg Kaczmarek 12 years apart, each with high stakes and each with nearly the same intent, if not style.

On June 19, 1996, a week before he would be appointed Schenectady’s 16th police chief, Kaczmarek was forceful.

“I am not a drug user,” he said. “I am not a drug abuser and I have never been one.”

On Thursday, with the stakes even higher, he was more succinct: “Not guilty.”

Kaczmarek’s indictment Thursday on multiple conspiracy and drug possession counts adds another chapter to his history with the city and department.

It also dredges up difficult memories for a city and police department that even today they are still trying to shake.

And it comes as the department’s 18th chief, Mark R. Chaires, marked his first week in office, asking a city to trust him to make the department outstanding again.

“You’ve got a new chief who just started,” Schenectady County Sheriff Harry Buffardi said Thursday, “who, in my observation, is looking to put things in perspective and deal with the issues and something like this happens.

“He’ll get beyond that.”

Kaczmarek, who was a 27-year veteran of the department, spent six of those years as chief. He stepped down in 2002, his final three years in turmoil over an FBI investigation of the Police Department.

Four officers — Michael F. Hamilton Jr., Nicola Messere, Michael Siler and Richard Barnett — each did prison time as a result of the federal probe. Michael Hamilton was convicted of tipping off an informant, Messere of drug possession. Siler and Barnett admitted to extortion and drug counts.

Retired internal affairs officers even accused Kaczmarek of ignoring warnings that some officers engaged in illegal activities. He denied those accusations, saying he called for an investigation as soon as he had evidence.

There have been others since. Officer Kenneth Hill in 2004 admitted to giving a gun to a drug dealer. Detective Jeffrey Curtis in 2007 admitted to taking drugs from the department evidence locker.

But the FBI investigation has remained the gold standard with which to compare department scandals.

Even before Kaczmarek became chief, there were warnings that dogged him as he rose through the ranks. Those warnings led to the now-infamous 1996 news conference where he denied being a drug user.

Then-mayor Albert Jurczynski admitted the rumors made him hesitant to promote Kaczmarek. The mayor then also asked for anyone with a serious accusation to come forward. A couple of anonymous calls came in but they were deemed baseless. Kaczmarek was appointed chief eight days later.

A message left with Jurczynski Thursday was not returned. Current city officials, including Mayor Brian U. Stratton, also did not return calls. Stratton, however, was a councilman in 1996 and opposed Kaczmarek then.

Chaires and Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett did not return calls requesting comment.

But Frank Duci, who had fought as mayor to appoint Kaczmarek as chief in 1993, called the fresh allegations “truly sad.”

“I feel real bad because of the fact that he was a police officer,” Duci said. “Being so knowledgeable, I never thought he would ever be involved in anything like this. It’s truly sad.”

Duci acknowledged then-public safety commissioner Charles Mills raising the issue, but there was no evidence.

Mills, who died in the 2001 World Trade Center attack, said in a 1996 interview that he took the accusations seriously.

“To me, it wasn’t a question of whether he did it or not,” Mills said. “It was the reputation of the department that had to be clarified, because the rumors were widespread. . . . I had no problem with his competence in 1993. I had problems with the allegations against him in 1983.”

The allegations against Kaczmarek dated back to at least 1980, Kaczmarek said then, saying he had been called “Sgt. Snow” and “Lt. Noriega” behind his back.

That first bid for chief ended with opposition from the City Council, which abolished the job to prevent him from taking it. That move was later ruled illegal.

Kaczmarek, the son of a city detective, joined the Police Department in 1975.

Buffardi said he has known Kaczmarek since 1973. Kaczmarek’s late father, John David Kaczmarek, was also a long-time undersheriff.

“It’s very unfortunate,” Buffardi said of the current accusations. “His father was my boss, someone who had an influential career, one of my mentors, teachers and guiders. He’s since passed and, in some ways, I’m glad he’s not here to see this.”

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