Democratic mayoral nominee Eric Adams once orchestrated a sexist smear campaign against a transit cop after she accused members of a Black police fraternal organization he co-led at the time of cheating on a sergeant’s exam.
In statements to the press, Adams targeted Officer Lizette Lebron — repeatedly calling her the “scorned lover” of a cop at the center of the cheating scandal and providing the press a photo of her in a bathing suit.
It was 1991: Adams was a transit cop and first vice president of the Grand Council of Guardians. Lebron was a 24-year-old colleague getting her start in the transit police department, then a separate entity from the NYPD.
Lebron, who quit the department and now lives upstate, told THE CITY on Friday that Adams’ attacks on her integrity “brought me to a dark place.”
“I went through a lot with this,” she added. “I’ve moved on and I really don’t want to go back there, anyway. I moved four hours away to be away from New York City.”
THE CITY’s examination of the record shows Adams publicly questioned her credibility after she told the department’s Internal Affairs unit that Guardian members had secretly received test answers to an upcoming exam.
Adams accused her of making up the cheating allegations to get back at a married transit police lieutenant who had supposedly rejected her sexual advances. And the future politician trotted out the bathing suit picture in an attempt to bolster his claims.
Lebron’s allegations ultimately led to criminal charges and convictions for three Guardian members.
Adams on Friday declined to answer specific questions about his campaign against Lebron — including what he would say to her today.
Instead, the Brooklyn borough president and mayoral frontrunner issued a three-sentence statement:
“Over 30 years ago we attempted to get to the core of a testing scandal. The way we treated Ms. Lebron during that process was wrong, and I regret that it happened. I have evolved as a person, a father and a leader over time, and I will continue to evolve to improve myself and the city around me.”
Told of Adams’ statement, Lebron said, “He should regret what he did. They should all regret what they did because I was telling the truth and I backed up what I said. People went to jail.”
Cheating Allegations Spurred Probes
In her brief interview with THE CITY, Lebron made it clear that she did not wish to revisit the details of what for her was a traumatic event.
But in a slander lawsuit she filed in 1992, Lebron, now 53, flatly denied all of Adams’ claims. The suit named Adams and several other members of the Guardians.
Her attorneys gathered evidence and sought records for five years before Lebron decided to withdraw the legal action. By then, she’d quit the department and moved upstate.
The court records provide a clear picture of the attempt to impugn her integrity, with Adams playing a central role in the rollout to the media.
The attacks began in late 1991, shortly after the results of a sergeants exam from earlier that year were suddenly invalidated without explanation. News soon broke about why: Lebron had secretly gone to the NYPD’s Internal Affairs unit with cheating allegations against Guardian member Lt. Michael Gordon.
Gordon had been assigned the task of drafting some of the questions for the 1991 sergeant’s exam. Lebron told Internal Affairs that she’d attended a late night “study session” at his apartment where, she alleged, Gordon provided other Guardian members who were present with some exam answers.
She said she turned down Gordon when he offered her exam answers. But Lebron identified several Guardians members present whom she believed took the answers. She did not identify Adams as being among those in Gordon’s apartment.
Her allegations soon triggered an investigation by Internal Affairs and the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office.
To counter a damaging narrative beginning to emerge in the press about the cheating investigation, Adams became the Guardians’ point man in attempting to undermine the source of the allegations: Lebron, THE CITY’s review of records and press show.
‘A Disgruntled Lover’
The first salvo came at a Dec. 20, 1991, news conference during which Adams named Lebron and said, “This shows that the allegations made by this officer that Lieutenant Gordon was, quote-unquote, trying to get into her pants, it shows that it was just the opposite. She was chasing the lieutenant and was a disgruntled lover.”
Adams claimed Lebron then “put out allegations on Lieutenant Gordon.”
He and the Guardians displayed for the press a large photo of Lebron wearing a two-piece bathing suit. Adams claimed she had sent the picture to Gordon to “entice” him into a sexual relationship. THE CITY was unable to reach Gordon.
In a Jan. 23, 1997, affidavit filed in her lawsuit, Lebron described the impact that news conference had on her, while noting that the Guardians held the press event in a transit police building.
“The publicity of the press conference had a devastating effect on my personal and professional life and it was exacerbated by having been held on police premises, giving the impression that it was a police press conference or in the very least sanctioned by the police department,” she stated. “My lifelong dream to be a New York police officer was shattered because of the actions of the defendants.”
Not long after the news conference, “I was taken out of my command, I was sidetracked to Internal Affairs without real opportunity to be mainstreamed and also lost my opportunity for advancement in the police department completely,” Lebron said in the affidavit.
The campaign to discredit Lebron did not end there. The next day, Guardians President Lloyd Finley sent a letter to then-Mayor David Dinkins, repeating the “scorned lover” narrative. The letter was distributed to reporters and listed Adams as the media contact for the group. (Finley passed away in 2019).
The letter named Lebron and claimed she intended to “target a Black lieutenant and other prominent Guardians members.”
“PO Lebron stated in essence that the Black [lieutenant] gave her the answers to the exam in exchange for sex and further stated she was uncomfortable with his unrequited sexual advances,” the letter said.
The missive posed a series of questions, including, “Why did the Internal Affairs Unit and the Department of Investigation take the word of a scorned lover who lied about her relationship with the Black test preparer?”
The letter also implied that Lebron had made sex harassment claims against other officers, stating, “Did the Internal Affairs Unit and the Department of Investigation intentionally withhold from the DA’s office all the other officers PO Lebron accused of sexual harassment?”
That was followed by a Jan. 10, 1992, article in Newsday that quoted Adams as saying that the Guardians had provided the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office “with evidence indicating that the cheating charges were concocted by a police officer identified as Lizette Lebron, who may have had a grudge against Lt. Michael Gordon.”
The article quoted Adams as stating, “We believe the IAD [Internal Affairs Division] used a 24-year-old impressionable scorned lover that had aspirations of being a member of the IAD to go after key members of the Transit Police Guardian Association.”
In March 1992, as a result of the investigation that Lebron triggered, Gordon and two Guardian members who attended the “study session” were indicted by a Manhattan grand jury.
Gordon was charged with leaking questions on the exam while the two others were charged with lying to the grand jury about their presence at his apartment. All three were ultimately convicted of various charges.
In December 1992, Lebron filed her libel lawsuit, naming Adams as one of several defendants.
At the time the sergeants exam scandal was unfolding, Adams was a transit cop making headlines as a vocal leader of the Guardians.
He would later form 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care and frequently hold news conferences excoriating the NYPD for incidents of police brutality and for what he labeled an insufficient effort to make the department more racially diverse.
As a mayoral candidate, Adam’s embraced a nuanced position on public safety, based in part on his years as a cop.
He rejects left-leaning reformers who want to “defund the police” and has called for reinstating an anti-crime unit recently shut down due to criticism of its aggressive tactics.
But he’s also noted his history as a longstanding critic of the department’s racial imbalance and has said the NYPD must improve its relationship with Black and Hispanic New Yorkers.