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What you need to know for 05/29/2017

Kaczmarek: 'I sincerely apologize'

Kaczmarek: 'I sincerely apologize'

On the steps of the Schenectady County Courthouse Tuesday, former Schenectady police chief Greg Kacz
Kaczmarek: 'I sincerely apologize'
Former Schenectady police chief Greg Kaczmarek issues a public apology in front of the Schenectady County Courthouse on Dec. 2 before he and his wife, Lisa, appeared to accept plea deals on drug charges.
Photographer: Ana Zangroniz

On the steps of the Schenectady County Courthouse Tuesday, former Schenectady police chief Greg Kaczmarek offered an apology.

The man who had spent 27 years in law enforcement, six of those as chief, was there as a criminal defendant to plead guilty to drug possession. He was accused of participating in a large-scale drug operation from which two dozen people were indicted.

“We’re here to answer the allegations,” Kaczmarek said, his wife and co-defendant Lisa Kaczmarek having hurried inside. “We’re here to accept responsibility for our actions.”

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Click HERE to view a timeline of Gregory Kaczmarek's rise through the ranks of the Schenectady Police Department and his subsequent fall from grace.

Those actions, he said, should not reflect on law enforcement or his former police department. “There are a lot of men and women in law enforcement who work hard to do the right thing,” he said. “If my actions have made their job more difficult, I truly and sincerely apologize.”

Moments later, the 56-year-old retired chief was on the fourth floor before county court Judge Karen Drago. Asked by the judge how he pleaded to the crime of third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, the man who had faced decades of whispers over drug use responded, “guilty.”

It was on Feb. 2 of this year that he possessed cocaine with intent to sell it, he admitted. His wife followed, admitting to attempting to possess cocaine that same day. Her guilty plea was to attempted third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance.

It was just one of the allegations against the former chief and his wife. The indictment handed up in September carried a lengthy list of alleged acts by the two, including many phone calls with drug ring leader Kerry Kirkem, in which authorities said they asked for and received drugs.

Among the allegations was that Greg Kaczmarek offered to go on a drug run himself, and if he got caught he would flash his badge.

As part of Tuesday’s plea deal, Kaczmarek will be sentenced to serve two years in state prison. He is to give up any badges he still has. He is also to give up his long-held nursing license, effective officially in January. He is to serve one year post-release supervision, essentially parole.

His wife is to serve six months in jail and five years’ probation after her release.

Despite persistent whispers of drug use and Tuesday’s admission to drug possession, Kaczmarek appeared to still deny having a problem. During routine pre-plea questioning by Drago, the judge asked if they were addicted to drugs or alcohol. Both said no.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, whose office prosecuted the case, echoed earlier comments that Kaczmarek’s actions were “an insult to the countless law enforcement officials who risk their lives every day to protect our communities.”

Outside the courtroom, attorneys for the Kaczmareks defended their clients.

“Six months given the wiretaps is a good deal,” Lisa Kaczmarek’s attorney, Kevin Luibrand, said. “It’s a proper deal.”

Greg Kaczmarek’s attorney, Thomas O’Hern, went further. He said prosecutors pushed the deals as a group, calling them the “family plan.”

O’Hern said his client was concerned about going to prison, but his wife wouldn’t have to. She’ll serve her time in Schenectady County jail.

Greg Kaczmarek pleaded guilty despite O’Hern’s assessment that the charges against him were weak, while evidence against his wife was stronger.

“As his attorney, I don’t like it,” O’Hern said. “But it’s his choice. He did it for his wife. Like I said, it’s the stand-up thing for him to do and you have to respect him for it.”

Greg Kaczmarek had avoided indictment when the rest of the defendants were named. Prosecutors and the state police Community Narcotics Enforcement team had mounds of recordings. Two calls were identified early on, both with Lisa Kaczmarek on the phone with Kirkem, discussing trying to get cocaine for Greg’s birthday.

Greg Kaczmarek was identified as taking part in the phone call, talking from the background. The calls were referenced in the May indictments and Greg Kaczmarek’s name was used. But the former chief was not indicted. Officials said it was over the summer that the evidence against Greg Kaczmarek mounted. Phone numbers were received and matched to recordings and to Greg Kaczmarek, his voice also recognized.

Armed with that new information, prosecutors and police combed through the recordings. Eventually, they compiled a lengthy list of phone calls that began Feb. 1.

On one call Greg Kaczmarek chastised Kirkem that he was holding up “business” when cocaine wasn’t available, an exchange included in the September indictment and a recording that would likely have been played to a jury had the case gotten that far.

Greg and Lisa Kaczmarek were the 22nd and 23rd defendants to accept plea deals. Two cases remain open.

Sentencings in the others have begun in earnest. Four took place Monday, three Tuesday afternoon.

Michelle Soto, 30, accepted 31⁄2 years in state prison. She would take turns answering the group’s drug phone, prosecutors alleged. Kareem Reid, 26, received one year in jail after admitting to conspiracy.

Gary Cherny, who has admitted to being addicted to heroin, accepted his four-year sentence. He, along with co-defendant Miles Smith, were accused in the indictment of moving a safe used to store cash, weapons and drugs from a Union Street apartment to Avenue A.

Smith is the son of Lisa Kaczmarek. He is awaiting sentencing, expected to be three years.

Drago noted that like other defendants in the case, Cherny suffered from drug addiction and mental health issues. That was exactly the profile that Kirkem exploited to gain many of his workers, Drago noted.

Greg Kaczmarek served as Schenectady police chief from 1996 to 2002, during which he gained friends as well as enemies. He finally retired in the wake of a department drug scandal that sent four officers to prison after a federal investigation. Another officer, William Marhafer II, committed suicide as the investigation hit fever pitch.

On the courthouse steps, Kaczmarek spoke of support from the community and family. Members of the community reached out to him, he said.

Few appeared to be in the courtroom. Local media took up much of the gallery space, along with some court workers.

Among the few members of the public attending the appearance were officer Marhafer’s parents, William and Sheila Marhafer.

“He can’t go away long enough, as far as I’m concerned,” the father said later. “He got off damn easy.”

Greg and Lisa Kaczmarek will remain on bail until their Feb. 2 sentencing. Each has posted $10,000 to remain free.

In the meantime, the county probation department will speak with them, creating a presentencing investigation report. The reports provide judges with more information regarding the case and the individual. In rare cases, they uncover information that can cause a judge to void a plea deal.

The Kaczmareks were ordered to go directly to the probation department to begin the process. They apparently used a side exit, the most direct route, to get there.

Later, outside the probation department, husband and wife sat alone in chairs, filling out the required paperwork in preparation for sentencing.

Neither offered further comment.

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