It was an event to witness.
The 25th anniversary luncheon of the Federal Law Enforcement Foundation or FLEF.
A remarkable foundation, started by Niagara Falls Redevelopment President Anthony Bergamo a quarter century ago, it operates on the principle that all the money raised goes to its charitable recipients and zero to salaries.
Bergamo also is vice chairman of MB Real Estate in New York City.
There was a capacity crowd of more than 1,400 people who filled the main floor and the second and third level balconies of New York’s famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel this past Friday, as the Federal Law Enforcement Foundation held its awards luncheon named "Our 25th Year of Service to America."
Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, General Joseph Dunford, Assistant Commandant, United States Marine Corps, New York County District Attorney the Honorable Cyrus Vance, Jr., and Los Angeles Dodgers Vice President Tommy Lasorda, were honored by the foundation this year.
A number of local notables, including Niagara Falls Memorial Hospital President Joseph Ruffolo, State Senators George Maziarz and Patrick Gallivan, State Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak and the man who brought us Wallenda, NFR Executive Vice President Roger Trevino were seated on the dais. The place was packed with a literal who’s who of law enforcement and public figures.
Prior to the luncheon, foundation officials recognized 115 federal agents, police officers, federal prosecutors and district attorneys from throughout the nation who were nominated by their respective departments for special recognition.
"All of the individuals we recognize today and in previous years have worked in some capacity to protect and safeguard our freedom that was won with the courage and blood of those who have fallen," Foundation Chairman Anthony Bergamo said to a hushed audience as he opened the ceremonies.
Bergamo has come to be known for short, inspiring speeches, leaving listeners wanting more.
When asked why he made such short speeches he told the Reporter, “They don’t come to hear me. The audience is here to honor the men and women of law enforcement.”
Bergamo founded FLEF in 1988, originally to provide financial assistance to family members of Federal Bureau of Investigation agents killed in the line of duty. The foundation has grown and now provides financial assistance to family members of all federal and local enforcement agencies whose loved ones are killed in the line of duty.
There is no exception to that throughout America. The family of any and every law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty is eligible to receive assistance from FLEF.
In addition, the foundation provides financial assistance to law enforcement officials suffering from a serious illness or recovering from a natural disaster.
Apropos of this, Bergamo did make one fairly stunning announcement in his speech to the audience at the Waldorf: Howard Milstein, owner of NFR, and one of the wealthiest men in the world, a philanthropist as much as an investor and banker, chose to donate $2 million to aid first responders who have suffered economic hardship as a result of Hurricane Sandy that recently visited and wreaked havoc on much of New York City.
That announcement was met with enthusiasm bordering on euphoria as so many men and women who rushed first to the scene to aid in the storm, personally lost so much and in some instances left their own hearths and homes unattended while they sought to help others.
FLEF works year round to provide these kind of aids to the men and women who serve and protect our populace.
FLEF funding is seen going to various programs, including scholarship and inner-city drug reduction programs among others, and it bears repeating- all without anyone taking a dime of money that is donated for law enforcement in the form of salaries.
Milstein and his family, major supporters of the foundation for years, incur any expenses of staff, insurance or overhead needed to permit the foundation to operate.
Friday’s reception was sponsored by New York Private Bank and the Emigrant Savings Bank.
Previous Foundation honorees have included President Bill Clinton, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger, General Colin Powell, New York State Governors David Paterson, Eliot Spitzer and George Pataki, US Senator Charles Schumer, Admiral William McRaven, Commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command and General James Amos, Commandant of the US Marine Corps.
"We in the special operations community understand the sense of service and sacrifice demonstrated by our nation's law enforcement community," said Admiral McRaven. "Support organizations such as the Federal Law Enforcement Foundation give confidence to those courageous professionals protecting our citizens and our way of life."
The foundation has raised and donated over $15 million in the form of 2,500 grants and 1,500 scholarships and is active in over 200 communities and 14 foreign countries.
Following Bergamo’s opening remarks, Cardinal Dolan, Lasorda and other notables, along with an array of valiant men and women, some of them obscure and unused to fame and public honor, gathered together. There were speeches and they dined of course, reminded that there are people who serve and protect the human family and people who appreciate it not only in their time of need.