Ex-PBA lawyer a story in redemption

lt went largely unnoticed by the city’s media.

Just a sprinkling of police people attended the funeral of Richie Hartman, who was responsible for raising the salaries of cops in the metro area to among the nation’s highest.

Yet the death of the former PBA counsel went largely unnoticed by the city’s media. The largest contingent of mourners were kids from Christ the King High School in Middle Village, where Hartman taught math for 10 years.

Although his death and funeral in August were observed by few, his story is timeless — one of redemption, and worthy of attention for the lessons it offers.

Teaching high school students might seem a remarkable change for a man who represented nearly 100,000 cops, and who had served 5 years in federal prison for a union kickback-and-bribery scheme. He was as devoted to his students as he had been to cops decades earlier.

In the 1970s, Hartman, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and New York Law School, worked out of a walk-up office in Nassau County, making personal loans to cops and making calls on their behalf until 2 or 3 a.m.

In 1978, he became general counsel to then-PBA president Phil Caruso. In his zeal to protect cops, he hired Walter Cox, a felon, as the union’s chief investigator. Cox turned up witnesses who lied in court. Eventually, Cox was arrested on bribery charges, and died of a heart attack in Rikers Island in 1986.

By then, Hartman was deep into a gambling addiction. He owed $800,000 to casinos and used a PBA account to pay his debts. No charges were filed; he returned the money and had to give up his law license. Later, he became the union’s labor consultant and sold insurance policies to cops.

Meanwhile, Hartman hooked on with Ron Reale, president of the city’s transit police union. In 1998, he and Reale were convicted of conspiring to defraud the city’s campaign finance board. Upon Hartman’s release from prison, former Queens state Sen. Serphin Maltese got him a job at Christ the King, where Maltese is board chairman. It was there that his life changed.

“He was the first one here in the morning and the last one out of the building,” said Veronica Cokley, the school’s assistant to the president and executive assistant to the board. “It bothered him not to practice law,” she said. Just as he had with cops years before, he put it all into the kids.

Len Levitt