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Sunday 24 September 2023 Dublin: 16°C
# peter daly
Remembering the Donegal policeman who shared a cell with Goodfella's mobsters
Peter Daly, who served on the NYPD before being caught in one of the biggest drug busts in American history, died this week.

PETER DALY, A Donegal man who fought in the Korean war and worked as a New York police officer, died this week.

But Daly was a complex character: he was also charged with one of the biggest drug seizures in American history, went to prison for his involvement in the NYPD’s corruption epidemic, and was friends with the men who inspired the Goodfella gangsters.

So how did that happen? In memory of the man who died on 30 January this year, (and who said he’d do it all again given the choice), here’s a brief history of the fascinating life of Peter Daly.

‘Kindly old man’

Peter 2 Source: RTÉ

Marc Mc Menamin grew up in Ballyshannon, Co Donegal. When Marc was out around the town with his father, who’s a garda, he would often bump into a well-known elderly gentlemen at the swimming pool or the golf club, who’d usually give him a pound.

“When I was in school, I was told that the real-life event that The French Connection was based on, there was a guy who was involved in it from Ballyshannon.

“So I got home and I asked my dad ‘Do you know Peter Daly?’, and he said ‘I do, and you know him too’. I didn’t put it together that this kindly old man with a shirt and a tie was the same guy who was involved in this affair.”

Years later in 2013, Mc Menamin was doing radio work and decided he wanted to share Daly’s side of the story with the Irish public for the first time.

Daly eventually agreed to the programme about his life, and in June 2013, he and Mc Mineman travelled to New York for an annual reunion of his old police colleagues, who admired him greatly.

They were all former members of a special drugs unit in the 1970s, who were given complete responsibility to crack down on drug crime. They believed they were above the law and could do anything to get convictions – Daly was a member of that.

Peter 2

Whenever there was a drugs seizure, the unit would pocket any cash that was there between them - this was at a time when police wages were slashed, and they felt they were struggling to get by.

"That was the culture of the time," Mc Menamin says. "Ex-NYPD officers that I've spoken to all say the same thing: you didn't get ahead in the police [if you didn't go along with it]. You’d be on the police, totally ostracised by the police.

It started off that you’d get a cup of coffee, then a hair cut, and it escalated from there.

According to reports, when Daly was caught his salary was 30 times what it should have been.

The 100 Kilo Case

This all stopped when Detective Frank Serpico - portrayed by Al Pacino in the film Serpico - and Bob Lucey reported what was going on to the authorities.

(Serpico was later shot in the face during a drugs bust in Harlem supposedly set up by his corrupt NYPD colleagues - he survived.)

Daly was arrested in the UK a week after the Birmingham bombing - only because he was Irish. But once in police custody, they saw that there was a watch out for him, and his extradition papers were signed by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Peter was sentenced to ten years for his involvement in the sale of five kilos of heroin taken from a 105 kilo seizure made with his fellow NYPD colleagues at a time when corruption was rife in the police force.

During interrogations, Daly was told police would let him travel back to Ireland to visit his father who was dying of cancer, even book him a flight home to see his father, if he'd give the names of other policemen involved. But Daly stayed silent - a move that won him respect, and probably kept him alive.

In prison, he shared a jail cell with Henry Hill and Jimmy 'The Gent' Burke (played by Ray Liotta and Robert de Niro respectively in Goodfellas).

Mc Menamin describes Burke as an "absolute psychopathic" hitman - and half Irish friend of Daly's: "After a baseball accident in the yard of the prison, he used to dictate letters that Peter would write. He was in on everything."

But why did he do it?

Pater Daly RTÉ RTÉ

"He was hardened by the Korean War," Mc Menamin says. "It was quite negative and disturbing for him being transported into the Korean War from a Donegal village of 2,000 people."

I suspect he also felt inadequate - his father was a top physician surgeon on a ship - and one of the first people in Ireland to do keyhole surgery.

Detective Serpico told Mc Menamin during his trip to New York that there were three categories of policeman: the 100% corrupt who probably should have been in jail; the honest people who he described as 'religious', and then those that went along with it, afraid of setting the order.

"Peter belonged to that last category," Mc Menamin suggests.

When Daly returned to Ballyshannon, after spending five difficult yeas in prison, some people welcomed him back, and others didn't.

"If you asked him, he’d talk away about it, but people mostly didn't ask.

"I think he was traumatised about the whole experienced, he was a very nervous anxious man and he was definitely depressed and had mental health problems.

"He lived quietly after that, ate at the same local restaurant, did little messaging jobs right up until his death."

Daly told Mc Menamin that if he had the choice again, he would do it all the same because he believed it was the right things to do.

RTÉ's Doc on One will be airing the first 15 minutes of Marc Mc Menamin's 'Peter Daly - Good Cop/Bad Cop' this Sunday.

Read: Emigration, corruption, intrigue: The life of Peter Daly

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