Al Seedman is a legendary figure in New York City police lore. An elegantly attired, tough talking, cigar chomping Jew, he served in the NYPD from 1942 to 1972, investigating thousands of murders, including the cases of Joe Colombo, Joey Gallo, and Kitty Genovese. He was named Chief of Detectives in 1971. In 1972, he abruptly resigned, retreating to silence and exile from his beloved police department.
In 1974, he published with writer Peter Hellman Chief! Classic Cases from the Files of the Chief of Detectives. It’s a classic indeed, full of interesting detective work, but it is largely silent on the true reason for his resignation from a job he loved at the top of his game.
Planning a re-issue of the book as an Authors Guild Backinprint.com edition, Hellman reached out to Seedman, now 92 and living in Florida, for a new introduction. Hellman got plenty. Seedman was finally ready to talk about the true reason for his resignation: the shooting of Police Office Phillip Cardillo in Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam Mosque # 7 in Harlem on April 14, 1972, and the subsequent cover-up. Hellman’s recent New York Post story about Seedman and Cardillo is linked below.
To the police rank and file, the Cardillo killing is the greatest scandal in NYPD history—a story of murder, betrayal and cover-up.
Some of the key figures in the scandal are still with us, namely Representative Charles Rangel, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Seedman told Hellman that cops at the mosque were “betrayed” by top NYPD brass colluding with Rangel and Farrakhan. Rangel and Farrakhan quickly arrived at the mosque after the Cardillo shooting. So did Al Seedman and the NYPD cavalry. Outside, a riot was brewing.
The police had sixteen suspects in the basement of the mosque, almost certainly the shooter among them. In the basement, Seedman encountered Rangel and Farrakhan. According to Hellman’s account, Rangel told Seedman that a senior police official “wanted the mosque to be cleared of cops at once. This edict was seconded by Louis Farrakhan.”
Rangel then issued a veiled threat to Seedman. “That crowd upstairs, they know you’re down here,” Seedman remembers Rangel saying, “I don’t know how long it will be before they come down. If you don’t leave now, I can’t guarantee your personal safety.”
Seedman called NYPD Chief Inspector Michael Codd to request back-up. Codd denied the request. “And he made it clear to me,” Seedman told Hellman, “that we should abandon the mosque to minimize the threat of a possible riot. And then he hung up.”
Seedman felt “betrayed.” But he had been given an order: abandon the mosque.
Seedman says he struck a deal with Rangel, with Farrakhan standing at their side: he would release the sixteen suspects to Rangel if the congressman promised to deliver them to the 24th Precinct for questioning later that day. Rangel agreed. The NYPD abandoned the crime scene and the suspects. Rangel and the suspects never showed up at the 24th Precinct.
Thus began a forty-year ordeal seeking justice for Police Officer Phillip Cardillo and answers to the mosque shooting. Was there a conspiracy to lure police officers into an ambush at the mosque? Cardillo and three others were first on the scene, racing to respond to what turned out to be a false “officer in distress” call. Was the FBI somehow involved in a cover-up, perhaps shielding valuable informants or controversial methods from the NYPD? It’s happened before. Think “Whitey Bulger.”
Ray Kelly? He was a young police sergeant at the time, stationed at the hospital where Phillip Cardillo died six days after the shooting. Thirty-four years later, as police commissioner, Kelly re-opened the case. Six years after that, in March of this year, Kelly’s spokesman in effect closed the case, saying the Major Case Squad had turned up “no new information.”
But sources tell me that the FBI was singularly uncooperative with the NYPD’s Cardillo probe, slow-rolling inquiries and providing only heavily redacted documents. Why would they do that? Well, consider the times. 1972 was an era of violent revolutionary action in the United States: the Weathermen, the Black Liberation Army, Vietnam, Watergate, urban bombings, cop killings. The FBI supposedly ceased its COINTELPRO operations and black bags jobs against domestic dissidents in 1971. And we know that the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X, Farrakhan’s predecessor at Mosque #7, were COINTELPRO targets.
There are other possible lines of inquiry as well. Independent investigators have turned up redacted documents indicating the FBI had five or six informants in or around the mosque in April, 1972. What would the unredacted documents tell us? Forty years later, maybe Charles Rangel and Louis Farrakhan have reconsidered their positions on the case. Have they been interviewed? Al Seedman is in ill health and no longer smokes cigars, Peter Hellman reports. Maybe someone should go down to Florida and get him on the record before he goes off to that great cigar store in the sky.
Murder cases famously are never closed, and that goes double for a cop killing. Ray Kelly’s NYPD is not at fault. But after a six-year investigation, if the NYPD has run out of leads, Kelly should do the right thing and call for a federal probe. Let’s see if the Justice Department and Congress can get to the bottom of this. They should start with the FBI’s relationship with the Nation of Islam.
Read Peter Hellman’s New York Post story on Al Seedman here.
Read my Daily News op-ed calling for a federal probe of the Cardillo killing here.
Read my New York Post team report on new evidence in the case here.