Convicted felon and former New York Police Department commissioner Bernard Kerik continued his criticism of federal sentencing guidelines he called “flawed,” while insisting Monday he’s not trying to raise public sympathy for himself.
“It’s not about me being a victim of the system. I think the system is flawed. I think the system is supposed to punish. It’s not supposed to annihilate personally, professionally, financially,” he told TODAY’s Matt Lauer in the second of a two-part interview with the former nominee for Homeland Security secretary.
“It’s not supposed to destroy families. The punishment must fit the crime. I was in prison with commercial fishermen that caught too many fish that spent three years in prison,” he said. “Their licenses were removed. They’re not going to be able to work in that industry for the rest of their lives. That’s a life sentence.”
In a statement to TODAY.com, Kerik elaborated. "Let me say this clearly: Bad people who do bad things belong in prison," he wrote. "Some for long periods of time; some forever. However, good people who make mistakes can be punished with alternative sentences — fines, home detention, probation, and community service. People who, for example, catch too many fish or sell a whale’s tooth on eBay or exaggerate their income on a mortgage application can be punished without prison."
During an interview that aired last week, Kerik handed Lauer a nickel to demonstrate the amount of cocaine that sends an offender to prison. “I was with men sentenced to ten years in prison for five grams of cocaine. That's insane. That's insane,” he said.
On Monday, Kerik said the response to the interview, his first since being released from prison, has been “crazy — major, major response.” That included a wide range of emotions on social media.
But others disagreed with Kerik, saying inmates ended up in prison because of their own making.
Kerik pleaded guilty in November 2009 to eight counts, including tax evasion and lying to the White House over his nomination to run the Department of Homeland Security.
Kerik said he doesn’t feel above the law because of his position in law enforcement but that he simply failed to “keep track” of things he should have.
“I think it’s just, you wind up in these positions. You don’t focus on the right things. You don’t pay attention to the ethical issues that you should, and it’s a big problem, particularly when you are scrutinized, at that time or later, in a way that nobody really gets scrutinized,” he said, saying he planned to speak more about his fall from grace “in due time.”
Kerik was sentenced to serve four years in a federal minimum-security prison. He was released in May after serving three years and served out the remainder of his term under home confinement, which he recently finished.
Kerik hit national headlines after working his way up from cop to a plum spot on the security detail for former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. He then got named commissioner of the city’s Department of Correction, turning around Rikers Island, one of the nation’s largest, and most violent, metropolitan jail complexes.
Years later, Kerik went on to lead the New York Police Departme nt and rose to prominence following the September 11 terrorist attacks. In 2004, President George W. Bush nominated Kerik to be Homeland Security secretary. Kerik soon withdrew his name from consideration, citing past employment of an illegal immigrant as a nanny, but stories related to personal and marital strife followed.
Kerik admitted to having a relationship with corrections officer Jeanette Pinero while he was first deputy commissioner of the New York City Department of Corrections, which he claimed ended in 1997, before he married his third wife in 1998. But Kerik was married during his affair with powerhouse book publisher Judith Regan. That began when she worked with him on his memoir, the 2001 best-seller “The Lost Son,” a New York Daily News investigation unearthed in 2004.
During both interviews with Lauer, Kerik said he served time with non-violent inmates, many of them first-time offenders sentenced disproportionately for their crimes.
On Monday, he spoke about a 21-year-old Marine sniper who was jailed for selling a pair of night-vision goggles on eBay.
"Gets three years in prison but for the rest of his life he’s going to be a convicted felon and can’t do anything else publicly for the country," he said. "It's just horrible."