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Ex-Giuliani protege Kerik pleads not guilty

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Rival says Giuliani's association with Kerik raises questions of judgment
  • Bernard Kerik says he will fight federal charges against him
  • Kerik is ex-New York police commissioner, former associate of Rudy Giuliani
  • Kerik pleads not guilty to charges of conspiracy, tax fraud, lying to feds
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WHITE PLAINS, New York (CNN) -- Former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik said Friday that he's ready to fight federal charges of conspiracy, tax fraud and making false statements.

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Former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik was released Friday on a $500,000 bail.

"I'm disappointed that the government has brought forward this case," Kerik said on the steps of federal court in suburban White Plains after pleading not guilty to a 16-count indictment against him.

"My life has been marked by challenge," Kerik said, citing adversity he said he overcame as a New York police officer and during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"This is a battle I am going to fight."

Prosecutors said Kerik received about $255,000 in renovations to his Riverdale, New York, apartment from a company seeking to do business with the city of New York and concealed the income from the Internal Revenue Service.

The indictment also alleges Kerik made false statements to the White House and to federal officials.

"It is a sad day when this office returns an indictment against a former law-enforcement officer," U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia said in announcing the charges, "particularly one who served in positions as high as those held by Bernard Kerik."

If convicted on all 16 counts in the indictment, Kerik could face a maximum sentence of 142 years in prison and $4.7 million in fines, prosecutors said.

"Moral relativism is not an appropriate yardstick for our public officials," said David Cardona, special agent in charge of the New York FBI office. "The only acceptable level of corruption in a trusted government official is zero."

Kerik, 52, surrendered to officials Friday morning. He later was released on $500,000 bail. Kerik said he would use his New Jersey home as security. Video Watch Kerik turn himself in »

Kerik was ordered to turn over all firearms and their licenses, to have no contact with government witnesses and to surrender travel documents. Kerik already had relinquished his passport; his travel is restricted the Southern District of New York and New Jersey.

Kerik is a longtime friend and former protege of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the Republican presidential front-runner in national polls.

He was frequently by Giuliani's side in the days after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and his role as the city's police commissioner propelled him into the national spotlight.

With Giuliani's backing, President Bush nominated Kerik to be secretary of homeland security after the 2004 election. (Kerik campaigned for Bush's re-election effort, speaking at the Republican National Convention in New York.) But Kerik withdrew his name amid allegations that he employed a nanny whose immigration status was questionable.

After the allegations about the nanny, Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson began investigating allegations that Kerik had traded payment on repairs to his Bronx apartment for favors, including city contracts.

The ex-chief pleaded guilty in 2006 to accepting tens of thousands of dollars in gifts while he worked as city corrections commissioner. He was fined $221,000 and avoided jail time under his plea agreement.

At least one of Giuliani's rivals for the Republican nomination used Giuliani's endorsement of Kerik to question the former New York mayor's judgment, a part of Giuliani's strategy of presenting himself as a strong leader.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona said Kerik did a questionable job when he was sent to Baghdad to train Iraqi police in 2003, which should have given Giuliani pause.

"That should have been part of anybody's judgment whether to recommend that individual to be the head of Department of Homeland Security," McCain said.

And, In a statement released Friday, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said, "Rudy Giuliani's history with Bernie Kerik is a story of poor judgment."

"A president's judgment matters, and Rudy Giuliani has repeatedly placed personal loyalty over regard for the facts," Davis said.

Giuliani called his earlier patronage of Kerik "a mistake" during a campaign stop Thursday in Iowa.

"I made a mistake in not clearing him effectively enough, and I take the responsibility for that," Giuliani said.

Kerik was Giuliani's driver during his 1993 mayoral campaign. Giuliani later named him the city's corrections commissioner and police commissioner and made him a senior executive of the management consulting firm Giuliani founded after leaving office.

Time magazine political analyst Mark Halperin said even though the two "were thick as thieves," Kerik doesn't seem to be hurting Giuliani's standing with voters so far.

"There's still a problem for Giuliani, but I don't think this is going to be a problem just because we're talking about it," Halperin said on CNN's "American Morning." "Someone else -- some Republican, some interest group, some Democrat -- is going to have to try to make this an issue.

"If it doesn't happen, Giuliani's handled it brilliantly so far. He said he made a mistake. I don't think this is going to be decisive, though, unless somebody steps forward and tries to use it to attack Giuliani."

Before tapping Kerik for a Cabinet post, Bush dispatched him to Baghdad to train Iraqi police after the U.S. invasion. Kerik left three months into an expected six-month stint, with Iraqi officials telling reporters that he had completed his assignment.

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According to the indictment, Kerik lied to federal officials who were vetting him for a position as an adviser to the president's Homeland Security Advisory Council, for the Iraq position and for his nomination as homeland security secretary.

"Time and again, Kerik was asked specific questions about his financial dealings, and time and again he lied," Garcia said Friday. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Mary Snow contributed to this report.

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