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After Stanley Friedman’s Fall

It’s Time For The Governor To Act

I once saw Stanley Friedman cry. It wasn’t last Tuesday morning in New Haven when the jury foreman said he was guilty of racketeering. It was a night long ago in the Hunter College gym, when Stanley Friedman’s mistake cost City College a basketball game. It was the only time I ever saw Friedman show any weakness or vulnerability. He was 20 years old then, and his wiseguy nickname was already Bugsy.

About three months ago, a partial ad­mirer of Friedman asked me why I never wrote anything kind about him. I replied that the only sincere compliment I could pay him was to say that “Friedman proves there is honor among thieves.”

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Stanley Friedman was probably the only honorable crook that Donald Manes and Geoffrey Lindenauer could trust to hold 50,000 shares of Citisoursce stock for an indefinite period of time. He was the person Datacom trusted to broker bribes. Witnesses against Friedman called him “a stand-up guy” who had “brass balls.” For this he deserves a cer­tain grudging respect — and about 10 years in prison.

As a defendant, Friedman behaved with a kind of arrogant cynicism that can easily be mistaken for dignity. He had the chutzpah to lie on the witness stand, and concoct a sentimental alibi that he was holding the bribery stock for his chil­dren — and then denounce prosecutor Ru­dolph Giuliani for bringing his 10-month­-old son, whom Giuliani hadn’t seen for weeks, to the courthouse during jury deliberations.

Friedman was the exact opposite of his co-conspirator Donald Manes. Manes re­membered right from wrong, and when he was about to be found out, felt such guilt and pain that he killed himself. To have killed himself, Manes had to have been mentally disturbed. But he was able to feel disgrace, because at some level he understood that taking bribes in the uri­nal of his public office was a shameful act. He felt he couldn’t survive it and grow a new skin.

Manes had started in politics as an idealist. He named the political club he founded after his hero, Adlai Stevenson; he probably was gradually corrupted over the course of his career by power, by envy, by feeling he owned the office he occupied for 15 years.

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I don’t think Friedman was ever an idealist. He was a cynic who thought he was a philosopher about where the line was drawn between cunning and crime. He was in politics and government to enrich himself and his bribery ring, and he didn’t care what happened to the citi­zens of Morrisania, Hunts Point, and the South Bronx. In one sense, this indiffer­ence to his community is among his worst felonies. There is no cable TV in the Bronx, and a scarcity of cabs, because Friedman represented the interests of his clients instead of his constituents.

And he was in politics to get even as well as rich. He grew up in the South Bronx, the only child of a poor family. His father was a taxi driver, and for the last several years, Friedman controlled the taxi industry as the lobbyist for the fleets and power broker at City Hall. He paid taxes on $914,000 in income for 1985, and he acted like that wasn’t mon­ey enough to heal the hurts of his childhood.

Friedman was defiant about his amo­rality. He couldn’t feel the shame Manes must have felt, because he didn’t think his kind of white-collar gangsterism was outside the law. He didn’t see the differ­ence between extortion and politics. He even tried to cultivate the look of a semi-­hood with his fat cigar, his eyeglasses with rhinestone initials on the rims, his flashy style of dress, and devilish goa­tee — before he tried to disguise himself as a dentist on the eve of his trial.

There was one moment in the trial when I became convinced Friedman was going to be convicted. Rudolph Giuliani asked him if he had made $10,000 for making two influence-peddling phone calls to Donald Manes. “No, just one call,” Friedman corrected — his warped sense of government hitting the Hartford jurors in the teeth.

During the trial two witnesses testified that Friedman, rather than speak and risk being taped, wrote incriminating things on pieces of paper, and then ripped and burned the paper like a pro­fessional mobster. These anecdotes reinforced a story a journalist told me several years ago about Friedman.

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During the last week of the Beame ad­ministration, Friedman, who was then deputy mayor, had promised the journal­ist some documents. But Friedman failed to deliver them and time was running out. So the journalist left a note for Friedman on his desk, reminding him of the promised papers. A few minutes later an irate Friedman rushed into the press room, waving the note, and screamed at the journalist: “Goddamn it, I told you, never put anything in writing. Never.”

The people never chose Stanley Fried­man to be Democratic county leader. He was not even a district leader. He only moved to the Bronx after he became county leader. He wasn’t elected. His im­mense power had nothing to do with de­mocracy or elections. His power came from Ed Koch’s persuading the elected district leaders to name him county lead­er, and from getting hundreds of patronage jobs from City Hall, and millions of dollars in contracts from City Hall for his clients. Most of Friedman’s power de­rived from Koch and the three tainted enforcers of Bronx politics — Ramon Velez, Joe Galiber, and Mario Biaggi­ — whose influence made him the county leader.

Perhaps because he hadn’t faced the voters, Friedman wanted his trial moved to New Haven, with a jury pool from Hartford. He didn’t trust the people of the city he’d looted from a backroom. He was convicted by a jury he selected. Friedman had no respect for ordinary New Yorkers, and that is one reason why he was able to steal and lie with no guilt.

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There is an element of tragedy to Friedman’s fall. He had authentic leader­ship qualities, particulary intelligence, and the capacity to be loyal and inspire loyalty from others. He reminds me of the cops who get medals for bravery and then turn crooked, and get a lot of youn­ger cops to follow them into corruption because they are so effective on the street.

There are also two other ways of look­ing at the city scandals that have tragic dimensions.

One involves Mayor Koch, who every few months declares the scandal finished and behind him, and then has to distance himself from each new “shock.” Koch continues to treat the historic and sys­temic corruption as an annoyance to be­ dealt with by wishful thinking and public relations.

I remember Koch’s early campaigns for district leader against Carmine DeSapio in the 1960s, when Koch ran on promises to eliminate all clubhouse patronage, and root out conflicts of interest, and award city contracts on merit.

If Koch hadn’t betrayed his own best principles, his city government wouldn’t have become the cesspool it now is. In fact, there is an almost Greek tragedy in Koch’s odyssey from the conqueror of DeSapio to the defender of Friedman’s Citisource contract at the City Club in 1984. The need to acquire power made him close his eyes. Ambition made him choose to act naive. He took power, not money. What is the difference?

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The roots of these scandals go back to the Sunday morning in September 1977 when Ed Koch received Meade Esposi­to’s commitment to throw the Brooklyn machine behind him instead of Mario Cuomo in the runoff for mayor. Cuomo wouldn’t even ask Esposito for support, because he knew the price would be too high — that when Esposito said “respect,” he meant patronage. Koch, who needed to win more than Cuomo did, promised to make Anthony Ameruso and Jay Thr­off — Esposito’s clubhouse stooges — city commissioners. Koch bargained his soul to get what he desired. If he had kept faith with the ideas and values in his 1963 speeches, he might have lost the election, but the city would be better off today. And even Koch might be more at peace with himself today, and less fright­ened of tomorrow’s newspapers.

The other tragic element in all this is the absence of visible public outrage. Perhaps the ordinary working people of this city have no way of expressing anger, and we are only seeing powerlessness rather than apathy, or fatalism, or indifference.

Since the scandal started to evolve in January, nothing fundamental has changed. Because of Warren Anderson’s obstructionism, the state legislature did not enact any of the more serious ethics reforms proposed by the governor and the attorney general. The city council has not acted to change the way no-bid, sole-­source contracts are given out to campaign contributors, or to ban county lead­ers from holding an interest in companies that receive city contracts. (Remember, with the convictions of Friedman, Pat Cunningham, Matthew Troy, Carmine DeSapio, and the ghost of Donald Manes at New Haven, the crime rate among Democratic Party bosses is higher than the crime rate of the Hell’s Angels.)

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None of the opportunities for corrup­tion have been abolished. Tom Manton (who left the country to avoid testifying in New Haven) became the party leader in Queens even though he also holds pub­lic office — the same mixing of govern­ment and patronage that Manes abused. Joe Galiber has been reelected to the state legislature while he is on trial in the Bronx for crimes involving the mob. The decision by The New York Times to en­dorse Al D’Amato for reelection showed that even the establishment doesn’t take ethical government all that seriously.

The drastic reforms that need to be adopted are not secret. They are all listed in the excellent reports issued by the So­vern Commission; in press releases from Robert Abrams, Franz Leichter, and Ruth Messinger; in speeches by Rudolph Giuliani. They are in Ed Koch’s 1963 campaign leaflets. What’s missing is pres­sure from the people, and anger pointed directly at Koch, Warren Anderson, Howard Golden, Tom Manton, Stanley Simon, Denny Farrell, Peter Vallone, and others who still practice business-as-usu­al. An hour after Friedman was convict­ed, Vallone put out an oddly irrelevant statement about the appeals process. He did not mention public financing of cam­paigns. Or Carolyn Maloney’s bill lan­guishing in his city council to prohibit politicians from simultaneously holding public and party office. Vallone is the Rosemary’s baby of New York politics — ­the offspring of the final deal between Manes and Friedman.

One of the lessons we learned from the Watergate hearings and the Knapp Com­mission hearings and Andrew Stein’s nursing home hearings is that the best way to educate the public to feel con­structive anger is through the drama of televised testimony. These instructive hearings did not prejudice the trials that occurred subsequently. The truth may make us free — if enough people see it in their living rooms. That’s what we need now in New York. The time has come for Governor Cuomo to appoint a Seabury-­type commission, with broad subpoena powers, to hold public hearings and com­pel those responsible for the shame of our city to testify under oath about exactly how they did it.

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A commission modeled on Seabury could be chaired by politically sophisti­cated but independent statesmen like federal judge Eugene Nickerson, federal judge Jack Weinstein, former U.S. attor­ney Paul Windels, or presiding appellate judge Milton Mollen.

I want to hear Geoffrey Lindenauer ex­plain how he — a pathological liar with a fraudulent degree, who had sex with his patients at a phony clinic that went bankrupt — got himself appointed by Mayor Koch to be deputy director of the Parking Violations Bureau in July 1980, a job for which he had no qualifications or experience.

I want to see Stanley Simon, in front of the cameras, asked why he wouldn’t waive immunity and testify before a Bronx grand jury after he promised that he would. I want to hear Simon explain why he successfully pushed Cablevision to get the Bronx franchise after the com­pany had promised to pay $3 million in “fees” to Friedman, Mario Biaggi’s for­mer law firm, Ramon Velez, and other clubhouse sponges.

I want Meade Esposito to explain how he became a millionaire in the insurance and printing business through his abuse of political influence. I want Esposito to explain to the people of this city why he was such intimate friends with a hood named Fritzie Giovenelli, who walked around with a loaded gun and murdered a New York City police officer last January.

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Let’s hear Anthony Ameruso explain to the people who pay rent and mortgages and day-care fees where he got the money to secretly invest $20,000 in a parking lot while he was transportation commission­er, and what he did with the $140,000 profit he took out of the lot while he was still a city official. (Ameruso was indicted yesterday for lying about how he invested the money he took out of the parking lot.)

Put Ramon Velez under oath and on television and ask him to tell us how he has come to control $16 million in anti­poverty funds, placed in his custody by the Koch administration.

And put Stanley Friedman and Mike Lazar in the hot glare of the TV lights. Warn them that unless they tell us everything they know about cable television, midtown development, the taxi industry, the water-tunnel cost overruns, towing contracts, and the making of judges, they will both receive substantial prison terms.

We need to know what has happened. Our history also has been stolen from us. Only a commission whose mission is edu­cation, not prosecution — appointed by the governor — can disclose the facts that will bring about the outrage that is the necessary prologue to reform.

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Televised hearings would help reveal to the voters the nature and values of the men who rule the city, in the way that Friedman’s testimony at the trial re­vealed his mentality to the jurors. Let the whole city see Velez, Simon, Esposito, and Ameruso the way they really are.

In late 1930, Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed Judge Sam Seabury to investigate corruption in the courts. Three years later, after dramatic public hearings at which Mayor Jimmy Walker testified under oath, the mayor was forced to resign, just as the governor was about to remove him from office.

Walker was followed into City Hall by Fiorello La Guardia because the Seabury hearings had informed and outraged the people. Unless some forum is created to convert fatalism into fury, nothing, in the long run, will change.

The ultimate remedy for corrupt gov­ernment is participatory democracy. Peo­ple who are now apathetic have to become politicized. We need to change the methods of government, not just the faces at the top. The problems are the alliance between the clubhouse and the contractors that can turn city agencies into racketeering enterprises; the domi­nance of campaign money over public policy; and the capacity of outside power brokers like Friedman, Lazar, Esposito, and Velez to manipulate the contract and franchise decisions of elected government by delivering votes and contributions.

The real tragedy would be if two years from now, Friedman and Lazar are in prison, the Sovern Commission reforms are forgotten, and Ed Koch, Howard Golden, Peter Vallone, and Denny Far­rell are the leading candidates for mayor. ❖

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What Did Koch Know, and When Did He Know It?

Anatomy of a Cover-Up

I’m the perfect route to the downfall of this administration.
— Bess Myerson, New York magazine,
March 30, 1987

In the middle of the afternoon last Friday, Ed Koch slouched in his office chair, with just a cou­ple of cameras to perform for and a handful of print reporters. He’d called a press conference to badger the City Council and the Board of Estimate about the budget, but the reporters wanted one more run through the Myer­son thicket — a complex and mounting series of questions about the mayor’s knowledge of former Cultural Affairs commissioner Bess Myerson’s wrongdoing, which had dominated news coverage at City Hall all week. For the next half-hour, the mayor became a zombie.

“I don’t know,” “I can’t recall,” “I can’t reconstruct that,” were Koch’s answers to question after question. He looked like a man who’d spent the night in an arcade with a pocketful of quarters; a video­game glaze had seized control of him. Having struck out on questions that pushed Koch’s memory about events as far away as 1983, the Voice‘s Wayne Bar­rett asked him to think back to when he first read the Tyler report in early April of this year. Barrett wondered if Koch could recall whether the report’s account of the activities of his close friend and aide Herb Rickman rang a bell with him, sounded like something he’d heard be­fore, or whether it was news to him — the first time he’d ever heard that Rickman had warned both Myerson and Judge Hortense Gabel not to go ahead with the hiring of the judge’s daughter. The mayor paused. The mayor grimaced. The mayor grappled. But nothing came out. He couldn’t remember again.

The mayor’s memory lapses last week were part of a four-year-old stonewall on questions about Bess Myerson. And the stonewall did not end with the confer­ence. Moments after Koch finished, the gray tape recorder that the press office used to record the conference was hurried into a small private office 40 feet from the mayor’s. The office belongs to Herb Rickman, who immediately sat with an assistant, listening to a playback of the mayor’s amnesia.

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Koch cannot be sure that Rickman will decide to match the mayor’s apparent evasions with his own. A former assistant U.S. attorney who voluntarily appeared before Judge Harold Tyler’s commission and the federal grand jury probing Myerson without even retaining an attorney, Rickman has been a sword in Myerson’s gut. If sworn or forced by the press, he might be the same to the mayor. Rick­man knows how many times Koch was warned about Myerson over the past four years and he knows the depths of the mayor’s indifference. Rickman told Tyler a good portion of the truth about Myer­son, but no one, until now, has asked him to spell out his own conversations with Myerson’s stubborn protector, Ed Koch. When Rickman raises his hand for the Ferrick Commission — appointed by Gov­ernor Cuomo to probe the city scandal — ­he may, combined with other evidence of warnings to the mayor, put Koch at the center of a legal firestorm.

The report, news stories over the last week, and Voice interviews suggest the following chronology of cover-up:

1983: FOUR DOORS FROM KOCH 

Around Labor Day in 1983, Herb Rickman, whose office is only four doors down the hall from Koch’s, learned that his longtime close friend, Bess Myerson, had hired the daughter of another friend of his, Hortense Gabel. The hiring deeply disturbed Rickman, who knew that Judge Gabel was then hearing a difficult divorce case involving Myerson’s lover, city sewer contractor Andy Capasso. A week later, the New York Post reported (on Septem­ber 14, 1983) that the Capasso divorce case was heating up and that Myerson and Capasso had “recently been playing coy” about their relationship. This story appeared the same day that Judge Gabel slashed Capasso’s alimony payments by two-thirds. Rickman says he then ar­ranged a meeting with Myerson to warn her about the appearance of impropriety and to urge her not to go through with the Gabel hiring. Later he went to lunch with Judge Gabel and warned her.

But Rickman, who was so troubled he confronted two of his friends face-to-face, has so far maintained that he said noth­ing to the mayor, even though the con­flict of interest involved the possibly ille­gal use of a city job. The mayor also says Rickman divulged nothing to him, noting that it would have been better if Rickman came forward, but insisting that Rickman did nothing wrong. Rickman’s explana­tion for his silence is that Myerson as­sured him that the major decisions in the divorce case had occurred before she hired Sukhreet and that the hiring had been “cleared by City Hall.” These expla­nations temporarily satisfied Rickman, although a City Hall sign-off on the hir­ing — minus the information he had — ­would have been routine. (Of course if Rickman saw the September 14 Post story, he would’ve known that the divorce case was still active after Sukhreet’s hiring.)

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What apparently bothered Rickman was that Myerson’s hiring of the judge’s daughter was a blatant conflict that could attract public attention. His own actions, if they were designed to both help and protect Myerson, suggested a far more subtle approach. Several months before Myerson offered Sukhreet a job, Rick­man began looking for one for her, at the urging of Judge Gabel, whom Rickman had known for years. At a lunch with Sukhreet in May or June 1983, Rickman picked up her resumé. According to Sukhreet, Rickman took it to city eco­nomic development commissioner Larry Kieves, who interviewed her, but did not offer a job. Myerson had simultaneously begun the wooing of Judge Gabel, whose handling of the divorce case had been reported in a March front-page New York Post story that featured a picture of Myerson. During this period, Myerson, Rickman, the judge, and her husband, Dr. Milton Gabel, had dinner at a restaurant. But it is unclear if jobhunter Rickman was acting only out of affection for Judge Gabel or was aware that Myerson was then engaged in what the Tyler report described as a conscious “courtship of the judge.”

The Tyler report says these various contacts culminated in a dinner party at Judge Gabel’s home, attended by about 14 people, on June 17, 1983. Myerson and Rickman attended together. (Rickman, who is gay, and Myerson have been social companions for two decades.) Myerson met Sukhreet for the first time, and the two spent most of the evening chatting. Tyler concluded: “If Myerson was looking for a way to influence Justice Gabel, and we believe she was, it became apparent by the dinner on June 17, if not before, that Ms. Gabel provided the best path to that result.”

Rickman sought a job for Sukhreet while spending several long weekends at Capasso’s Westhampton Beach house, and listening to Myerson and Capasso’s incessant talk about Capasso’s divorce and Judge Gabel. He saw the divorce papers strewn all over the house. With the collapse of his efforts at OED and the pressure of the critical alimony decisions in the divorce case, Myerson took mat­ters into her own hands. Yet when Rick­man learned that Myerson had hired Sukhreet herself — as her own special as­sistant no less — he says he kept his infor­mation to himself. And the mayor now says that’s all right with him.

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OCTOBER 1983: TWO DECEPTIVE LETTERS

On October 18, 1983, the Post re­ported that Myerson’s agency had hired Sukhreet Gabel while Judge Gabel was handling the Capasso case. Herb Rickman was surprised and outraged because the story indirectly attributed the hiring — which he had op­posed — to him. A Myerson spokesperson was quoted as saying that Rickman had tried to get Gabel a job at the Office of Economic Development, but that prob­lems had developed “so her resumé was sent to me.” Rickman told Tyler he an­grily called Myerson and her assistant, correcting the inference that he had something do with the resumé winding up at DCA. But he did not stop there.

Rickman told the press last week that he also informed the mayor the Post sto­ry was incorrect and made it clear that he’d had nothing to do with Sukhreet Gabel’s hiring. During his press confer­ence on Friday, the mayor could not re­call when Rickman told him about the error in the Post story. But sources famil­iar with the facts told the Voice that Rickman went to the mayor about the story “the moment it appeared.”

The timing is important because the day after the story Myerson sent the mayor a letter that responded to the Post piece and falsely contended that “most of what had to be decided” in the divorce case “had already been decided in the first six months, a major part of it in favor of Mrs. Capasso.” On October 21, the mayor answered Myerson’s letter with a brief note of praise, saying Myer­son had done “exactly the right thing in filling an open job with an able person.” The Tyler report has established that Myerson’s description of the hiring pro­cess in her letter to Koch was a wholesale fraud, designed to deceive the mayor.

But the mayor already had two reasons to question the truthfulness of Myerson’s letter. Rickman had just told him that Myerson’s suggestion in the Post story that he’d referred Gabel for the job was false. And the Post story of September 14 established that the divorce case was at such a critical junction after Sukhreet was hired on August 29 that Capasso and Myerson were trying to conceal their own relationship. These facts alone should have prompted Koch to hesitate before enthusiastically endorsing Myerson’s conduct. His own City Hall personnel staff could’ve told him, had they been asked, that Gabel was hired before the vacancy notice was even published, de­stroying the facade of a search concocted in Myerson’s letter.

Tyler concluded that Judge Gabel’s as­sertions that she had not read the Post stories of March and September — which describe her own decisions and link the Capasso divorce to Myerson — were unbe­lievable. Is it believable that the Septem­ber 14 Post piece was missed by Koch, a voracious newspaper reader; Rickman, who had spent much of the summer with the very people named in the story; and the mayor’s chief of staff Diane Coffey, the City Hall liaison to Cultural Affairs who reviewed Myerson’s letter with Koch? At a minimum, this story would’ve alerted them to the falseness of Myer­son’s assertion that the case was virtually over.

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1984: JULY 4 FIREWORKS

The Tyler report indicates that Myerson called Rickman in March 1984 and left a message regarding a state decision to suspend payments on two contracts with Capasso’s company because of apparent violations of law by Capasso in the use of phony minority fronts as subcontractors. By July 1984, Rickman knew enough about an investigation of Capasso’s construc­tion company, Nanco, to warn Koch not to attend a July 4, 1984 party at Capas­so’s Westhampton Beach house. Rickman declined to go himself and called Koch, telling him that he had “heard there was a problem.” Koch, who had been invited by Myerson, said at the press conference last Friday that he went because “there were no indictments.” Ultimately Attorney General Robert Abrams did indict Nanco on these charges.

Rickman’s rejection of the party invita­tion was part of a conscious decision to distance himself from Myerson. Some months back Rickman told New Yorker reporter Andy Logan that he was con­sciously cutting his contacts with Myer­son during this period, gradually ending their social relationship. The Voice has learned that Rickman told the mayor he was disassociating himself from Myerson, although it is unclear precisely when Rickman told him or whether he told the mayor why he was cutting his ties. These discussions, together with Rickman’s call about the party, constituted a second wave of warnings to the mayor.

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1985: THE GIFTS, AND A HIT-AND-RUN DRIVER

In the summer of 1985, Nancy Capas­so’s counsel, Herman Turnow, met with the mayor’s City Hall counsel, Pat Mulhearn. Turnow says he spoke to Mulhearn “about the interrelation­ship of Judge Gabel’s ruling on the alimo­ny and child support to reports that Bess Myerson hired the judge’s daughter.” Mulhearn says they “never discussed the giving of the job to her” or at least that he has “no recollection of that.” Mul­hearn and Turnow agree that they did discuss the propriety of Myerson, a city official, receiving expensive gifts — includ­ing the use of a Palm Beach condo, a company limo, and a Mercedes sports car — from a company with $200 million in city contracts. Mulhearn maintained there was no ethical violation, saying, “After all, they are friends.” Turnow says he discovered in this visit to City Hall a wholly different set of ethical standards than his own.

Mulhearn passed the issue of gifts on to the mayor, but Koch says that Mul­hearn and then corporation counsel Fritz Schwarz told him that acceptance of the gifts was “within ethics guidelines.” At his Friday press conference, the mayor angrily rejected questions by WNBC’s Gabe Pressman, who was pressing him on the appropriateness of these gifts, none of which were listed on Myerson’s finan­cial disclosure statements filed with the city clerk.

When Mulhearn met with Turnow, he was already sitting on another hot potato involving Myerson. Myerson had refused for six months to fire her city chauffeur after the Department of Investigation found that the driver had been involved in a hit-and-run incident while driving Myerson’s city car, that he’d driven Myerson for two and a half years with a suspended license, and that he had improperly been permitted to carry and dis­play Myerson’s city shield when she was not in the car. Myerson had refused to act on a detailed DOI report sent her in February 1985, and DOI had at first en­listed Mulhearn to try to force Myerson to fire the driver. When nothing happened, DOI Commissioner Pat McGinley brought the subject up at a meeting with the mayor, Mulhearn and Deputy Mayor Stan Brezenoff. The mayor reportedly told Brezenoff and Mulhearn: “Take care of it.”

Of course, as the Tyler report fully demonstrated, the driver had intimate knowledge of Myerson’s activities in the Gabel case as well as information about her violations of city law regarding both the gifts and the illegal use of his own services by Myerson. Myerson, who had directed the driver to falsify his mileage reports to the city, was protecting her own accomplice. Despite Mulhearn’s in­volvement, the driver was never fired, but resigned and was placed in a job deliver­ing payrolls for the City University of New York.

By the time the issues of the gifts and the driver were brought to Koch’s atten­tion in 1985, the mayor was wading in Myerson warnings. But he did not ask the city’s Department of Investigations, which was clearly already involved with a serious Myerson matter, to examine the gift issue, nor did be refer it to the Board of Ethics, though on its face the legal question merited more than informal as­surance from in-house counsel that ev­erything was okay.

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1986: THE MAYOR’S McCARTHYITE ATTACK 

After the Manes suicide and the explosion of the city scandal in early 1986, the Daily News published seven investigative articles on Myerson, from May 1 to May 15. Rickman was featured in many of these stories. We know Koch read them closely because on May 2, at a City Hall news conference, he accused the News of “Mc­Carthyism.” (Koch must have meant Mary McCarthy for her brilliant renderings of the decadence of the rich.) It is certainly reasonable to assume that Rick­man, whose photo accompanied the first piece, discussed the articles with Koch.

These stories — written by Marcia Kramer, Marilyn Thompson, and Barbara Ross — revealed that U.S. Attorney Ru­dolph Giuliani was investigating Capasso and “reviewing records of Capasso’s re­cent bitter divorce.” Myerson was quoted as saying, at this late date, that she and Capasso are “friends, that’s all.” These articles demonstrated that the heart of Myerson’s defense for the hiring of Sukh­reet Gabel, contained in the 1983 letter, was fiction. Judge Gabel had, according to the News, “sharply trimmed the ali­mony payments of a businessman linked romantically to Myerson one month after Myerson hired the judge’s daughter.”

At his Friday press conference, Koch could not say why he hadn’t asked Myer­son to explain the discrepancy between the News stories and her assertions in the 1983 letter. He recalled calling her and said she simply referred him back to the 1983 exchange of letters. That was enough for the mayor to reject what was by now a mountain of evidence. He did nothing. (Giuliani told the Voice this week that the investigations of Myerson and Capasso began in his office and were not a referral from DOI. Although DOI was never asked by Koch to investigate Myerson, this week DOI called in for questioning several employees of the Ap­pellate Division, First Department, to try to find out who leaked the Tyler report to us.)

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1987: SEALING THE TRUTH 

Even when Myerson’s decision to take the Fifth Amendment in a federal grand jury appearance was revealed early this year, Koch’s respons was muted. He still proclaimed at a press conference that he had “faith in her integrity” and refused to fire her, although she had hidden this appearance from him. Instead, she agreed to a 90-day suspension while Tyler did his investigation.

Tyler urged Koch not to release the full report to protect witnesses from retalia­tion and safeguard Giuliani’s ongoing probe. But Tyler did not object to revealing the report’s basic conclusions. The mayor’s decision to summarize the report in five simple sentences — one of which was exculpatory — was one more cover-up gesture. As a Times editorial noted last week, “Surely more of Mr. Tyler’s story about Ms. Myerson’s sordid manipula­tion of the judge and her daughter could have been safely revealed.” To keep the report sealed, the mayor’s attorneys had railed on in court that the lives of witnesses would be in jeopardy if it were released. But Giuliani said that after the Voice broke the story last week, “no witnesses needed protection.” Everyone “is fine,” said Giuliani, “there are no problems.”

Why has Koch gone to such great lengths to protect Myerson?

He has attributed it all to friendship. In fact, no public of­ficial is less loyal to his friends than Ed Koch. In his best-selling memoir, Mayor, he wrote about how he reduced his longtime aide and then deputy mayor Ronay Menschel to tears. He has written critically about his loyal special assistant John LoCicero. In fact, inti­mates of Koch say that he has not been personally close to Myerson for years, rarely seeing her socially. It is indeed an irony that though she is widely and accurately credited with having played a piv­otal role in making him mayor, he never mentioned her in Mayor.

The fact is that Koch has protected Myerson because he has long recognized that there is no way that a damaged Myerson wouldn’t also damage him. And perhaps turn on him. The two went to such lengths to manufacture a fictional relationship that Koch is now a captive of it. In the end, the cover-up that has insulated Bess so long was designed to protect the mayor, who was joined to her in the public mind by creative advertising. As that cover-up unravels, so does he. ❖

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THE IMMACULATE DECEPTION 

There is a great irony in the fact that Ed Koch’s gravest crisis comes from his perceived inti­macy with Bess Myerson. The irony goes back to the Immac­ulate Deception of the 1977 campaign for mayor.

During that campaign, Koch and Myerson kissed in Co-op City, hugged in Forest Hills, held hands in a syna­gogue on Rosh Hoshanna, and looked into each other’s eyes in Pelham Park­way. The Koch campaign wanted to convey the idea of a romance to refute the whispering campaign that Koch was gay.

The romance was the invention of the brilliantly cynical David Garth, who was Koch’s chief strategist and media adviser. Once, early in the campaign, Garth told Jack Newfield he had to cancel a meeting with him because he was hav­ing lunch with “the Smith Brothers.”

Newfield asked who were the Smith Brothers.

“Oh, that’s my nickname for Ed and Bess,” Garth replied.

“I don’t get it,” said Newfield.

“Two beards, shmuck,” Garth said. and laughed.

There never was any romance be­tween Koch and Myerson, although they were good friends. It was Myerson who arranged for Koch to meet Garth, and it was Myerson who pressured Garth to mastermind the campaign, in which Koch started with 2 per cent city­-wide recognition.

Gossip columnists began to print items saying that Koch and Myerson might get married after the election, a notion that surely helped Koch with working-class Jewish voters, who might otherwise have voted for Abe Beame or Bella Abzug without considering Koch.

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Late in the campaign, when political reporters started to ask Koch and Myerson about a real romance, they would give coyly clever answers, like, “Anything is possible,” “We may have an announcement after the election,” or, “For now, we’re just good friends.”

In appearances with Myerson, Koch would say to audiences, “Wouldn’t she make a great first lady in Gracie Man­sion?” On television, Koch was asked if be planned to marry Myerson, and he said, “It’s always a possibility, but I don’t want to talk about it. She’s an incredible person, a warm human be­ing that I truly adore.”

Myerson acted like a surrogate wife in the 1977 campaign. She stood next to Koch on the basic campaign post­er — the only time in anyone’s memory that a nonfamily member was used in such a fashion. She made television commercials for Koch, asking, “Have you no character, Mr. Cuomo?”

It was all a charade — a consumer fraud perpetrated by the former con­sumer commissioner. Koch and Myer­son agreed to use each other to create an illusion. Koch needed to win an election and Myerson wanted a politi­cal career. Three years later, Myerson would run for the Senate with the sup­port of Koch and Garth.

But for the past six or seven years, Koch and Myerson have not been really close friends, in the way that Koch is close to Dan Wolf, David Margolis, Leonard Sandler, or Herb Rickman.

As the Myerson scandal unravels, Koch will be paying a price for his fantasy politics of 1977, which the vot­ers believed and now remember.

— W.B., J.N. & T.R.

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BESS’S GABEL VENDETTA

The head of the city’s Human Rights Commission says Bess Myerson demanded that Sukh­reet Gabel be fired from her second city job, a top post at the Commission, which she obtained on the recommenda­tion of her mother, state supreme court judge Hortense Gabel.

At a meeting in Myerson’s Depart­ment of Cultural Affairs office on Au­gust 7, 1984, Myerson urged human rights chairwoman Marcella Maxwell to discharge Gabel without giving any rea­son. “Bess told me I had to fire Sukh­reet,” Maxwell told the Voice. “She didn’t say why, just that I had to. I was so shocked I almost fell off my chair.”

Maxwell had in fact already decided to dismiss Gabel because “she was un­able to relate to people at the agency.” But before telling Sukhreet, she took Judge Gabel — a 20-year friend — to lunch and told her that her daughter would be sacked. “She told me, ‘You can’t do that, she’ll kill herself,’ ” says Maxwell, who agreed to Judge Gabel’s request to let Sukhreet resign.

Myerson’s demand to Maxwell two days later seems puzzling. It may have been one more lurching turn on the roller coaster of affection and rejection to which Myerson subjected Sukhreet. But it came in the midst of increasingly aggressive legal strategies by Capasso’s wife, Nancy, in their divorce case, being handled by Judge Gabel. On July 25, while being deposed by his wife’s formi­dable new attorney, Herman Turnow, Capasso balked at answering questions about his business relationships with city officials — including Myerson.

Less than a week later, on July 31, Nancy Capasso secretly recorded a dra­matic conversation with her husband in which he said she knew enough about his business dealings to put him in jail “for 400-500 years.” Capasso proposed a cash settlement of the case for $1 mil­lion to $2 million; Nancy Capasso coun­tered with $7 million to $8 million. Ca­passo clearly felt a rising desperation as Nancy and her lawyers began closing in on his business dealings, his relation­ship with Myerson — and perhaps Myer­son’s favors for Judge Gabel.

Maxwell’s hiring of Sukhreet came af­ter Judge Gabel, along with many oth­ers, had written the mayor, recommend­ing Maxwell for the Human Rights position. “Hortense told me I’d need someone I knew and trusted,” Maxwell told the Voice. Even though Maxwell barely knew Sukhreet, she took Gabel’s suggestion that she hire her daughter. Ironically, Maxwell had wanted Sukh­reet to serve as an executive assistant, at a lower salary. But no such job exist­ed, and Sukhreet was instead offered the agency’s third-highest job, a $40,000-a-year deputy commissioner­ship — more than double her DCA salary of $19,000.

Myerson displayed her protective side when Maxwell asked her to approve Sukhreet’s release from DCA. Although Myerson had demoted Sukhreet and denigrated her work, Maxwell said when she called Myerson from Judge Gabel’s apartment in June 1984, “Bess was very reluctant to let her leave.”

Myerson may have had good reason to want to keep Sukhreet close by and at the mercy of her fickle attentions. Although Judge Gabel had already sharply reduced Capasso’s child support and alimony payments in September 1983 (following Myerson’s hiring of Sukhreet at DCA), several important motions were pending, and the case was still a ticking time bomb for Capasso.

But Sukhreet’e new job also quickly began to unravel. The only task Gabel seems to have been given on her own was arranging a huge swearing-in bash for Maxwell at City Hall on July 11. Gabel told the Voice she had no further dealings with Maxwell after that. “I sat isolated and alone in my office.” Once Sukhreet began to get the same treat­ment at Human Rights that she had gotten at DCA, Myerson’s attentions re­sumed. “I hadn’t seen Bees for a long time,” said Sukhreet. “I was rather de­pressed. When Marcella started treating me horribly, I showed my work to Bess and she praised it.” When, in early Au­gust, Maxwell told Sukhreet she would be fired, Sukhreet called Myerson, and got a very different reaction than Max­well later received. “Bess was support­ive,” said Sukhreet, “she made nice clucking noises.” Gabel was at a loss to account for Myerson’s demand that she be fired. “Bess is crazy,” she said, “but Marcella is mean and vicious.”

— W.B., J.N. & T.R.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Larry Davis Show: Rambo Rocks the House

Davis and I were sitting in the visitor’s area of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan. The MCC is a large fortress filled with orange paint, thick Plexiglas partitions, and steel doors that constantly buzz, click, and whine like robots in heat. Davis had entered the visitor’s area through one of those doors, shackled along the wrists, waist, and ankles, a postmodern Kunte Kinte in federal prison browns. He was trailed by five male guards, one of whom held a video camera to record his departure from the holding area. Even in the joint, Larry Davis is a star.

“Sometimes,” Davis said quite seriously, “it’s good to pay attention to movies, because you get what’s really happening.” Before the movie ended on November 19th, what was really happening in the apartment overwhelmed what was playing on the TV screen: Davis, who was wanted for the slayings of four suspected South Bronx crack dealers, faced down almost 30 cops in one of the wildest shootouts in New York history. It was all over by nine, in time for the 11 o’clock newscasts to begin to make Larry Davis an outlaw celebrity. It was the night he became the talk of the town: a muscular young black man bursts his way out of a small apartment seiged by a 27-member team of armed police officers, wounding all of them in the process. It was the night he became an urban legend, a black Billy the Kid, an adolescent gunslinger outshoots an army of cops and lives to tell about it. It was the night Larry Davis became a star.

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In the weeks after Davis shot the six cops, faked out the costly, nationwide manhunt for 17 days, and held a major portion of the NYPD to a standoff in the Twin Parks Houses near Fordham Road, huge black-and-white mug shot-like photos of a starry-eyed, baby-faced killer adorned the front pages of the tabloids under headlines like “They Won’t Take Me Alive” and the local news anchors excitedly invoked his name at the top of every show. He was all the talk between assistant D.A.’s and reporters during court recesses, between rap DJs and MCs during songs at the Latin Quarter, between old Jewish women and their doormen on the Upper East Side. Did Larry Davis shoot and kill dopeboys and take off crack spots? Did he really decide (as a cop testified) that it was too crowded in his van one afternoon, and casually order a flunky to kill a man sitting in an orange Toyota for the extra room? Did he really cook a Chihuahua and eat it?

I started getting phone calls from friends who couldn’t stop talking about the B-boy renegade from the South Bronx. “That kid used to rock the fresh jams in the summertime in the P.S. 145 schoolyard,” one buddy remembered. Another told me that, in addition to playing cops and robbers, Davis had stroked the keyboards on “Goldie’s Hot Tracks,” a hip hop show on Manhattan Cable. I was told that Davis also sang, danced, and virtually, “turned the show out.”

Some of Davis’s acquaintances later told me he used to watch a videotape of that show over and over in his bedroom — a space that was packed with drum machines and keyboards and doubled as an eight-track recording studio — with “that look” on his face, a sly grin and a faraway, star-struck expression. Family members say it’s the look he had playing drums for the choir of the Rapture Preparation Church on Crotona Avenue in the Bronx. It’s the look of an impressionable young kid who sees his name in lights on the marquee of a hit movie with a long line, or his face 70 feet high inside the darkened theater, with the crowd screaming out his name.

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But instead of the customary head-in-the-jacket running crouch of the arrested criminal, Davis kept his head high, his face visible to the TV cameras, as he was hustled through the courtyard. Just before the cops carried him off, he made his now-famous declaration: “It’s a good thing to sell drugs. The cops gave me the guns.”

To would be revolutionaries, Larry Davis was Richard Wright’s Bigger Thomas come to life, a South Bronx native son, a mindless killer spawned by white racism, poverty, and hopelessness. To black nationalists, Davis became a figurehead, an explosive life-sized model that defined the movement’s heartbeat: the oppressed striking back at the oppressors. To old lefties, Davis was a throwback to the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers; William Kuntstler, who took over Davis’s case from a Legal Aid lawyer, said to me, “Any black guy that shoots six cops and puts the fear of God in police officers, I think is great.”

After the police killings of Michael Stewart and Eleanor Bumpurs, and the frustrated rage over the Howard Beach incident and the Tompkins Square Park riot, Davis’s stand against the police served as a metaphorical wheel of justice: whatever goes around, comes around. But much of white New York — and a significant segment of the black population — saw him as a real-life monster too true to be good; a heavily armed creature from the Bronx lagoon.

In all cases, Larry Davis lost his identity to become an ideal that is reviled or revered: Public Enemy and Soul Brother Number One, and nothing more. Mere publicity and hype to justify the ends of each group’s own means. But Davis would never object to being exploited: it soon became apparent that Larry Davis eats hype like some kind of weird food. Not long after he was captured, he began calling newspapers — most notably The City Sun and later New York Newsday — to give his version of his story. “Write this,” he would instruct reporters. If they added details that didn’t please him they would receive phone calls chewing them out. And if here stories didn’t appear, he would refuse to grant them further interviews.

Gradually, a truer portrait of Larry Davis emerged between the lines of the media frenzy. Here was a young kid, a semi-illiterate high school dropout who spent his time chillin’ on street corners but who felt a burning need to be known, to be recognized, to be listened to, to be larger than life. His plans to be a pop star fizzled and his street scrambling produced only a shadowy local celebrity. Then, all of a sudden, he was on the top of every New York City broadcast. What did that do to him? What would it do to anybody? Your heart would pound like a bass drum and your skin would be drenched in cold sweat, knowing you are in the biggest trouble in your life. The rush would play in your mind forever.

Larry Davis didn’t have to use his imagination. The newspapers he read every day replayed the images: the courtyard crowds, the mayor, the police commissioner, the cameras, the lights, the cheers and jeers, the “The cops gave me the guns.” it was splashed across the front pages and he fell in love with it, tumbled into it, became one with it. With the flick of a camera shutter, Larry Davis became the New Narcissus.

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In the street, the Davis legend is very real; Sunday’s triumphant verdict pumped his image larger than the Superman balloon in the Thanksgiving Day parade. The inner city now gazes up at him with a mixture of victimized fear and vigilante pride. It reminds me of a hood from my teen years, who I’ll call “Igor Jackson.” Jackson was the scourge of 148th Street and Eighth Avenue, a wild man fueled by angel dust and barbiturates who killed because it amused him. He was a legend on the streets of Harlem in 1977 because he made more than a few victims — mainly the teenage operatives of heroin kingpin Leroy “Nicky” Barnes — get on their knees and beg for their life, only to see Jackson smirk and savor his response, a cold, dry, “No.”

Like Igor Jackson, Larry Davis personifies a running character in rap music: the cartoonish hood LL Cool J portrays in “I’m Bad” as he taunts cops, buries the faces of musclemen in the sand, and wears a gold nameplate that says, “I Wish You Would.” In a bizarre sense, Davis fulfilled the ultimate goal of any young inner-city black teen who practices rapping over long hours with a microphone and a tape deck: to develop a voice, to make that voice heard beyond the confines of the street corner — as Big Daddy Kane brags in “Set If Off,” “Your vocals go local/on the m-i-c/Mine go a great distance/like A T and T” — and most importantly, to make those listening respect that voice. Davis had accomplished all three and his delivery was loud and bloody.

To those whose only knowledge of rap comes from watching the movie Colors or minicam reports after concert riots, Davis is the final, dreaded proof; the incarnation of the rap ideal, the bloodthirsty, nigger teen with a $3000 gold cable around his stiff neck whose only goal is to put heads in graveyard beds and cold-snatch money like the feds. But to the makers of the music, Davis — who had his own record label for a while, Home Boys Only — is the freakish exception, a flesh-and-blood lyric taken too far.

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In my secret moments, in the midnight of my living room, as the Sony earphones fill my ears with Big Daddy Kane waiting for the fake gangsters, “front artists,” to taunt and step to him so he can destroy them like “Jason” from Friday the 13th. I live vicariously through the sonic violence. It’s a release, a shot of dope that makes my blood race. Kane’s tune “Ain’t No Half-Steppin'” gives me foolish courage every time a young sucker-punk busts a series of clips from his Beretta from the crackhouse from across the street. The tune, and maybe even the street-corner bravado of Larry Davis, whisper twisted, suicidal words of encouragement to me: “If you had an Uzi, you could take care of that problem across the street.” But the line is drawn when I remove the headphones — the violence belongs on the vinyl.

But for Larry Davis, the music never stopped. The sound panned from a Bronx schoolyard full of junior high school kids dancing to the music on his two turntables to a small Bronx apartment full of cops collapsing to the beat of bullets tearing through their bodies.

A tour of the South Bronx would convince anybody that Davis’s tale of night-crawling, street-racketeering, and dealing drugs for dirty cops is possible — in fact, if Davis wasn’t doing all he claimed, somebody is definitely is for some cop up there. The Bronx is a very big small town, a mesh of hills, valleys, concrete atolls, and dead ends. The streets are narrow, the city blocks wide, and the tenements, row houses, projects, and co-ops prop each other up. Flashing patrol-car lights provide 24-hour illumination; police and ambulance sirens mingle with hip hop, salsa, reggae, soca, and r&b like the fragmented strains of some strange carny pipe organ. The Bronx is a sprawling, Third World, urban fun house.

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The raggedy cityscape of East 169th Street is a perfect movie set for the type of clandestine meetings with corrupt cops that Davis describes. Fat and grimy Chevy vans dot the quarter-mile stretch of five-story urban wasteland like rusty camels — who knows what’s going on inside? Grant Avenue has so many abandoned pre-war buildings it looks like an estate of haunted houses. You can feel the action you can’t see: the teen scramblers who bring the crackhouse whores here for tag-team sex. who lure the snitches and rival crack czars for no-name murders; the crackheads who burrow into dank basements to get high and talk to Scotty on the Enterprise.

Not surprisingly, Davis gets a vote of confidence from a young kid I saw hawking “jums” — the abbreviated term for jumbos, the larger pieces of crack — on a 147th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue. “The cops were comin’ to kill that kid that night,” he told me, “and Larry wasn’t with that program. He was about to expose their whole joint, and they had to keep him from speakin’ on it. This crack money is crazy large out here, and you know Five-O is getting put on to all the action. Drugs flow so freely in this neighborhood, it’s like they legal. I know — I’m out here every day.”

Davis’s firefight may have set a violent precedent, declaring open season on cops. In recent months the word on the street is that cops — from Officer Ed Byrne in Jamaica, Queens, to Officer Michael Buczek in Washington Heights a few weeks ago — are not superhuman.

Teflon-coated bullets, now available in the inner city, are made to pierce bullet-proof vests. And not everybody agrees who wears the white hats: with the long standing belief that New York cops are racist and the recent corruption in Brooklyn’s 77th Precinct and allegations of police abuse in Queens’s 113th, many in the black and Latino communities are disgusted with New York’s Finest. They feel it’s more likely than not that the South Bronx cops are dirty, that Davis was working for them, and that they came to murder him because of what he knew.

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To say Larry Davis is intense is an understatement. The day I interviewed him in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the guy not only stared me down, he appeared to look right through me, and then discard my bodily contents. It reminded me of somebody chewing all the sugar out of a stick of Juicy Fruit and throwing it in the garbage. Davis gave the impression he regards reporters as nothing more than inquisitive ectoplasm that collect and distribute information.

By Larry Davis is no psycho killer. Davis is more insular than he is callous, more calculating that he is crazy. Prince, another self-invented idiot savant, treated me the same way when I interviewed him in 1980 at the Westbury Hotel after the release of Dirty Mind. There he sat (dressed in a gray trenchcoat, black stockings, and black bikini briefs), calmly reanimating his mythos for me: how his mother was white and his father was black, how he was the servant of both the LORD GOD Almighty and “the Other,” how all of his songs were autobiographical, even the incestuous “Sister.” When I pressed him for details, he slyly told me, “the clues are all you need to know.” As he continued his presentation, I began to laugh. The expression on his face changed from surprise to indignation to a self-realization that finally caused him to join in the laughter.

Like Prince, Davis spun me a yarn. He told me how he worked for the cops taking off crack spots, and then sold the drugs. He told me how he woke up one fine day in the Bronx and it was revealed to him that he was wrong, how “through the mercy of Allah, I realized I was brain dead, and I was going to tell the world I was wrong to work for those drug-selling policemen,” and how the cops came to hunt him down at his sister’s apartment to silence his Redemption Song. When I remarked to him that this was the same rap he gave The City Sun’s Peter Noel, and Newsday’s Len Levitt, Davis began to lose his patience. When I asked him to elaborate on the details — especially his whereabouts during his 17-day flight from the authorities — he told me pointedly, “Homeboy, you gonna have to wait for the movie.”

After giving me that look, he and I laughed. But the joke only served as another smoke screen: the interview was over and the real Larry Davis remained in the shadows. Looking at his expressionless face, I realized that was the way he wanted it. All I saw was a blankness that defied filling in. Is he Adam Abdul Hakeem — an Islamic name which means “lifeblood, servant of the wise” — the young, studious, and natty Muslim convert who sits quietly while others accuse him of mayhem and murder, and then sobs softly when vindicated?

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Or is he the frenzied madman who slashed at the Department of Corrections from the inside for 367 days — allegedly assaulting guards, spitting and throwing urine at them — eventually forcing a transfer to the higher security MCC, the federal facility in lower Manhattan?

According to those close to him, Davis is more like Prince than Charles Manson. Once acquaintance told me, “Larry is a musician. That guy knows sound. He’s written 200 great songs, he’s a singer — he sounds like that old guy, Billy Paul — keyboard player, arranger, producer, everything. He had a studio in his house. I couldn’t understand the sound he got from his room, from just an eight-track channel mixing board — it sounded like a 24 or 36-track recording studio.” The man speaks the truth. Davis’s bittersweet, Philly soul ballads “Silly Love” and “Loving You Is So Beautiful” could very well score on the music charts. His hard rocking hip hop tunes, like “I Ain’t No Popeye” and “Vultures of the Subculture,” melodic and rhythmically complex songs written almost three years ago, still seem far more advanced than most of the music on current radio. So is he a disillusioned auteur who turned to wild-style glamour when he failed to land a contract with a major label?

With Davis, like Prince, there are precious few times you are able to find the chink in the calculated persona, to see the true, naked person living behind the costumed exterior. It took me a few months of interviews with Davis before the moment came along. About three weeks before the acquittal in the first trial, he started bugging me for some portraits Voice photographer Joe Rodriguez took during the MCC interview. Since Rodriguez was busy with another project, I couldn’t get the photos. During the recesses, or even when court was in session, Davis would turn around and mouth to me, “Where are the pictures?” outlining a frame in the air with his fingers. All of the spectators looked at me, wondering, “Who is this guy and why is he so important to Larry Davis?” Embarrassed, all I could do was shrug my shoulders. Davis would wave his hand at me disgustedly.

Our Tom and Jerry routine went on for almost two weeks. Finally, during a lunch break, I coughed up the goods. As I handed the white envelope to his co-counsel, Lynne Stewart, Davis grinned. “Yo, man, come and see me,” he said in a stage whisper. “Let’s talk.” Davis smiled so wide, I thought his face was going to break. He took the pictures out and studied them. One by one. I had seen the pictures: four 8x10s, stark black and white close-ups of a young black man in an orange box with no escape hatch. Davis’s smile faded slowly and he stiffened, as if he was unable to move.

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Larry Davis was born May 28, 1966, the youngest of Al and Mary Davis’s 15 children. The couple drove up from Perry, Georgia in 1952 and settled into a weather-beaten white row house on Woodycrest Avenue in the southwest Bronx, a working-class neighborhood with clean, narrow streets and well-kept playgrounds. “Larry was a big and playful baby,” says Betty Patron, his oldest sister. “He was born big, a baby with big muscles.” Al Davis — who died a few months ago — supported his growing family working as a plumber, while Mary took care of the home and children.

Al Davis moved out around 1976; some say he left because of the pressures of raising such a large family (it would later grow to include more than 42 grandchildren). Davis, with a note of sadness in his voice, told me the two of them have stayed in contact. When I asked Davis if his father visits him in prison, he eyes fell, and he looked less like a slick new jack who shoots cops than a sad adolescent who is waiting for someone to come and take him home. “No. I don’t call him,” he replied. “My father would visit if I call him. I don’t call him, because it’s not not his position. Me being a man, I gotta face what has to come, or what won’t. I don’t feel that’s his position.”

Larry was 10 when his father left. Mary struggled on without Al, opening a thrift shop near the house and taking in foster kids, runaways, and homeless children. As her elder sons turned to crime (all four of Larry’s older brothers eventually served time for charges ranging from theft to assault), Mary Davis became increasingly devoted in the Rapture Preparation Church in the Bronx. Larry, who often went with her, had sung with the church choir since he was seven. By the time he was 10, he was also playing drums and piano for the group.

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But after graduating from fifth grade at P.S. 73, the bad times began to roll. He went to J.H.S. 145 where “he was not a good student,” according to principal Bernard Krasnow. “He didn’t come very often. When he did attend he was usually in trouble. He was quite an aggressive young man.” After a teacher found Davis with a weapon — officials can’t remember if it was a knife or a gun — the 12-year-old was transferred to J.H.S. 147. But “he was only here a couple of days,” recalls principal Calvin Hart. Later, Davis was transferred to P.S. 58, a special education high school in Manhattan. At 14 years of age, he disappeared from the school system altogether.

By 18, Davis had supplemented the weapons charge at J.H.S. 145 with arrests for resisting arrests, possession of a hypodermic needle, and harassment. His harshest fine was $60, which he paid; he never served more than 24 days in jail.

Despite its problems, the Davis family remained close and large-hearted. Charlie Addo, a 39-year-old Ghanian musician and part-time cab driver who boarded at the Davis house for a year (until just after the shootout), remembers Mary Davis as a kind woman who occasionally shared her private pain with him. “She used to tell me, ‘It would be a mess without me. They’d kill themselves without me.’ Sometimes she falls apart because she goes through so much. But she’s very strong.”

Addo’s fondest moments of the Davis house were the times he and Larry watched videos in the Davis bedroom. “Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop was one of Larry’s favorites,” says Addo, “because he liked to laugh. He also liked watching Rambo.

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Davis claims he discussed the deal a few days later with his buddy Rick Burgos. The two were close; Davis was the bossy older sibling, and Burgos was the loyal sidekick. Davis even bragged about Burgos’s fidelity to a confederate on a wiretap during his time on the run: “Yo, Rick will do 30 years before he talks.” Burgos had idolized Davis since hearing him kick bass tempo on Run-D.M.C. records in the playground of P.S. 145. Like Davis, Burgos — a short, scrappy kid with squinty, Humphrey Bogart eyes — came from a large family and started fighting the law at an early age. At 14, Burgos was arrested for spraying grafitti on the D train, and was sentenced to clean Crotona Park every other weekend for six weeks. In August 1986, he was accused of robbing and shooting a man at the White Castle on Webster Avenue.

Both Davis and Burgos knew that crack was catching on in the Bronx and Manhattan faster than the Asian flu. Whether it’s smoked in a glass pipe or mixed in a joint with reefer — the “woo-woo” or “woolahs” — crack hits are not only highly addictive, exhilarating, demoralizing, and deadly, but also big biz. A seasoned hustler who could sniff out money and opportunity, Burgos told Davis to go with the program and make the “stupid” money.

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Guys from my generation would’ve killed for the illicit carte blanche that Davis and Burgos claimed they enjoyed after they went into the business with the cops. Imagine — that is, if what Davis and Burgos are saying is true — using crackheads to make crack in basehouses throughout the Bronx like mad scientists in abandoned ghetto labs. Imagine breaking the law, with the law enforcers’ blessing. Imagine making piles — “coming off” — and Being Untouchable. Friends say the young “stunts,” the gangster groupies, went crazy over them like rock stars, while the fellas whispered and pointed at them with fear, envy, and admiration. It was almost like a bad joke; they dealt drugs and they couldn’t get arrested.

But the sweet scene turned on October 30, 1986 when the four suspected drug dealers were shot to death at a brickfaced apartment building, 829According to Davis, he had been in Norfolk. Virginia, for about two weeks, intending to buy his mother a house. If this were true — and Davis did come up with an alibi in the form of a Norfolk woman he was friendly with — it would make it impossible to place him at 829 Southern Boulevard on October 30. But after questioning by the prosecution before the first trial, the woman was unsure as to exactly when Davis was in Norfolk. Davis’s lawyers, Kunstler and co-counsel Lynne Stewart, filed a motion stating that the prosecution had intimidated her and placed doubt in her mind, thereby ruling out the possibility of her testifying at the trial.

Davis had additional problems in his first trial, and one was Charlie Conway. Many courtroom observers were surprised that he testified, including Davis. In a wiretapped conversation, Davis is heard explaining the finer points of street silence to Conway’s son, “Little Charlie”; “Your pops don’t talk man, that’s what I like about him. He do not say shit.”

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Big Charlie proved Davis wrong. He denied his willingness to testify was connected to any agreement that would help him out with his parole board (he’s currently serving an armed robbery sentence); instead he told the court, “I am tired. I’ve been involved with crime a lot of years, you know the dates. You went back to like ’65. I am really tired.”

Conway’s underworld weariness had not taken effect when he met Davis in 1984 through his son, Little Charlie, who was a student at J.H.S 145 with Davis. Big Charlie Conway, a former U.S. and merchant marine, testified he taught Davis how to bore out the barrel of a .45, making it difficult to trace. (Davis told me that the police showed him: “I got all my training from the police. They taught me how to bore out a gun.”) Conway also spoke of a meeting with Davis and James “J.J.” Patron on October 31, 1986 — the day after the murders of the four suspected drug dealers. That morning there was a knock on Conway’s apartment door. Conway asked who it was, and a voice replied “Rambo, Rambo” — Davis’s nickname. Conway let Davis and his nephew inside. In this meeting Davis asked the elder Conway if he’d seen Burgos. Conway said he hadn’t. Davis then told him, according to Conway’s testimony, “You all should have come up with us last night because we came off.” Patron then displayed a bracelet to Conway, and Davis said, “We had to pap-pap-pap these four guys.”

“Yeah man, one guy jumped on Larry’s back,” Patron chimed in, according to Conway’s testimony. Patron allegedly added that he shot one of the guys and then took all four men into a room where “Larry took care of them.”

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There were inconsistencies in Conway’s testimony. He seemed confused on names, dates, and places of past crimes. On one occasion, defense attorney asked Conway if he recalled an NYPD badge found in his apartment, and if was given to him by Larry Davis; Conway answered yes to both questions. But under questioning by assistant D.A. Brian Wilson, Conway said it was a security guard badge that Davis had given him in August 1986.

Between the time of the Southern Boulevard murders and the November shootout with police, Davis shuttled from place to place. Aside from various friends, he either stayed with his mother, his girlfriend Melody Fludd — the mother of his daughter Larrima — or his sister Regina Lewis. His lodging at Joe and Regina’s was the source of many arguments for the couple. Joe Lewis, a stocky private sanitation worker, didn’t like the fact that Davis stashed guns, blocks of cocaine in plastic bags, and large sums of money in their tiny apartment at 1231 Fulton Avenue; Lewis feared for the safety of his three young children, Joe Jr., Krystal, and Ravon. After one disagreement in the early fall of 1986, Regina reluctantly asked her baby brother to leave. Lewis soon reconsidered and welcomed Davis back into his home a few weeks before the shootout. Davis returned with the guns, drugs, and money in tow.

In early November, according to Burgos and Davis, the cops gave them 40 kilos of coke to sell to a Columbian dealer. Davis told me he met the Columbian and exchanged the drugs for $1 million in a suitcase. Both say that they kept all the money instead of handing the cops their share. The police “became worried” about Davis, Kunstler asserted later; “One, that he might tell on them, and two, that he took their money.”

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On November 19, 1986, Davis, Melody Fludd, little Larrima, Joe, and Joe Jr. were in the apartment watching a cassette. Although Davis remembers it being Rambo, the Lewises say it was Romancing The Stone (another example of Davis’s self-mythologizing?). Meanwhile, the other children, Krystal and Ravon, were playing in a rear bedroom.

Regina Lewis was on the phone in the front of the apartment when she saw the front doorknob begin to twist. She thought it was probably her prankster sister, Helen Mendoza, who lived next door. Regina got up, went to the door, and opened it just a crack. “Who lives here?” came a voice from the other side of the door. Curious, Joe Lewis got up and went to the door. Through the crack, he could see a brace of police officers with shotguns and flak jackets. They questioned Lewis for a second or two until they spotted Davis on the sofa: Davis saw them about the same time and made his move to the back bedroom.

“Somebody ran,” shouted one of the officers. About 13 cops rushed in, filling the tiny apartment with armed men. According to Regina Lewis’s testimony, no one produced a badge or a search warrant, not even Captain John Ridge, who backed her off iinto the kitchen, and told her to get on the floor. She began to scream. Sergeant Edward Coulter, who was called to testify by Davis’s attorneys, continued Regina’s account, saying, “All I could do was hear her screaming. There was a lot of screaming going on.”

The police hustled Joe Lewis, Melody Fludd, and her daughter out of the apartment. Joe said he wanted to run back and get Krystal and Ravon. “But there was no way to get them,” he recalled. “That’s where they were shooting.”

In the back bedroom, Davis said he pushed Krystal and Ravon under the bed. Davis also said that Detective Thomas McCarren — who William Kunstler maintained at trial was the dirty cops’ assassin — was the first officer he saw. “He ran in the back and asked me, ‘Where’s the money, where’s the money?’,” Davis told me. “I said, ‘I got your money, just don’t hurt my family.’ He was trying to act like Scarface or something. Next thing I know, his gun goes off, and he skinned the top of my head. If I get a close haircut, you can see the scar. So I shot back.”

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Sergeant Edward Coulter testified that he was standing behind McCarren when Davis was desperately rummaging around the room for a gun. “The detective [McCarren] kept yelliing, ‘Police, come out with your hands up.'” Suddenly, McCarren yelled, “Get back, he’s got a gun” and waved his arms desperately, falling backwards into Coulter. Coulter claimed Ravon, Larry Davis’s three-year-old nephew, then walked out of the bathroom. “I can draw you a picture of this kid today,” Coulter said on the stand. “The kid walked out of the bathroom, made a right, and started into the bedroom and as the kid got to the bedroom entrance, I heard an explosion. The guy fired a shot at us. We started to retreat. I … I don’t know if that’s the shot that hit the detective or it was a second shot or a … The gunfire, it was unstopped gunfire, just sounded like the range.” Coulter described shooting wildly through the walls of the bedroom at Davis, whom Coulter says he never saw.

Just as dramatic was the second-trial testimony of Officer Mary Buckley, who was shot in the mouth. On a wiretap recorded during his 17 days on the run, Davis told a friend that after Buckley said, “Freeze, you fuckin’ black nigger, I’m gonna blow your fuckin’ ass away,” she caught a bullet “in her mouth.” (Buckley has denied the slur.) Buckley, who has received more than 135 hours of dental work since the shooting, gave a visceral portrayal of the action. “It was like a knife cutting into my lip,” she told the court. “I realized that I was shot, and I thought I was going to die on some strange floor. I could feel all my veins turning to ice.” Within minutes, however, Buckley said she felt “very peaceful. I started to think of my daughter. She was nine at that time, and I didn’t want to leave her.”

Regina Lewis testified that after the six wounded officers retreated from the apartment, she ran to the bedroom and retrieved Ravon and Krystal from underneath the bed. “I started screaming because I heard the door open,” Regina Lewis told the court. “I thought the police were coming back in. And Larry said, ‘It’s me.’ I said, ‘Please don’t start shooting again.'”

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Davis darted out of the front door of the apartment. Outside, he spotted a few more policemen, and sprayed the hallway with gunfire. The cops scurried. Davis then shot the lock off of his sister Helen’s door and went inside. Looking out a rear window, he spied several cops in the backyard. Davis claims they saw his figure in the window but didn’t realize it was him. Mimicking a woman’s voice, he asked the cops what was happening. They gruffly told the “woman” to get back inside. After the cops left, Davis jumped from the first floor apartment window into the backyard and disappeared into the wilds of the Bronx. (This daring impersonation remains unverified; is it another product of the movie that plays in Davis’s head?)

After slipping in and out of safehouses for more than two weeks, Davis was cornered at 365 East 183rd Street in the Twin Parks West projects in the Fordham section of the Bronx on December 5, 1986. After more than six hours of tense negotiations between Davis and the NYPD — conducted over the phone and shouted through the front door of the apartment where Davis had taken two families hostage — Davis surrendered without incident at 7:30 a.m. He later claimed he gave up because he was concerned for his mother’s safety as well as his own. As a ring of cops led Davis down the building’s wheelchair ramp, he was showered with applause and cheers. Mayor Koch and Commissioner Ward patted each other on the back. The minicam crews raced back to their stations with the grand finale to the greatest show in the Empire State.

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Hunting for a conviction in the first trial (where Davis was charged in the Southern Boulevard murders), assistant district attorneys William Flack and Brian Wilson looked like mako sharks in NBO suits. They had a solid case against Davis; not airtight, but strong. In his summation, Flack likened the case with all of its testimony and physical evidence to “building a house.” He asked the jury not to be distracted by Kunstler and Stewart’s “landscaping and shrubbery” — the political dramatics — but to concentrate on the “house” itself.

With more than 50 witnesses, the prosecution’s case seemed stronger every day. There was the testimony of “Big Charlie” Conway, Addo, and a spacey crackhouse steerer named Roy Gray who claimed that, a few hours after the killings of the four suspected drug dealers, Davis, Burgos, and Patron robbed Gray outside a Washington Heights crackhouse (Burgos is currently serving a two-to-six year stretch at Rikers for this stickup). After Gray called the police and they arrived — and handcuffed Gray in the backseat of their patrol car just in case — the police chased Davis’s crew (driving a stolen car) all the way from 165th and Edgecombe in Manhattan to 167th and Jerome Avenue in the Bronx. As Davis and company bailed out and scaled the sloping staircase from Jerome to Anderson Avenue, Gray testified that Davis and his boys fired at the cops. Flack and Wilson had evidence; the shells on the staircase and the fingerprints on the getaway car matched the shell casings and fingerprints taken from the scene of the murders.

Kunstler and Stewart ignored the murder case; their aim was to persuade the jury that corrupt police officers were out to assassinate Larry Davis. Kunstler’s theory was that McCarren, the detective who led the charge into Regina Lewis’s apartment on November 19, was out to “assassinate” Davis because he knew too much about police corruption and drug dealing. The defense team did their best to play to the frustrations and loyalties of the seven blacks and three Latinos on the jury.

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One person who figured heavily into Davis’s defense was his brother-in-law Joe Lewis. Lewis, who testified for the prosecution and later recanted, gave what appeared to be very damaging testimony. He claimed that Davis came to his house a day or two after the October 30 murders and said that he “went to rob some guys, but some static happened.” Lewis said Davis told him that one of the men rushed him and he shot the man. Lewis said Davis explained that the remaining three were shot and killed because Davis “didn’t need no witnesses.” Then the four were stripped of their clothing — one corpse did have socks on — tied up, and tossed into a bathtub full of water.

When I asked Davis what he thought of his brother-in-law’s account, he went off on me. “What’s the use of getting mad at the boy?” Davis asked sharply. “We know what they [the prosecution] is doing to him. The boy’s a punk, he’s scared, they tellin’ him he’s going to jail — he has children. I got a daughter myself. They scarin’ him. But they can’t do that to my family. They ain’t going for it.” And then Davis did something very brash. “Cut the tape off,” he said. Stunned and curious, I complied. “You see that tape recorder, how small it is? if you got a big coat, I want you to go to my mother’s house and interview Joe — but you can’t let him see the recorder. Take a pen and pad, but hide the recorder, switched on, in your coat pocket. He’s been telling people how he was scared, how they made him lie on the witness stand, how he didn’t want to do that, and I want that on tape.” I looked at Davis for a full minute as I let the full shock of his request sink in. Then I told him I couldn’t do that for him.

I did interview Lewis, however. He told me that right after Davis’s capture he kept getting calls from the Bronx D.A.’s office; he avoided them until the morning he was picked up by two detectives who drove him to the courthouse where he was interrogated for more than two hours by an assistant D.A. and a detective. According to Lewis, when he denied any knowledge of the murders or the shootout, the assistant D.A. told him, “You do know something. Why are you being stupid?” The detective allegedly added, “You asshole, why mess up your life for this bastard? Everybody here is telling on everybody anyway. We already know everything.” (The prosecution would not comment on the Lewis interview.)

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Says Lewis, “He had me thinking that it was other people that had already told on him, and they had all they needed to pin Larry. Then come to find out they only had me as a witness. They used me as a little sucker. I didn’t think it would be my testimony that would hang my brother-in-law. Larry used to call me and say, ‘Yo, don’t let them do this to me, don’t let them hang me.’ I told him, ‘I just put shit together from the newspapers. They was threatenin’ me so much, I was scared, tears was comin’ out of my eyes at the time.’ Then he told me, ‘Joe, stand up to them. Tell what they did to you, so people could know.’ They tried to use me, and I didn’t dig that. So I told Larry not to worry about it.” On the witness stand, Lewis avoided looking at Davis, his mother-in-law, and his wife.

On Sunday, February 14, Mary Davis called Stanley Cohen, Davis’s Legal Aid lawyer and one of the architects of his defense. After inquiring about his health, she said, “Somebody wants to ask your legal advice.” Joe Lewis took the phone. Cohen called him back and taped his recantation on an answering machine. Judge Fried did not allow the recantation because Lewis took the Fifth when asked whether his previous testimony was untrue. Fried also told the court that “Mr. Cohen did suggest the answers [for Lewis] outright.” But the next day the papers wrote about Fried barring the recantation. It was discussed on WLIB, and there is speculation that the jurors — who were sequestered upstate — got wind of it.

On March 3, 1988, after nine days of deliberation — the longest in Bronx county history — Davis walked on the murder charges. Objectively, the prosecution should have won, but crack and police corruption have filled the minds New Yorkers like sweet smoke spreading through a glass pipe. When it came down to choosing between “dirty” cops, unsympathetic victims, and poor leadership in the county’s judicial system on the one side and, on the other, a kid who may or may not have been lured into police corruption and no-name murders, Larry Davis was the people’s choice.

Mary Davis rocked with her eyes closed, her family fell on her and cried, her Pentecostal sisters raised open palms, on the brink of an unknown language. An older black man in the back of the courtroom shouted, “Alright now! Next, win, Jesse, win.” Stanley Cohen trembled, and then he cried. Lynne Stewart beamed and hugged Kunstler who tried to remain cool, but said, “I’m delirious. This is great, just great.” And he put his arm around Larry Davis, who sobbed into the sleeve of his lawyer’s charcoal gray suit.

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The acquittal in the first trial not only vindicated Davis, but it also bolstered his credibility, confirming the street-level perception that he was telling the truth about working for the cops. It was also the sort of surprise ending that suggested that the second trial (for the attempted first-degree murder of nine police officers, aggravated assault, use of a firearm, and criminal possession of weapons) would deliver even more drama.

After three months of false starts — involving possible racism in jury selection, subsequent empaneling and dismissals, until not one white sat on the jury — Davis II began in late July with the hoopla worthy of a new Martin Scorsese film. For the first couple of weeks, the courtroom was standing room only. As in the last trial, there was a broad cross-section of spectators: radicals, Muslims, Pentecostals — prayer capped women from Mary Davis’s Rapture Preparation Church — detectives, cops, reporters, and the legion of Davis’s family and supporters. I even remember small wagers made between reporters that Davis II would eclipse the hype of the Brawley mystery, which, at that time, was at it’s peak.

For a while, it seemed that it would. First, there was the tearful testimony of some of the wounded officers. Emergency Service sergeant Edward Coulter, who was wounded in the hand and thigh, broke down as he recounted the story of how he and his fellow officers were felled by the flashes of heat and light from Davis’s gun. Kunstler went as far as to show the courtroom a videotape of a police training lecture that depicted a much calmer Coulter describing the same event to fellow Emergency Service officers in a January 1987 meeting. Indeed, Coulter seemed to have a firmer grip on his emotions when I witnessed his testimony back in February. If anything, his steady delivery held the court spellbound, with his claim of Davis shooting first, even with a tot in the line of fire.

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Four of the other five wounded cops followed Coulter to the witness stand (four cops have filed civil suits against the city for negligence). The injured officers include Captain John Ridge who was grazed in the head (and who, according to a Newsday article, had a trace of alcohol on his breath during the post-shootout hospital examination, though he denied on the witness stand that he had been drinking), Officer John O’Hara, who was shot in the eye, and Detective Donald O’Sullivan, grazed in the head and hand. Throughout their testimony, Kunstler maintained the same position he outlined for Newsday on the day of the opening arguments: “You don’t assemble an entire task force with cops from all over the place, including ESU [Emergency Service Unit], get denied a request for a warrant from the DA’s office, and then still make a raid on the house with bulletproof vests, sawed-off shotguns, and 34 men unless you are hellbent on killing him.”

Bolstering the testimony of these and other officers on the scene that night were the daily sea of blue uniforms in the first two rows of the courtroom, including the wheelchair-bound Steven McDonald. McDonald, the officer disabled by a teen gunman in Central Park, was a quiet but powerful cheerleader for the cops. At the beginning of the second trial, he told the Post, “I consider them [the wounded officers] victims, and I’ll continue to be here as long as I am physically up to it.” Kunstler countered that McDonald’s presence was “a trick to win sympathy from the jury. It’s a shameful exploitation. I feel sorry for him.”

Perhaps the trial became too taxing for McDonald, because he didn’t show up in the courtroom for a while. Or maybe he just lost interest. McDonald’s absence was just one indication of the public’s lethargy during the bulk of Davis II. Despite the police parade of witnesses and the visceral testimony describing the melee, empathy had began to wane not only for the cops, but also for Larry Davis. Most people didn’t seem to care anymore; many said it was because the image painted by the cops of Davis using his toddler nephew as a shield in the shootout. Others said that the cop-shoot had been tried already in the murder trial; once you’ve seen the surprise ending, the thrill is gone.

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The disaffection of the general public grew despite the defense’s theatrical presentation. Davis, Kunstler, and Stewart did their best to pump a case that was in danger of becoming a mundane installment of Superior Court up to the level of a Hitchcock thriller. The most unexpected twist came in the October 5 testimony of Davis’s mother. Mary Davis, 65, told the court that on October 31, 1986 — the day after her son and two accomplices allegedly killed four suspected crack dealers at 829 Southern Boulevard in the Bronx — she was visited by four police officers. She testified that one of the officers, Joseph Nealon, said, “You know what you did? You raised a dirty bastard.” He went on to tell her, “You tell him, we’re going to put a f—in’ bullet in his head. You tell Larry we are going to kill him.” She informed the police Civilian Complaint Review of this harassment just in case “anything did happen,” (Nealon received a minor reprimand from the department for pushing and verbally abusing Mary Davis.)

Two weeks later, Kunstler, former Tawana Brawley advisers C. Vernon Mason and Al Sharpton, and other supporters staged a six-hour sit-in Brooklyn Criminal Court (over a judge’s decision in another case) that ended in a mini-riot and a group sleepover in a holding cell. Next, Davis developed a back problem that delayed the trial for a week. Were these carefully orchestrated blows against the system or were they acts of desperation? Well, Davis’s problem may have been genuine; months before he made the complaint, he told me had injured his back in a car accident that happened when he was being transferred from the Bronx Courthouse to the MCC. But there was widespread speculation that Kunstler was stalling because he had run out of ammunition.

Last week, the defense rested, the jury was charged, and deliberations began. as the trial drew to a close, the public revved itself up once more as if, having slept through the dreary exposition of the movie, the audience was waking up just in time for the car chase. Reporters who weeks ago were filling their notebooks with doodles suddenly scrambled to get to the fourth floor courtroom an hour early, because waiting for the verdict was the uptown ticket that’s as hot as Waiting For Godot. And Larry Davis was the hottest topic on the street corner again.

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Like a sequel that tops the original movie, the verdict in Davis II realized its great expectations. On Sunday afternoon, Larry Davis was found not guilty on all of the most serious charges — nine counts of attempted murder and six counts of aggravated assault — and found guilty of six counts of weapons possession. The press room on the ground floor of the Bronx County Courthouse swelled with reporters who were stunned into silence; meanwhile, shouts of “Hallelujah!” and revolutionary war cries caromed down the halls on the fourth floor. Soul power was alive and well in the Bronx.

Larry Davis will continue to be a figurehead for factions in New York. To the ruling class, he is society’s nightmare, a horror-film monster who keeps coming back every time you think you’ve put him away for good. Worse, he is not a lone gunman: he is the advance man for an urban earthquake that is rocking society from the bottom, a terrifying state of flux that can no longer be ignored or reversed. But to the powerless, Davis is a resistance fighter, decorated with the blood of the occupational forces and crowned with victories on the enemy’s home turf, the halls of justice that have traditionally been nothing more than corridors of white power. By paralleling Davis with Bernhard Goetz immediately after the verdict, Kunstler has (quite brilliantly) forced Judge Fried into choosing between either imposing a minimal sentence that matches Goetz’s penalty or a heavier one that implies the court is racist. If Davis serves any substantial length of time on the weapons convictions or if he is jailed on upcoming murder charges (he still faces two unrelated counts of murder), his name will be invoked the way Hurricane Carter’s was for years: as the patron saint of black victims.

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The triumph of Davis II has fueled the hunger for the kind of black hero that has been missing since the days of urban riots, Black Panthers, and Malcolm X. While Jesse Jackson has assumed the highest profile of any black leader in America today, there are many who feel his careful mainstreaming leaves a vacuum on the radical side; the rally to Davis’s bloody banner is a return to Malcolm X’s credo, “By any means necessary.” How could a crack dealing strongman be compared to a great visionary? “Hey man,” one Harlem professional told me recently, “remember that Malcolm used to be Detroit Red [a pimp and a drug dealer] before he became El Hajj. Everybody makes mistakes. It all depends on what you learn from them.”

I have heard the analogy between between Larry Davis and Malcolm X made so many times recently, it’s almost beginning to sound like an article of faith. But what the hopeful believers ignore is that Malcolm X was weaned on the black struggle through his father, a Marcus Garvey acolyte: Malcolm X was schooled to be a powerful beacon. As much as I believe God can rewrite any soul, and as much as I want to believe in Davis’s Islamic epiphany in prison, I can’t. I don’t think a true prophet would tell me to wait for the movie. ❖

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From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

The Mayor Who Didn’t Want To Know

The Mayor Who Didn’t Want To Know — And the Whistleblowers Who Tried To Alert Him 

Perhaps the fairest way to judge the competence, integ­rity, and character of a government is how it responds when credible information about misconduct is brought to its attention. Any adminis­tration can suffer a scandal, because the susceptibility to temptation has been part of human na­ture since the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Any of us can be fooled or betrayed by a subordinate. Even Rudy Giuliani had to prosecute one of his own assistants who had become corrupt.

The fundamental question about the Koch administration is no longer why the mayor gave power to so many crooks, but exactly what happened years ago when whistleblowers, law enforcement investiga­tors, and private citizens first tried to warn him of questionable contracts and commissioners who smelled of graft. Nothing reveals the heart of the Koch administration better than its treatment of these prophetic individuals who discov­ered clues to criminal or unethical prac­tices, spoke out, and were punished or crushed for their idealism and honesty.

Over the past month I have interviewed a dozen people, including a former high city official who was fired while investigat­ing former transportation commissioner Anthony Ameruso; a city contract manag­er who was demoted for trying to audit a suspicious boondoggle; a woman harassed out of the taxi industry after she went on TV to call for an investigation of the Taxi and Limousine Commission chairman Jay Turoff; a cable TV businessman who went bankrupt after refusing to pay a bribe to Donald Manes; and three former prosecu­tors who were prevented from setting up a sting operation to catch Manes in 1982.

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These people provided new evidence of just how serious and broad an effort was made between 1982 and 1985 to warn Mayor Koch of corruption within his ad­ministration. Together, they paint a pic­ture of a mayor and an administration willfully indifferent to vital informa­tion — almost Reaganesque in not want­ing to know.

(These are not the witnesses discov­ered by the Martin Commission, who vol­unteered significant leads in 1982 about corruption in the Parking Violations Bu­reau — and were ignored. Those highly credible whistleblowers included a police officer and James Rose, the PVB comptroller.)

Gordon Haesloop, the former city dep­uty investigations commissioner, was ordered to stop a productive investigation into transportation commissioner Am­eruso in early 1985 and then was fired a few weeks later. Department of Environ­mental Protection whistleblower Edward Nicastro, a contract manager, suffered a demotion, harassment, was almost fired, and then was reassigned to the equivalent of a gulag — a garage in Queens — by a Friedman crony after seeking permission to audit a Friedman client.

To understand more fully the political, bureaucratic, psychological, and moral context of these five stories of rejected early warnings, it is useful to first summarize some recent history. It is helpful to recall all the signals and messages that the highly popular mayor was sending at the time to his commissioners, to the political culture, to the opinion makers, and to those seeking city contracts.

• To become mayor in 1977, Koch reached an accommodation with Brook­lyn Democratic Party leader Meade Esposito. In his second book, Politics, Koch explained that part of his deal was that Esposito, whom Koch knew to be a friend of racketeers, must keep his per­sonal backing a secret. Koch wrote: “We made it clear that one thing we didn’t want him [Esposito] to do was endorse me in any public way … he agreed to pull strings very discreetly … I must say he has always been very helpful to me.”

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In return for this covert institutional and financial backing, Koch gave Espo­sito hundreds of jobs for clubhouse hacks exempt from civil service merit exams. He also gave Esposito at least two com­missioners: Jay Turoff and Anthony Ameruso. The Ameruso appointment was the very first message Koch sent to all of us, even before he was sworn in. Esposito wanted Ameruso, his personal protege, who had been the mediocre highways commissioner in the Beame administra­tion, to be promoted to transportation commissioner by Koch. When an independent screening panel of transit ex­perts, including Sally Goodgold, Joel Harnett, and Theodore Kheel, recom­mended six other people and found Ameruso unqualified, Koch immediately dissolved and denounced the screening panel and named Ameruso, saying, “I be­lieve he will prove that my judgement is right.” (Ameruso is now under indict­ment for perjury by Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau.)

• In 1985, the mayor’s own Depart­ment of Investigations released a report that concluded that Staten Island bor­ough president Ralph Lamberti had vio­lated the conflict-of-interest provisions of the City Charter, and had committed five misdemeanors. The next day Koch held a press conference, endorsed Lamberti for reelection, and called him an “honest man” and “a partner.”

• Koch gave Donald Manes and Stan­ley Friedman control over hundreds of patronage jobs and let them convert low-­visibility city agencies into clubhouse fiefdoms. As a favor to Manes, Koch ap­pointed Geoffrey Lindenauer deputy commissioner of the Parking Violations Bureau in July 1980, despite Linden­auer’s lack of qualifications and sordid past as a phony sex therapist. Koch al­lowed Manes to control the bidding pro­cess for cable television in Queens — an abdication that created backroom deals and an opportunity for extortion.

• Koch gave Friedman the Citisource contract for hand-held computers that was worth $2 million to Friedman. He appointed Friedman’s law partner, Ted Teah, to the City Planning Commission; he named Friedman crony Paul Victor to the Conciliation and Appeals Board; he authorized $15 million in city contracts to groups under the control of poverty blimp Ramon Velez; and he named Fred Carfora deputy commissioner of the De­partment of Environmental Protection, in which position Carfora demoted and then tried to fire whistleblower Edward Nicastro.

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Koch hired Friedman’s wife, Jackie, for a City Hall job exempt from civil service requirements and invited Friedman to be one of a dozen guests at his private swearing-in on’New Year’s Eve of 1985 — a signal of intimacy that city contractors surely noticed.

When publisher/gadfly Jim Smith questioned Koch at the City Club in Oc­tober 1984 about the legalities of Fried­man’s assetless company getting the prof­itable no-bid hand-held computer contract, Koch insulted Smith, defended Friedman, and said: “How dare you say those terrible things about him … It’s so easy to libel people.”

Ambition drove Koch to make a deal with a steep price. The political structure kept its bargain. It gave Koch a working majority on the Board of Estimate and loyalty on election day. And Koch gave the clubhouse system patronage and con­tracts. Koch got what he wanted: power, a stage, celebrity. And the rulers of the system got what they wanted: wealth and power.

For eight years, almost everyone was satisfied — the buyer, the seller, the pub­lic, the media. Just by doing their jobs, the whistleblowers were a threat to this sordid compact against the public interest.

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EDWARD NICASTRO WAS THE DIREC­TOR of procurement and contract manager for the Department of En­vironmental Protection in 1984. He was everything the public, and the mayor, could want a city employee with a responsible job to be. He was a graduate of St. John’s University and the Universi­ty of Bridgeport Law School. He was an expert at modernizing and administering contracts. He had a profound sense of civic virtue, partially rooted in his desire to repay a debt of gratitude fo the city that sheltered his father from Sicily.

Nicastro had been given the highest possible job ratings by his supervisors, and about 30 employees worked under his supervision. His staff had saved the city hundreds of thousands of dollars when it discovered padded bills and underweighted deliveries from asphalt contractors. He was also a true believer in Ed Koch as an honest, independent mayor; Nicastro’s wife had been a full-time worker in Koch’s victorious 1977 campaign for mayor, and she knew Koch personally.

Early in 1984, Nicastro became suspi­cious of waste and bid-rigging in the con­struction of City Water Tunnel Number Three, being built between Manhattan and Queens, which, has now become the focus of a major investigation by U.S. attorney Rudy Giuliani. All Nicastro knew in 1984 was that there were mil­lions of dollars in cost overruns, apparent collusion in the bidding by two consor­tiums, and that no independent audits were being conducted, because his office was being excluded from the review pro­cess. He could see that there was no ac­countability for the bids and contracts on the biggest project ever done by the DEP.

Motivated more by a conscientious concern for cost-effective management than by any dramatic thoughts of a con­spiracy, Nicastro politely expressed his concerns to his two immediate superiors in March 1984. They were deputy com­missioners Jeffrey Sommer and Fred Carfora. He told them his office should be analyzing the water tunnel bidding procedures and billing practices and that the exemption of such contracts from re­view was a direct violation of city rules. He warned Sommer and Carfora that the absence of accountability could lead to corruption.

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Carfora assured Nicastro that he would get his oversight authority by the end of the fiscal year, in June 1984. When this did not occur as promised, Nicastro car­ried his warnings to the Department of Investigations in October 1984, when Patrick McGinley was commissioner.

“DOI was polite, but they never did anything,” Nicastro says now. “Four or five months after I went to them, I called them up to find what was happening with the investigation. That’s when they told me the the case had already been closed.”

Nicastro was aware that Sommer and Carfora were both clubhouse appointees loyal to Bronx Democratic boss Stanley Friedman. He knew Sommer had worked for Friedman when Friedman was deputy mayor, and he had heard that Carfora’s mother had been a Bronx district leader, and that Carfora had gotten his job through the party organization. And as someone experienced in politics himself, Nicastro was aware of Friedman’s power to control jobs and contracts in the Koch administration.

What he did not know until much later was that Friedman was also the lawyer who was being paid a six-figure fee to represent a consortium of companions with 90 per cent of the contracts to build Water Tunnel Number Three. And that one of Friedman’s clients he had wanted to audit had already paid almost $5 mil­lion in fines for bid-rigging outside of New York.

Nicastro is a self-described “tough Si­cilian,” and he did not back off from his position that the water tunnel needed to be audited, since it already had $31 mil­lion in cost overruns, and was 20 years behind schedule.

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That’s when the attempt to crush Ni­castro began. His job performance ratings mysteriously began to decline from “out­standing” to “marginal.” In October 1984, deputy commissioner Carfora tried to fire him, falsely claiming that Nicastro had submitted fraudulent time sheets. At that point, Nicastro told the DOI he was being  fired because he was a “whistleblower,” and Carfora put his request to fire Nicas­tro on hold. In November, Carfora trans­ferred Nicastro to the agency’s gulag — a garage in Maspeth, in a dead-end job as purchasing agent in which he didn’t begin to utilize his skills.

On November 15, 1985, Nicastro sent a registered letter to Koch, with a copy to deputy mayor Stanley Brezenoff, explain­ing in detail what was being done to him, and repeating his “concern about DEP’s contract procedures, which violate City Charter rules as well as controller’s directives.”

Nicastro’s letter to Koch reminded him: “Your Mayoral Memorandum of May 2, 1984, clearly states that all retal­iatory actions [against whistleblowers] are to be investigated.”

On November 22, Nicastro received a reply from Dean Silverberg, then deputy counsel to the mayor, saying: “I have forwarded your materials to the Depart­ment of Investigations for their review of your concerns.”

Nicastro was now in the realm of Kaf­ka, where faceless bureaucrats toyed with his future. On December 2, 1985, he was informed that his salary was being re­duced by $1000 retroactively to the previ­ous August. At the same time, other man­agers in DEP were getting $4000 raises. Nicastro was told that this punishment had been authorized by Joe DeVincenzo, the mayoral assistant officially in charge of “salaries and job classifications” but unofficially the patronage liaison to the Democratic county leaders, including Friedman.

Nicastro was in despair working in the Maspeth garage for less money, and con­stantly trying to explain to his coworkers that he was right and his bosses were wrong.

He went through a trauma that scars many whistleblowers forever. David Durk and Frank Serpico went through the same kind of experience when they were trying to expose police corruption in the late 1960s and no one was listening. In retrospect, people like Durk, Serpico, and Nicastro might look like steadfast heroes. But they pay a large psychic price in fear, anger, and depression before they are ab­solved by history. And sometimes by a movie.

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During 1985, Nicastro was drinking a lot and coming home after his two young children went to sleep. There were severe strains on his marriage.

“I was very unhappy and I felt like my life was coming apart,” he recalls now. “I became a different person. I was in a rage all the time. I thought I was being fol­lowed and I worried about my family’s safety.”

On December 2, 1985 — the day his sal­ary was cut — Nicastro’s wife, Alice Horo­witz, feeling that all other options were exhausted, wrote a personal letter to Koch. It began:

“Back in 1977 during your first mayor­al campaign, if you recall, I was your advance person. I advanced you all over the entire city and became a dedicated follower of yours; I believed in your policies.”

Alice Horowitz-Nicastro’s letter then went on to inform the mayor of her hus­band’s fate as a whistleblower: his de­grading demotion for trying to save the public money and alert his supervisors to potential fraud and bid-rigging. The let­ter ended with a personal appeal to the man she admired and had helped elect:

“Ed, is this the way a man is rewarded for his honesty and dedication? My hus­band loves working for the city. In his years with the Department of Environ­mental Protection he has saved the city hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, because of his honesty.

“This constant harassment has not only taken a monetary toll on him, but a mental and physical toll on him and the rest of us, including my children, who are too young to understand why their daddy is always so angry.

“Please, Ed, please help me. It has tak­en me a very long time to write this letter. I really hoped it would not get to this, but the survival of my family de­pends on it.

“Thank you for your precious time.”

On December 17, 1985, Alice Horowitz­-Nicastro got an impersonal, one-para­graph letter back from Dean Silverberg. It said:

“Your December 2nd letter has been referred to me. I anticipate that your husband will be contacted shortly by the Department of Investigation.”

On March 24, 1986 — 10 days after the suicide of Donald Manes, with a new moral climate in the media, and in the city — Edward Nicastro’s story was told in Newsday by reporter Leonard Levitt. The article was accompanied by a lengthy, well-documented exposé of the cost overruns and collusive bidding prac­tices on Water Tunnel Number Three.

In July 1986, after a thorough review by a new investigations commissioner­ — Kenneth Conboy — Carfora was demoted for unlawfully harassing and trying to fire Nicastro, and making false charges against him. His salary was cut from $71,000 to $60,000. Carfora resigned rather than accept this mild sanction.

Today Edward Nicastro has a dull job in DEP that has nothing to do with his proven career expertise: monitoring con­tracts, a skill the Koch administration would seem to need.

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GORDON HAESLOOP WENT TO WORK for the city Department of Inves­tigations in 1979 as general coun­sel. From May 1981 until the spring of 1985 he was the depart­ment’s deputy commisioner. Like most able investigators, he has a stubborn, in­dependent temperament. He supervised five or six staff attorneys and several detectives. He had been in charge of the undercover project that led to the convic­tion of Brooklyn city councilman Louis Olmedo.

In February 1985, Haesloop was con­ducting a multifaceted investigation of transportation commissioner Anthony Ameruso. DOI had a sworn deposition from a Transportation Department em­ployee, given in September 1984, charg­ing that Ameruso had taken “envelopes stuffed with cash” and that he had per­formed “special [parking] favors for Ma­fia restaurants.” A city contractor had complained to DOI that Ameruso was harassing his armored car company and showing favoritism in awarding parking meter collection contracts to a competi­tor, which had no gun permits or insur­ance and had organized crime ties. There were also several allegations that Amer­uso was secretly living outside the city, in violation of Section 3 of the Public Offi­cers Law, even though he had given City Hall a Brooklyn phone number at which to reach him in case of emergencies.

Moreover, by the winter of 1985, Haes­loop was convinced that PVB was mis­managed and probably corrupt, and since PVB was part of Ameruso’s responsibility as transportation commissioner, he sus­pected that Ameruso might become part of the PVB inquiry as well. One reason Haesloop felt something was rotten at PVB was quite personal. He had received a dunning letter from Bernard Sandow’s collection agency, demanding $2000 for parking tickets he had paid a long time before.

So, approximately in February 1985, Haesloop assigned DOI detectives to begin a surveillance of Ameruso, primarily to develop evidence of his violation of the residency law. Haesloop recalled:

“Such types of surveillance usually last for about two weeks. With Ameruso, after three or four days of tailing him, we es­tablished that he lived on Roslyn, Long Island. Each morning his son would drive him along the service road to the city line at Queens. At that point Ameruso would get into his waiting city car, and his city driver would take him to work. This fact by itself could have warranted his being fired by the mayor.”

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Haesloop continued:

“Next I wanted to install a pen register on Ameruso’s Brooklyn phone — a device that does not require a court order or a search warrant — that would track phone calls and prove if he had a Call Forward­ing device on the Brooklyn number to his Long Island home. Pen registers were a routine investigative tool in the office. We had installed about 15 of them — some in noncriminal investigations — over five years … [DOI senior staff attorney] Su­san Ross and I together told Commis­sioner McGinley that Ameruso was vio­lating the residency rule and that I wanted to install the pen register. But McGinley ordered me not to use it and ordered me to terminate the surveillance. He never gave me a reason. McGinley fired me about four weeks later.”

(McGinley has denied he was told Ameruso was living outside the city, but Susan Ross has verified that McGinley was informed of that fact. A third former DOI official has also confirmed Haes­loop’s recollections.)

When I asked Haesloop why he didn’t go directly to the mayor when the investi­gation was halted, he replied:

“There was a general perception in city government that Ameruso was favored and protected at City Hall. On top of that, I felt that Koch fired deputies who went to him to complain about their  bosses …

“In June 1985, after I was fired and just before I left the office, I did speak to McGinley. I asked him to tell the mayor that something fundamental was wrong with PVB and the Department of Trans­portation, and that Ameruso was a po­tential embarrassment to the mayor. McGinley didn’t say if he would commu­nicate that message for me …

“The separate PVB investigation was in my mind. I couldn’t understand how the mayor, even at that point, wasn’t doing more to hold Ameruso accountable for all the embarrassing problems at PVB. The city was losing millions of dol­lars on the percentages the collection agencies were keeping on their con­tracts — 40 per cent on some. The place was badly mismanaged. I just sensed that Ameruso was protected, and I would be perceived as disloyal.”

I asked Haesloop, who is now in pri­vate practice, if he had been upset about being dismissed by McGinley.

“No, I was happy to go. I was fed up arresting some poor inspector for taking $100 just before he became eligible for his pension. I felt demoralized that I could only go after the small fish. I was frus­trated I couldn’t investigate a full com­missioner like Ameruso. If I couldn’t pur­sue an Ameruso case, then I didn’t want to work there anymore.”

The mayor’s durable faith in Ameruso was indeed extraordinary. Even when Ameruso resigned in January 1986, after the PVB corruption was becoming known, Koch said at Ameruso’s farewell press conference: “He’s impeccable. I rec­ommend him without reservation.”

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BARBARA MEYERS GREW UP IN THE East New York section of Brook­lyn and graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in 1959. During the 1960s, she was a nurse and a self-described “hippie antiwar marcher.” By 1975, after working in the shipping industry for a few years, she was contemplating a career change and decid­ed to drive a taxi while doing her thinking.

Meyers found she enjoyed driving a cab. “I loved the variety of experience, the sense of freedom, the interaction with other people, the sense of adventure,” she says. By 1976, she had borrowed money, purchased two taxi medallions for $23,000 each, and started running the Silver Eagle Cab Company. Gradually, Meyers became a reformer within the taxi industry, a vocal defender of her rights, and a critic of the taxi commission.

On April 7, 1982, Barbara Meyers par­ticipated in a taping of the Eyewitness News Conference on ABC-TV, with re­porter Milton Lewis and Richard Smith, who had authored a report for the mayor on the taxi industry. The show was to be aired on Sunday, April 10, 1982.

During the taping, Meyers charged that the taxi commission was “corrupt,” and that the giving out of 100 free taxi medallions for a diesel fuel experiment was “a fraud.” (The number of medal­lions had been frozen at 11,700 since the 1930s.) She also criticized Mayor Koch and Taxi and Limousine Commission chairman Jay Throff in harsh terms.

“I did it because I needed help,” Mey­ers says now. “I was looking for the pow­er of the press to help me clean up the industry. I didn’t have the specific evi­dence to prove a criminal case, but I knew something was rotten, and I knew where to look … I remember when I said the word ‘corruption,’ the moderator [Lewis] interrupted me and asked if I realized what I was saying. I told him I did.”

The day after the taping — two days before the show went on the air — Barbara Meyers was called by Ronald Russo, deputy commissioner of the Department of Investigations.

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“He approached me in a very hostile way,” Meyers says. He tried to intimidate me and make me feel like I was the prob­lem. He said that what I said about Tur­off at the taping was inflamatory. He said I’d better come down to his office, and if I didn’t that he would subpoena me. I felt like I was the criminal and Throff was the whistleblower.”

On April 14, 1982, four days after her criticism of Turoff was on television, Meyers was the victim of Taxi and Lim­ousine Commission harassment.

“Three TLC inspectors stopped my cab, ripped the medallion off my hood, and gave me three tickets for no reason,” Meyers told me. “I won my appeal against the tickets, but I lost a few days of work. I felt it was an obvious reprisal. I also started to get threatening phone calls at home saying I knew what happens to rats.”

On May 6, 1982, Meyers testified for two hours under oath to the Department of Investigations, with a stenographer present. She made a clear case for further investigation of the way the 100 medal­lions were given to a few favored fleets on the basis of the fraudulent diesel experiment.

She said: “There are 100 medallions in the street earning enormous amounts of money, amounting to millions, in a very favored way for the operator of those medallions … I want to know why, why not me? I would be happy to participate in an experiment of that nature … How were they chosen? What arrangements?”

(What Meyers didn’t know at that point was that the 100 medallions were awarded to the Research Cab Corpora­tion, and other companies owned by Donald Sherman and represented by Stanley Friedman as a lawyer-lobbyist.)

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Meyers risked her career by going on television and giving a deposition to the Department of Investigations. As a re­ward, her attorney received a letter from investigations commissioner McGinley, dated August 2, 1982, scolding Meyers. The letter said:

“Ms. Meyers presents herself to the public as a highly responsible taxi-owner operator … In view of this, I consider her deliberate and public use of terms like ‘corruption’ and ‘corrupt’ to have been unhelpful to say the least.”

McGinley now claims he did not write this letter, that it was written for him by his former first deputy commissioner, Ronald Russo. But Russo told me:

“McGinley is not telling the truth. I did not write that letter. I left the Depart­ment of Investigations on July 9, 1982. I opened my private practice on July 12, 1982. I was not there in August. McGinley is looking for scapegoats.” Russo refused to comment on the record about his conversation with Meyers.

On April 10, 1986, the State Investiga­tions Commission (SIC) held a public hearing on corruption at the TLC. It was four years to the day that Barbara Mey­ers had gone on ABC television urging the world to notice the diesel-medallion hoax. The hearing began with SIC chair­man David Trager making a formal statement:

“Our investigation has led us to the firm conclusion that the diesel test pro­gram was, from its inception, a fraud designed to provide medallions worth more than $3.7 million per year to Re­search Cab … Former TLC chairman Jay Turoff played a central role in exe­cuting this scheme … He acted to con­ceal, steal, or destroy records of the TLC relating to medallions issued to Research Cab. He personally directed that 123 me­dallions — 23 more than authorized — be issued to Research Cab.”

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During the April 10 hearing, Robert Mackasek, the inspector general for the TLC, testified. He admitted that after Meyers made her original charges on tele­vision, his entire investigation consisted of asking his boss, Jay Turoff, if they were true. Turoff had said the charges were rubbish. Mackasek also conceded that Turoff helped arrange for him to received a $71,000 loan from the HYFIN credit union — a loan cosigned by Turoff.

Finally, Mackasek admitted that he had gone to Stanley Friedman’s law of­fices, and tipped Friedman that his cli­ent — Research Cab — was under investi­gation by the SIC. Mackasek testified that Turoff — who set up the meeting­ — and Research Cab Corporation president Donald Sherman were also present when he told Friedman everything he knew of the investigation.

One of the last questions the State Investigations Commission asked Macka­sek was whether he was active in politics. He said that in 1985, when he was in private practice, Turoff had called him, and in response he had raised money for Koch from taxi industry companies, and lined up cabs to transport pro-Koch vot­ers to the polls on election day.

Unwittingly, Barbara Meyers had chal­lenged the nexus of power in New York City in 1982. She was shining a light into the eye of the tiger. Jay Turoff owed his job to Meade Esposito. Turoff was per­forming significant money-making favors for Stanley Friedman’s clients. And Tur­off was raising substantial sums of cam­paign money for the mayor from the in­dustry he was supposed to be regulating.

Turoff’s trial on felony bribery and fraud charges begins February 17 in fed­eral court.

Barbara Meyers is now out of the taxi business. She has written a book for children on how to deal with the death of a pet, and runs a car service that trans­ports pets that are sick.

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IN THE LAST FEW MONTHS, THREE Queens power brokers have been in­dicted on charges involving manipula­tion of the cable television franchise in Queens: administrative judge Fran­cis Smith, realtor John Zaccaro, and po­litical consultant Mike Nussbaum. All three were charged with acting in concert with Donald Manes to extort bribes from bidders seeking to wire Queens for cable. In addition, U.S. attorney Rudy Giuliani is now in the final stages of his investiga­tion into the Bronx cable TV franchise, where the targets of the grand jury in­clude Stanley Friedman, Ramon Velez, Frank Lugovinia, and Tod Tuah.

Queens businessman Al Simon had been trying to warn the proper authori­ties since at least 1981 that the way the city was awarding cable TV franchises was a process designed to be corrupt, because it was secretive, immune to mer­it, and controlled by Manes in Queens and Stanley Friedman in the Bronx. But the mayor insisted the system was “fair and open,” and nobody paid much notice to Al Simon, even when his company, Ortho-Vision, went bankrupt in 1983. He was treated as just another civic crank.

Al Simon, now 54, grew up in Wil­liamsburg, dropped out of high school, went into the army, and then attended the NYU School of Commerce at night for six years.

He became a kind of cable television visionary, and first applied to the city for a cable franchise back in 1972. In 1977, Simon’s company submitted a bid for the Queens franchise, but lost out to the Knickerbocker Communications Corpo­ration, a subsidiary of Time Inc. with power broker lawyers, publicists, and consultants. Simon filed a taxpayer’s suit that alleged Knickerbocker’s franchise was illegal because the contract differed materially from its petition for the con­tract. Simon won his lawsuit, and the franchise was withdrawn.

In 1981, the fight was on to wire Queens. Cable was a hot, futuristic indus­try, with everyone thinking gigantic prof­its were inevitable. Simon, viewed as an outsider and maverick entrepreneur, was competing against corporate giants like Warner-Amex, which was paying power­broker lawyer Sid Davidoff more than $150,000 in legal fees. Simon wrote up proposals, went to community planning boards, and convinced several of them to pass resolutions supporting his native Queens company. But Davidoff was Don­ald Manes’s best friend. He could walk into Boro Hall and act like he was co­-borough president. The corporate chair­man of Warner’s was Steve Ross, another friend of the borough president’s.

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In October 1981, Simon says he was visited by Mike Nussbaum, a political consultant who had managed most of Donald Manes’s campaigns and was one of the four or five people closest to Ma­nes. Nussbaum reportedly asked Simon for a $250,000 cash bribe. He said he was relaying a message from Manes through Manes’s deputy, Richard Rubin. He as­sured Simon that if the money was paid, he would get a portion of the Queens market.

“I told him no,” Simon says. “I thought I could win it on my own, on the merits. I never realized that when I wouldn’t pay off, they would freeze me out completely, and force me out of business.

“I was naïve. I never believed Koch would let Manes control the whole deci­sion. There were two years of public hearings, hundreds of meetings, docu­ments, minutes, records, and I never thought Manes by himself could wipe me out because I wouldn’t commit a crime. But Koch let it happen that way.”

(Simon finally told the bribe story to a Queens grand jury last year and Nuss­baum is now under indictment.)

1987 Village Voice by Jack Newfield article on ways Mayor Koch silenced whistle-blowers

In 1982, with the bidding process still going on, and Simon still thinking he would get fair treatment in an open pro­cess, he was asked to fill out a questionnaire by the city’s Department of Investi­gations. In a cover letter accompanying his completed questionnaire, Simon wrote a subtle request for a serious inves­tigation into the bidding process:

“It is interesting to note,” he wrote to commissioner Stanley Lupkin, “that the mandate from the Board of Estimate is limited to a background review of the applicants, and does not request a review of the process by which these applicants were targeted. Especially in light of a number of unanswered questions regard­ing the results to date.”

Simon never received a reply to his letter, which was dated February 12, 1982.

When asked why he didn’t report the Nussbaum-Manes extortion attempt at that point, Simon says: “I was afraid. I was also naïve. I thought I could get the franchise on my own. I lived in Queens. I had been in the cable television business since 1963. A couple of planning boards had voted for me. I had the necessary financial resources. I kept thinking I would get something on the merits … ”

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In 1983, the Board of Estimate, at the direction of Manes, divided the Queens market, with Warner-Amex getting all the best middle-class and and upper-mid­dle-class neighborhoods as part of its prize franchise. And Al Simon’s company went broke. He gave interviews pointing out the conflict of interest between Ma­nes and Davidoff, but few stories were written.

On October 8, 1984, Simon filed a law­suit against Manes, Warner-Amex, and the rest of the Board of Estimate. Al Simon’s legal papers were a cry of, “Stop, Thief.” They said:

“The office of borough president [Ma­nes] was an active participant along with defendant [city franchise director] Mor­ris Tarshis in perpetuating on the public the fraud that the cable franchise selec­tion and negotiation process was based on the merits … Tarshis and the bor­ough president’s office knew that the po­litical process was more important than all the paper and all the promises and all the public hearings. Both acted to pre­serve the political process and to subvert the public hearing and the airing of the contracts. They wanted to reassert politi­cal control over the granting of lucrative franchises in the City of New York …

“Public hearings were held on the irrel­evant proposals, but the contract itself was kept from the local community boards … Defendants Tarshis and the borough president were determined that the only meaningful negotiation process should be the one they personally con­ducted. The office of borough president selected the cable companies that were targeted for negotiations. The decision was rubber-stamped by the mayor, comp­troller, and City Council president.”

When the lawyers at the city corpora­tion counsel’s office, and the lawyers at City Hall, read the blunt claim of civic fraud in Simon’s brief, they did not start an investigation and they did not contact Al Simon. They went into court and op­posed Simon’s lawsuit. Simon wants to reopen the bidding in Queens, and the Koch administration, despite three in­dictments, is opposing that effort in liti­gation now pending before the Appellate Division, First Department.

Steve Kramer, who is representing the city against Simon’s suit, says: “Simon is a disgruntled bidder. This was a com­pletely open process.”

But Al Simon remembers the extortion attempt: “Nussbaum wouldn’t talk in my office. So we walked around the block of my office in Astoria, down Thirty-Sev­enth Avenue and up 32nd Street. Nuss­baum said Donald wanted $250,000 up front. I would have to have it in an at­taché case, or there might be a Swiss bank account involved. He said the mon­ey would guarantee me the franchise. He said the message was coming from Ri­chie, who was speaking for Donald.”

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IN MARCH 1982, HERB RYAN WAS A member of the city’s Taxi and Limou­sine Commission. He had been an aide to Donald Manes and president of Manes’s home political club, named after Adlai Stevenson. He had been appointed to the taxi commission on Ma­nes’s recommendation.

On March 12, 1982, Ryan took a bribe from the legendary undercover detective Eddie Gruskin, who was posing as a crooked car service dealer. The payoff was made in a parked car, and was audiotaped and videotaped by law-enforcement agents. During the transaction with Gruskin, Ryan said: “I want to introduce you to Donald. I want you to get to know Manes because he is running for mayor.”

(At that point Koch was running for governor with Manes’s backing and was the favorite to defeat Mario Cuomo in the primary. If Koch had won, Manes would have run for mayor.)

On March 20, 1982, Ryan took a sec­ond bribe from Gruskin in a meeting that was also recorded. Ryan was a small fish caught in a wide net. The prosecutors wanted the higher-ups.

In late March there was a meeting be­tween United States attorney Edward  Korman (now a federal judge); Stanley Lupkin, the city’s commissioner of inves­tigations; and Tom Puccio, then the chief of the organized crime strike force. All three agreed that Ryan might lead them to Manes in a brief period. Law enforce­ment agencies only had suspicions about Manes at the time, although evidence in­troduced at Stanley Friedman’s trial in New Haven showed that Manes had been extorting bribes since at least 1979 and was a thoroughly corrupt public official in 1982.

Korman, Lupkin, and Puccio agreed that Ryan should either be reappointed by the mayor or kept in a holdover posi­tion for a brief period so that the under­cover agent could get a face-to-face meet­ing with Ryan’s mentor, Donald Manes.

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Lupkin presented this unanimous rec­ommendation by three law enforcement officials to Mayor Koch in early April. He informed the mayor that Manes had been named on the undercover tape. But the mayor terminated the investigation by refusing to allow Ryan to remain in a holdover position, in which he already had been serving since January 31. Koch insisted that Ryan be arrested at once.  (In April 1982, Koch was running for governor against Mario Cuomo and Ma­nes was supporting Koch even though Cuomo was a native son of Queens.)

In February 1986, as the Manes scandal was unraveling, NBC-TV reporter John Miller played on the air a portion of the undercover videotape of Ryan taking the bribe and boasting of his ties to Ma­nes. The next day Lupkin, now a lawyer in private practice, told reporters he was “disappointed” that Koch had refused to permit the sting to proceed. He said he had argued with the major that Ryan should be kept in place.

At first, Koch responded by claiming to reporters that no one had ever told him that Manes’s name had come up, or that Manes was in any way considered a po­tential target of the investigation. The next day he improved his recollection and conceded that he had been informed by Lupkin that Manes’s name had been used by Ryan on the tape.

Herb Ryan never cooperated with prosecutors. He was arrested, pleaded guilty, and served four months of a lenient, six­-month sentence, imposed on him by U.S. district judge Mark Costintino.

After Ryan got out of prison, he re­mained close to Manes. Manes’s phone logs, placed in evidence in New Haven, showed that Ryan left 57 phone messages for Manes during 1984 and 1985.

If Ed Koch had really wanted to know if the immense trust he placed in Donald Manes was justified, he would not have aborted the Herb Ryan sting, and he would not have overruled three law enforcement professionals.

ED KOCH IS THE MAN WHO ACTED naive out of cynicism. He is the man who chose to gaze into a mirror instead of out the window. He is the man who didn’t want to know. ■

 

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A Profile in Corruption: The Double Life of Donald Manes

On a November day in 1955, 21-year-old Don­ald Manes went to the offices of his father’s dairy company in Brooklyn and discov­ered that his father had borrowed the payroll clerk’s gun and disap­peared. Donald instant­ly sensed where his dad had gone. 

It was one of the best times in Donald’s life; he was scheduled to marry Marlene Warshofsky in three weeks. He’d just started at Brooklyn Law School. But Donald knew that his dad was haunted by fears and memories. 

The family dairy business, built around control of neighborhood routes, was threatened by the emergence of conglom­erates like Kraft and Breakstone. Ed Ma­nes was already suing Kraft. And the senior Manes had never been the same since his wife, Belle, died of cancer al­most two years earlier. A month after her death he’d written a will giving every­thing he owned-including a 60-unit bun­galow colony near Ellenville, an upstate farm, the Flushing home, and other real estate in the city-to Donald; his twin brother, Morty; and their older sister, Edith Robbins. Since then he’d gradually given away the few valued personal items he’d listed in the will — rings to Donald and Morty, sterling silver to Edith. 

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A couple of months earlier he’d sold most of the furniture at the family home, married one of his wife’s lifelong friends, and moved into her house on Long Is­land. But Donald understood that his dad, an intense family man, was still in love with his memories. And this day was the anniversary of his marriage to Belle, 32 years ago. Donald immediately headed for the family home in Queens, alone and in panic. 

When he got there, the house was dark and silent. He went down the basement steps to the den. His dad — a large, lov­able bear of a man — was on the floor covered in blood. The gun he’d shoved up his mouth was still clutched in his hand. For the rest of his life, Donald Manes would not go down darkened basement steps alone, anywhere. 

On a November day in 1985, Donald Manes, the borough president and  Democratic county leader of Queens, sponsored what he said was the city’s first seminar on suicide. He led off the seminar, which fo­cused on teenage suicide and was held at his Boro Hall office, with a warning that “burying our heads in the sand” would “not eliminate the problem.” Manes told the mental health professionals, educa­tors, and others who gathered that people were not adequately informed about sui­cide because “the issue itself is still ta­boo — people don’t like to talk about death.” Manes did not mention his fa­ther. Indeed his staff and many of his closest political allies and friends had never heard him discuss Ed Manes’s death. 

The same week, Donald Manes’s friend Geoffrey Lindenauer sat in a Manhattan restaurant with Michael Burnett for the first time. Lindenauer took a $5000 bribe that day in the restaurant’s bathroom. Half of the payoff was for Donald Manes. Burnett, a/k/a Michael Raymond, a convicted con man turned government infor­mant, was taping the conversation for the FBI. Four months later, Lindenauer, whose own father, in a bizarre twist, had hung himself years earlier rather than face bribery charges, also became a gov­ernment witness, after rejecting Donald Manes’s suggestion that he kill himself. When Lindenauer declined Manes’s invitation, Manes tried it himself, slashing his wrist and ankle in a city car one January night. Following that attempt, he shuttled between hospitals, psychiatrists, and criminal lawyers. Most of the time he sat in his home in a bathrobe, gliding in and out of lucidity, besieged by television and print reporters who surrounded his house. 

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At times, he would stare straight ahead for hours, muttering “bad, bad, bad” and implicitly conceding wrongdoing, saying “I shouldn’t have let them talk me into it.” Sometimes he would get nostalgic, talking excitedly about anything, so long as it hadn’t happened in the last few months. He acknowledged in a conversa­tion with one visitor that Shelly Chev­lowe, his bagman at the PVB before Lin­denauer, had talked him into taking payoffs. Another friend says he told him: “I should’ve stopped Lindenauer.” His wife, Marlene, and his children tried to protect him from his new public image, shutting off the television, even during commercial interruptions of football games, for fear that he’d see a newsbreak item about himself. But he did hear snatches and see headlines, and the may­or’s branding of him as a crook, hours after Koch had kissed him on the head, left Manes shaken and depressed, as did the mayor’s charge that he was faking illness to avoid prosecutors.

No one from Manes’s office came to see him for two tortured months. When he reached out for one staffer, Alan Ger­shuny, who’d managed his first political campaign in 1965 and was his executive assistant, Gershuny was curt and un­friendly. He would not return the call until he recruited a witness to listen to the brief conversation. He did not offer to visit. Manes began asking family mem­bers what would happen if he had to “go away for a couple of years.” The family, as close as Ed Manes —— him they would circle the wagons and protect each other. 

Three days after Lindenauer became a witness against him, Donald Manes went to his lawyer’s office — a hollow, haunted hulk, so visibly desperate that his lawyer moved him from a conference room with windows to one without. By that night, even Marlene had decided that he had to be institutionalized. Manes and Linden­auer had once promised each other that they would never commit suicide — to protect their children from the nightmare that had haunted their own lives. But now, all Donald could feel was fear and shame. With his 25-year-old daughter, Lauren, only feet from him in the kitch­en, and his wife upstairs on another phoneline while he talked to a psychiatrist, Manes sank a steak knife into his heart. It was Marlene’s turn to run down the dark steps to a body suddenly draped in blood. 

RULES OF THE GAME
It is now a year and a half since Don­ald Manes turned the politics of this city upside down. And it was almost exactly two years ago that Manes, act­ing as a spokesman for all five bor­ough presidents, read an endorsement statement at City Hall, “enthusiastically” urging the reelection of Ed Koch, who he said at the time had the capacity to “compromise in the best interests of the city.” Manes is still the central character in the scandal that has enveloped the mayor, yet little is known about him. His death ended the press and prosecutorial examination of his life — except for the deals that became cases — perhaps pre­cisely as he had hoped. 

The detectives who came to the Manes home last March asked Marlene Manes a couple of questions about the suicide. Her brief description was the only family comment about Donald Manes to become public since this scandal exploded. When the city executed an agreement with Marlene Manes early this year, accepting a $150,000 payment from the family in ex­change for the city’s promise not to sue to recover Donald Manes’s alleged brib­ery gains, the Manes attorney pointedly wrote the city’s corporation counsel: “It should be understood that nothing said or done in the course of our dealings with you should be construed as implying that Marlene concedes the truth of the charges against her husband.” Marlene Manes, and Donald’s brother and sister, made a joint decision to maintain their silence when asked to be interviewed for this story. But other family members, as well as many close friends of Donald Ma­nes, did talk. 

What emerges is a double life. Manes was a brilliant bargainer who could in­vent solutions to complex development riddles, forcing large-scale Queens pro­jects off the table and into the ground, but just as often he used his mastery of city government to deliver favors to fixer friends. He was proud of the Queens he’d helped create — a booming slice of the city — but, after 15 years of unchecked power there, he mistook it for a kingdom and exacted tribute. 

Manes’s unexamined rise to public and party power is a series of seedy deals, rooted in the clubhouse culture that reared him. Long before his PVB crimes surfaced, he survived probes that either targeted him or narrowly missed him without law enforcement realizing how close they were. Eight years of his phone logs and appointment diaries, obtained by the Voice, are a portrait of the real political landscape underneath Ed Koch’s rhetoric. Manes’s scheduled appoint­ments were often the commonplace, day­-to-day stuff of a working government leader; but the phone calls he returned in the privacy of his office frequently came from a small circle of powerbrokers, many of whom had already or have since become felons. 

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The Manes story is, in many respects, a mirror of the politics of this city. The “uncle” who guided his public career was a once-indicted Brooklyn clubhouse judge. In his first campaign, he ran for a Queens council seat from a fake address. The gang of a half dozen pols who made him borough president were all carted off to jail, one at a time, long before PVB. He stole the Democratic county leader­ship from a close friend at a secret meet­ing in a Manhattan hotel. Once in power, he surrounded himself over the years with crooks, many of whom had their pre-PVB moments in the sun when their association with Manes drew at least some press notice.

But the media, the mayor, and the real estate establishment of this city placed each episode in solitary confinement, rather than on a continuum of sleaze, all attached to Manes. Instead of tainting him with guilt-by-association, those who had to deal with Manes’s unshakable power in Queens preferred a cunning stance of innocence-by-ignorance, treat­ing each new scandal as if it were the first. The Manhattan establishment is practiced at this pretense. It knows even now that Manes was not an aberration, that his crimes were consistent with the tradition that invented and sustained him.

When Ed Koch, once close to Manes, went on the tube to say again and again that he couldn’t have known about Ma­nes’s PVB criminality, the mayor was merely imitating the next-door neighbor of the psychopath — interviewed after the fatal flip-out. But Donald Manes’s final scandal was no surprise. It was business as usual. To Manes — and the other club­house kingpins of his generation (Bronx Democratic leaders Stanley Friedman and Pat Cunningham, ex-Queens boss Matty Troy, and former Brooklyn boss Meade Esposito) — a fix was a form of daily exercise. When Donald Manes de­cided to charge a fee for city collection contracts, he wasn’t doing anything that was counter to the rules of the game as his crowd played it. The contracts were his to sell.

Donald Manes’s career is now all pre­lude to his suicide. Heart attacks are not the culmination of a life, they are merely the way it ends. But Manes’s death — a kamikaze plunge in the chest — was a tor­mented rejection of his life. 

NO WAY OUT
A biography of Manes has to start with the events that immediately preceded his death. Despite the extraordinary impact that Manes’s suicide had, shaping the scandal and turning it into human drama, it re­mains remarkably unexamined. Every conceivable aspect of his bungled attempt in January was investigated, but the March success seemed to suddenly close the curtain, concealing a life of mob in­trigue, public plunder, and compulsive sex. 

Prosecutors who were then involved in the PVB investigation and who ultimate­ly named Manes as an unindicted co­conspirator believe that he may have been hounded in his final months by a particular set of relationships with a deadly cutting edge: the mob. His wide variety of mob ties — snapshots of which appeared periodically throughout his public life — was symbolized by the two surreptitious visits to his home during the interregnum between suicides by a longtime mob associate. 

The visitor, Michael Callahan, had a “father-son” relationship with a Geno­vese crime family soldier and was con­victed in a 1982 Abscam-connected case that involved the planned torching of houses to collect insurance. Mel Wein­berg, the con man whose undercover work for the FBI in Abscam led to nu­merous convictions, told the Voice that Callahan and his mob mentor brought Weinberg to Carlo Gambino’s house and introduced him to Gambino. 

Callahan had sold Manes his West­hampton home years earlier — at a cut­-rate price. Manes’s phone logs and diaries reveal a long-term close relationship with Callahan. Indeed a month before Manes’s first suicide attempt, he’d gone to Atlan­tic City to discuss a real estate deal with Callahan. 

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Voice interviews with family and friends reveal that the Callahan visits to Manes’s Jamaica Estates home were ar­ranged by Manes himself, unlike most of the visits during this period, and that they occurred when Marlene was out of the house and without her knowledge. The day after Manes died, the New York Post reported that-its reporters had tailed Callahan leaving Manes’s house twice from a back entrance, rushing down side streets to his car parked blocks away, and reading from notes into a pay phone. 

The morning of Manes’s death report­ers pressed Chief of Detectives Richard Nicastro about the Callahan visit, point­ing to his conviction in the mob money-­laundering scheme and asking if the in­vestigation would try to determine if Manes, or his illegal assets, had been threatened. Nicastro at first scornfully rejected the notion that the police should’ve questioned Marlene Manes about any possible threats, and eventual­ly conceded that they still might. But no one ever did, nor did anyone examine the Callahan or other mob connections. De­spite the strong hunch of federal prosecu­tors that a wavering Manes, considering cooperation, killed himself in part due to pressures from the underworld, many of Manes’s mob secrets did die with him. 

The mob was only one of the walls closing in on Donald Manes. His initial suicide attempt in January, before U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani had any di­rect evidence of his involvement in the PVB shakedown racket, was as panicky as his father’s, who believed wrongly that his financial empire was in trouble and that he might have nothing to leave his children (Ed Manes left a gross estate conservatively valued at $158,000 in 1955). But one member of the Manes family, and a close friend who visited him constantly during the period between sui­cide attempts, told the Voice that Don­ald’s decision to try it a second time was at least in part “a rational choice”  — exe­cuted in circumstances he could not have preferred (particularly Lauren’s pres­ence), and pushed perhaps by the fear that once institutionalized, he would not have another opportunity. 

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Michael Armstrong, Manes’s attorney, had been told by prosecutors that they were prepared to indict Manes, and Arm­strong had persuaded Giuliani that an indictment might kill his client. Clearly Giuliani withheld an indictment in part to induce Manes’s cooperation. Manes understood that if he cooperated, he would’ve been forced to testify against close friends. And he still would’ve had to plead guilty to at least a single racketeer­ing, count, exposing himself to substantial jail time and an inevitable legal assault on the $1.2 million in assets that a dead Manes was able to convey to his family. (Federal and city authorities would’ve been compelled to seek restitution of Ma­nes’s racketeering gains and it is unlikely that Manes would’ve done as well as his wife has.) In addition, if Callahan, a ca­reer laundromat for the mob, or other mob associates of Manes’s, were hiding his illegal profits, cooperation would have jeopardized his family’s possible future access to that money. 

On the other hand, Manes clearly didn’t have the stomach to face the trial witnesses Giuliani was assembling against him. While much has been made of the impact on Manes of Lindenauer’s decision to cooperate, Manes’s longtime friend, PVB contractor and mob lawyer Mel Lebetkin, (who was finally arrested a few weeks ago-after more than a year of published allegations involving him) had also offered in January 1986 to cooperate in exchange for immunity. (According to a sealed government affidavit, Lebetkin offered to testify “that he made payoffs to Donald Manes and Geoffrey Linden­auer.”)

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A source in Giuliani’s office observed that while “a lot of people think Linden­auer was weighing heavily on Manes, they forget about Lebetkin.” This source believes that Lebetkin “could’ve done more damage than Lindenauer” because Lebetkin was connected with the mob figures around Manes and, unlike Lin­denauer, was also a participant in aspects of what numerous sources have described as Manes’s “secret fast-lane life.”

What had been an amorphous threat in January, when no one with firsthand in­formation about him was cooperating, had become, by March 13, with the po­tential testimony of Lindenauer, Lebet­kin and PVB contractor Michael Dowd, a steel trap. To save themselves, these wit­nesses, climbing up onto the stand from the dark side of Manes’s life, would not merely testify about his crimes. They would merge his worlds. And there were stories they, and others suddenly in legal jeopardy, could tell that might make even his home uninhabitable. 

HIS SECRET LIFE
Manes’s family was the center of his life, but an insatiable sexual hunger drove him into a fast lane that included Quaaludes  and marijuana, hooker parties, a house owned by an aide and used for midday trysts, and a perception among his criminal cohorts that arranging and participating in an orgy with Manes, or getting him a woman for a night, was almost a bonding ritual. Manes was so frenetic about hiding his second life from his family that he may have taken cash bribes to help cover the secret cost of it. At a minimum, creating one elaborate subterfuge may have made it easier for Donald to invent and conceal a second. 

Surveillance photos viewed by the Voice, taken by law enforcement agents tailing him as part of a 1983 criminal probe unrelated to PVB, reveal that Ma­nes was also not above using the public payroll to subsidize his secret life. One woman repeatedly observed entering a private house with him for two-hour stays in the middle of the afternoon was a Boro Hall aide who started working for Manes in 1979 as an entry level, $10,000 a year office aide and was making $50,000 by the time he killed himself. The aide, Geri Colosi, got a college degree during those years and was given upgraded re­sponsibilities. But she got one raise that nearly doubled her salary at the very time that she and Manes were photographed at the covert meetings in 1983. 

Another woman observed going to the same house with Manes was connected with a major Chinese underworld figure, according to law enforcement sources who questioned her. Manes phonelogs re­veal that this woman, Cecilia Chang, called, dined, and met with him often­ even leaving messages from Taiwan, and on other occasions, giving Manes her flight number and travel itinerary. Though told what the specific questions would be, Colosi declined repeated Voice requests for an interview. A lawyer for Chang minimized her association with the underworld figure, and said she had a “business relationship with Manes.” 

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The house where the meetings took place was owned by Richard Rubin, the executive secretary of the Queens Demo­cratic party and one of Manes’s closest confidants. Rubin, who was convicted in a recent federal mail fraud case, is now selectively cooperating with federal investigators, and has reportedly confirmed that he “pimped” for Manes. Voice inter­views with several close Manes friends indicate that he was hardly the only procurer. 

Some of Manes’s PVB sidekicks may have used his sexual hunger to compro­mise him. In tapes recorded by Chicago FBI agents and obtained by the Voice, New York collection company executive Bernie Sandow told federal undercover informant Michael Burnett that Manes and Shelly Chevlowe, the city marshal retained by Sandow, who acted as Ma­nes’s bagman, had “fucked together.” Sandow said that he went to the fights with Lindenauer and Manes and that af­terwards, “all Manes wanted to do was chase broads.” Sandow explained: “He’s a heavyset guy … nice personality. He’s sharp, but he wants to feel like the broads like him. It was Shelly who had all this. I’d get the girls. This deal … would have been a chance to fuck together and seal up the whole situation. Then Shelly died. So we would have to meet Manes alone.” 

Manes’s four-year liason with a woman extensively interviewed by the Voice re­veals the extraordinary range of his ex­tramarital life. Still saying years later that she loves him, the ex-model, now in her early 30’s, said that Manes gave her cash to buy Quaaludes and grass, which he used only during sex. She recalls that though he had a “very low tolerance for drugs,” he used her for years to purchase far larger quantities of Quaaludes “than he could possibly be using himself.” When she pressed him about who the drugs were for, he would only say “you don’t want to know” and that they are “for someone very high up in City Hall.” The relationship, which began when she was in her early 20’s, was intensely sexual at first. But over the years, he began visiting her in her apartment for hours, just to talk. 

Donald got two city jobs for her and two jobs with law firms that did business with the city, including one that repre­sented a PVB contractor. He used a city commissioner to get a job for her dad. At one point he arranged jobs for her with two PVB collection companies — one was Sandow’s — but she declined. She now be­lieves that Manes may have been trying to position her so that she could become his bagwoman.

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She said that he was manic about keep­ing the relationship secret. Once, several years after it began, he dropped a glass antique picture and it slashed her leg badly. Manes refused to take her to the hospital and by the time she got a friend to get her there in the morning, it was infected. She spent a week in bed. He would not go out on the back porch of her apartment, because her neighbors might see him. He never ate in a restaurant with her unless there was someone else there. “Marlene was the stabilizing factor in his life,” she said. “Everything else was fun and games. He loved her. There was never any question that he’d leave her.”

When the dark side of Donald Ma­nes — everything from the cash to the mob to the orgies — began to surface, he tried to kill it with a knife. It had turned him into an insomniac who roamed his house at night, calling friends in the early hours of the morning and destroying his diets in nocturnal raids on the refrigera­tor. The Donald Manes who was, year after year, the artful arbiter of the city’s multibillion dollar budget process was as real as the Manes who collected cash bribes in the urinal off his private office. The Donald Manes who dated Marlene while both were still in high school, re­mained married to her for 31 years, and raised three children with her was as real as the Manes whose phone logs are sprin­kled with calls from sexual partners who got jobs or promotions because of their intimate ties to him.

When Manes realized that these two worlds were beginning to come togeth­er-in his own living room and on the television screens of this city-he could no longer live with either of them. He didn’t merely indict himself with that kitchen knife, he also immunized himself, erecting a barrier that would protect him forever from the painful truth of the charges that were emerging each day. 

YOUNG MANES
The King of Queens was actually very much a Brooklyn boy. Donald Manes was raised in a middle-class Crown Heights house not far from his dad’s milk delivery business. He went to Erasmus Hall High School and graduated from Brooklyn Law School. His political roots were also in Brooklyn and he was, in an unusual sense, a son of the borough’s long power­ful Democratic organization, returning again and again through the course of his 20-year public life to the clubhouse con­nections he had since birth.

Donald’s grandfather, Isaac Cohen, had long been in the milk business and, in the depression days of the ’30s, had turned over routes to each of his three sons-in­-law. Ed Manes built his into a successful business. The three families lived near each other and shared a car, buying a new Pontiac or Ford every two years. During the war, Donald’s father — a short, rotund man more willing to take risks than his in-law partners at Mansfield Dairies — ­began accumulating real estate invest­ments, starting with the Homestead Bun­galow Colony, adjacent to the Tamarack Lodge in upstate Greenfield Park. He also bought a farm with a natural swim­ming hole across Route 52, opposite the colony, and Donald spent summers there, working at the Tamarack as a busboy. It was not until the early ’50s that Ed Ma­nes, his daughter, Edith, and her hus­band, Al Robbins, and one of his broth­ers-in-law also in the milk business, simultaneously bought three adjacent houses in Flushing and moved there. Belle Manes died of cancer a couple of years later. 

Ed Manes’s closest friend throughout his life was a lawyer named David Mal­bin. Appointed a city magistrate by May­or Jimmy Walker in the ’30s, Uncle Dave, as Donald grew up calling him, was a fixture in Brooklyn Democratic politics. The relationship between Malbin and Donald was so close that Malbin’s New York Times obit in 1980 inaccurately de­scribed Malbin as Donald’s uncle. Friends of Malbin describe him as a “rascal,” a “loudmouthed and lovable nonconform­ist” who left the bench in the ’30s to practice law, only to return in the ’50s. It was Malbin, not the apolitical Ed Manes, who introduced Donald to politics, en­couraged him to go to his own alma ma­ter, Brooklyn Law School, and carefully guided his political career. 

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Eventually appointed a supreme court judge, Malbin stepped down in 1966, and was appointed the first administrator of a panel that selects lawyers for indigent defendants. He finally retired in the early ’70s and moved to Hallandale, Florida, where he eventually bought a condo. Though for the last 10 years of his life, Malbin was a long distance campaign manager for his adopted nephew, the de­tails of their relationship have never been reported. 

Malbin’s retirement was interrupted in February 1973 by a seven count indict­ment. Along with a former state senator who’d become clerk of the Brooklyn Su­preme Court, and 28 officers of a mob­-tied union, Malbin was indicted in con­nection with a $50,000 raid on the union’s general welfare and pension fund. Malbin was charged with having taken a trip to Miami at union expense while still a Brooklyn judge, “aiding and abetting” the conspiracy to defraud the union. When Judge John Dooling threw out the charges in 1975, he pointed out that Mal­bin took the trip at a time when he was assigning lawyers and setting fees for cases that involved union personnel. Dooling said that Malbin exhibited “a kind of crass material insensitivity that follows from too much handling of other people’s money.” 

By the time the Malbin case died, Don­ald Manes was the borough president and county leader of Queens, aided and abet­ted each step of the way by Uncle Dave. Donald had been raised amid the pillars of the Madison Club, once the most pow­erful Democratic club in the state, headquartered in Crown Heights. According to family members, he also grew up call­ing the legendary Bunny Lindenbaum “Uncle.” The behind-the-scenes kingpin of the Madison Club, Lindenbaum was City Planning Commission chairman un­der Mayor Robert Wagner until he was forced to resign because of a luncheon he arranged to solicit campaign contribu­tions for Wagner from the developers and construction companies that had matters before his commission. 

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Malbin also became a bridge between Manes and Stanley Steingut, the assem­bly speaker who was another product of the Madison Club. State Senator Manny Gold, who worked with Manes as a young lawyer on the assembly payroll in the mid-’60s, recalls a conversation between Manes and Stanley Steingut at an Albany restaurant years ago. “Donald told a sto­ry about Stanley’s father, Irwin Steingut, who’d been the speaker years earlier, and how he’d made a particular decision in Brooklyn. Stanley was amazed; he was spellbound. ‘That’s right,’ he says, ‘but how did you know that?’ And Manes says, ‘When that decision was made, your father came to Dave Malbin’s house and two little boys were playing in the room. My brother Morty was playing with cars. I was listening to the men talk politics.’ ” (Morty Manes married into the biggest car franchise family in Queens; today he has several dealerships.) 

The Malbin network started helping Manes during his first political race: a run for a Queens city council seat in 1965. Manes ran in the Democratic primary on a slate headed by City Comptroller Abe Beame, another Madison Club product tied to Malbin, who was then running to succeed Robert Wagner as mayor. Manes was running in a new council district, and was in and out of Beame’s Manhattan headquarters almost daily. “Donald was a young man looking for an opening in politics,” Beame recalls, “and I might have heard of him from Dave Malbin. Malbin was well regarded. If the party had legal problems, he would be one of those consulted. He was close to Irwin and Stanley Steingut.”

Manes’s campaign was closely connect­ed with the effort of another frequent visitor to the Beame headquarters, Mike Lazar, who was running for Queens coun­cilman-at-large. Inside the headquarters were Beame backers Roy Cohn, who had a small office there, and Richie Rubin, a leader of Beame’s youth committee. 

THE CATSKILL CAPER
If the superstructure for Manes’s suc­cessful entry into politics was a legacy of  his father’s relationships, the grass­roots substructure came from his wife, Marlene. Businessman Ed Manes and Marlene’s father, Joe Warshofsky, a life­long member of Local 3 of the Electrical Workers, had enjoyed some friendly po­litical sparring in the years that Marlene and Donald dated. Warshofsky still has a picture of Harry Van Arsdale, the Local 3 leader, who dominated labor politics in New York for years, on the wall of his apartment in Electchester, the sprawling Queens complex built by the union. Don­ald and Marlene began their married life in an Electchester apartment. And when Donald ran for council, Local 3 and the Electchester vote were his two critical bases of support. In a Voice interview, the 84-year-old Warshofsky acknowl­edged that Van Arsdale “took an interest in Manes on account of me” and that his own activity in the Electchester co-op “helped with Donald’s political career.”

But in fact Manes had moved out of Electchester, to Long Island, years before the 1965 race. He bought a home in Jeri­cho and his children were going to school there. Morty Povman, the lawyer who represented Manes’s primary opponent, Howard Stave, in a challenge to Manes’s residency (and is now a member of the city council himself), remembers that he went out to Jericho and interviewed neighbors who said that Manes slept there every night. But Manes and his father-in-law had been planning a politi­cal career for some time: Manes produced rent checks to Warshofsky for two years and claimed to have been a subtenant of his. When Povman tried to subpoena Warshofsky and his wife, they could not be found by process servers, who hunted them for days. Later even Manes’s friends would acknowledge that Donald had hidden them in the Catskills, near his father’s old bungalow colony. Stave says that it “became a great Queens Bou­levard story about how Donny dodged a bullet.” 

Manes and Lazar took office in Janu­ary 1966, winning the primary as part of the Beame sweep (Beame lost in November to John LIndsay). Manes was still living in Nassau and commuting to City Hall with another Queens councilman who’d just gotten elected, Frank Smith. Also moving into City Hall that January was a young assistant staff attorney in the council majority leader’s office, handpicked from a Bronx clubhouse, Stanley Friedman. Later that year a new city councilman from the Village would be elected to fill a vacancy. His name was Ed Koch. 

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Six months after he took office, Manes bought a home in Jamaica Estates and moved his family back to Queens. He and some of his key campaign supporters put together the Adlai Stevenson Democratic Club, aligning themselves with the neighborhood’s oldline Democratic district leader, Sid Leviss. Leviss eventually gave way to Donald, who assumed the district leadership in addition to his council post. Since Manes’s home was not within the district, he used his father-in-law’s phoney address to qualify as district leader, and remained registered at it into the ’80s, when the legislature redrew the lines to create an oddly shaped peninsula reaching into Jamaica Estates and including his house. In 1969, when Donald was reelected to the council against nomi­nal opposition, he consolidated his power in county and city politics by helping elect Leviss borough president and by breaking with Democratic candidate Mario Procaccino to back John Lindsay for reelection.

Queens politics was suddenly wide open. Longtime county leader Mo Wein­stein was stepping down to become a supreme court judge. Frank Smith Sr., whose son had just lost as the Democrat­ic council president candidate on the ticket with Procaccino, was named as an interim successor. Richie Rubin, the young hustling political operative who at first had attached himself to Lazar dur­ing the 1965 campaign, bumped into a friend from the Beame days in 1969 and said he was now with Manes. “He’s the comer,” explained Rubin. 

THE BIG TIME
Mayors make county leaders and county leaders make mayors — ­the circle runs through the mod­ern history of New York poli­tics. By late 1970, it was time for the Queens leaders who’d attached themselves to Lindsay to take over the party organization. First, in May of 1971, Manes and a group of district leaders engineered the designation of Matty Troy, the gregarious chairman of the council’s finance committee, as the new county leader. Troy’s selection triggered a series of changes in the public life of the county — some were explicit parts of the deal; others, just natural consequences. 

The outgoing boss’s son, Frank Jr., was made a supreme court judge, as was Troy backer Sy Thaler, who wanted to leave the state senate for the bench. A key district leader who’d backed Troy, Gene Mastropieri, was installed as councilman — at-large, replacing the just reelected Michael Lazar, who’d been named Lindsay’s first Taxi & Limousine commissioner. Two state senators who supported Troy, Jack Bronston and Nick Ferraro, were backed for new posts (Ferraro became D.A.)

To cal} the deal off, Troy and Manes paid a vi.sit to Manes’s old friend Sid Leviss at Boro Hall. Troy congratulated Leviss on his pending nomination to the supreme court. Leviss, who was not even midway through his elected term as beep, expressed concerns about giving up his chauffeured limo, especially during the three-month period between his resigna­tion and his swearing in as a judge. Troy says that they promised he could keep one of the borough president’s cars and a driver. Leviss wondered what he’d do about medical coverage for the same peri­od. Troy recalls that he said that was Donny’s responsibility and Manes volun­teered to “double the premium.” Leviss, faced with the choice of getting a judge­ship if he resigned or winding up with nothing in 1973, acceded and Manes be­came beep without even having to win a Democratic primary. Still a judge, Leviss is the only living partner to this multi­faceted deal who isn’t a convicted felon. 

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Thaler was indicted days before he was scheduled to assume the bench in a feder­al stolen securities case. By the mid-’70s Troy, who was also an attorney, was con­victed on federal and state charges that he looted the estates of clients whose cases were steered to him by the surrogate’s court. Though Manes stuck with Mastropieri and kept him in the City Council long after a host of charges against him had been established to the satisfaction of a council committee, he was eventually convicted in two separate federal cases, one involving the apparent laundering of narcotics profits. Bronston was nailed in the bus shelter scandal in the early ’80s. Smith and Lazar, of course, have both been convicted in the current scandal. Even Ferraro, Geraldine Ferraro’s cousin, who died in late 1984, was once a target of prosecutors because of his mob associations while D.A. These were the pillars of the Manes coalition. 

Three years after Troy and Manes took over Queens together, Manes drove Troy out of the leadership and took both titles himself. Troy’s fate was sealed when he got the county organization to back Con­gressman Mario Biaggi for mayor in 1973, overcoming Manes’s predictable preference for Beame again. “When we decided on Biaggi,” Troy recalls, “we were in Donald’s office and I had to make the call to Beame. He walked out of the room because he didn’t want to be there. His uncle, Dave Malbin, was real close to Beame.” Shortly after Queens endorsed Biaggi, news stories reported that he had taken the Fifth Amendment repeatedly before a federal grand jury. Troy was forced to drop Biaggi and switch to Beame, who won and took office in 1974 with a clear memory of just who his real friend was in Queens.

In 1974 Troy and Manes agreed on a tactical gambit. Manes would run for gov­ernor. His candidacy would give them leverage and buy time in a crowded and difficult primary field. If the candidacy failed to take off — as Troy certainly ex­pected would happen — they would then hedge their bets, Manes going with the Catholic candidate, Hugh Carey, and Troy going with the Jewish candidate, Howard Samuels, in an ethnic role rever­sal.. The problem was that Troy regarded it all as a game while Manes, who sunk hundreds of thousands into a TV buy, had begun to take his own candidacy very seriously. He even got Uncle Dave work­ing the Florida phones to try to pull in key supporters. So Manes was wounded when Troy made statements to reporters that were favorable to Samuels as he walked out of a fund-raiser for Manes.

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When Manes was finally persuaded that the race was hopeless, he used Troy’s snubs as a rationale to secretly reach out to Carey. Carey and Manes met in the old Americana hotel and struck a deal: Manes would drop out, endorsing Carey, and Carey, if elected, would pass all state patronage appointments through Manes, not Troy. Troy was told about the Manes endorsement by a reporter on his way to the press conference. The Carey victory, on top of Beame’s election a year earlier, doomed Troy. 

Beame recalls that he asked Manes to challenge Troy for the leadership. Manes got on the phone to Florida to talk to his Uncle Dave. On the day of the vote by Queens district leaders, Troy was playing golf on a private course in Huntington, Long Island. “NBC sent out a crew with a helicopter to interview me,” said Troy. “They landed on the green. My ouster had to be.” A few months later, at the funeral of a Queens judge, Manes came up to Troy, wrapped his arm around Troy’s shoulder, and said that he couldn’t forgive himself for what he’d done. “I was pretty magnanimous about it,” says Troy.

By September 1974, only nine years after he’d entered politics, Donald Manes was one of the city’s most powerful pols, the first to be both Democratic boss and borough president. But since he had to be a district leader to become county leader, his party power was still rooted in a fraudulent Electchester address. Bank records reveal that a decade after the initial hoax with his father-in-law’s apartment, Manes was still making errat­ic rent payments a few months each year for the phantom sublet.

His early support of Carey and Beame wired Manes into City Hall and the gov­ernor’s mansion; but the debacle of his own gubernatorial campaign warned him that he might not have the marketable political personality to win higher office himself. While he fantasized for years about becoming mayor, he never made a move again for higher office. Instead, he became the consummate insider who nev­er faced the voters in a primary, a poten­tate without pizzazz. 

SIGNALS OF CORRUPTION
When Donald Manes ran for gov­ernor, be got a $200,000 cam­paign loan from a Queens branch of Bankers Trust. His guarantors included Geoffrey Lindenauer, who ultimately became his PVB bagman and was then still running his notorious sex therapy clinic on the West Side of Manhattan; Gene Mastro­pieri, who’d already begun laundering drug money; Joseph Chevlowe, the father of Manes’s other eventual bagman, Shelly Chevlowe; and Jerry Driesen, who plead­ed guilty last year to paying off Manes for his own collection contract. (Driesen and Lindy wound up testifying in the PVB case.) The same four also contributed over $10,000 to the campaign. So Manes’s eventual demise was rooted in relation­ships that reached far back in his politi­cal career — to when he was a 40-year-old wonder taking his first clumsy shot at the big time. 

Another loan guarantor, who also con­tributed $4000, was Manes’s deputy, Rob­ert Groh, who’d become a partner with Manes in a speculative real estate ven­ture in the Hamptons a year earlier. The campaign loan and Robert Groh’s fund­raising role with Manes led to the first criminal investigation targeting Manes. Groh was indicted in November 1976 and charged with demanding a $10,000 cam­paign contribution for Manes’s 1973 bor­ough president reelection campaign from ITT/Sheraton in exchange for a zoning change for a motel near La Guardia Airport.

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By the time Groh was indicted, he had left Manes’s office, served as Beame’s sanitation commissioner (on Manes’s rec­ommendation) for a year, and then been elected to Queens Civil Court. Manes ran Groh for a judgeship even though Groh was under investigation by a special state prosecutor, who indicted him on bribery and grand larceny charges two weeks af­ter he was elected. Once he was en­sconced on the bench, Groh voluntarily went on leave — with pay — and remained on full salary through three years of pro­tracted litigation.

Since Special State Prosecutor John Keenan’s jurisdiction was limited to mak­ing cases against corrupt judges and cops, he had to apply for and did get permis­sion from the governor to expand the case beyond Groh to include Manes, a public official not part of the criminal justice system. The Groh indictment was thrown out because Keenan, who person­ally questioned Manes in the grand jury for two days, and Judge Leonard Sandler used what the appellate division de­scribed as “coercive” methods to get a “runaway” grand Jury to indict Groh. Keenan, who is now a federal judge, brought Judge Sandler into the grand jury to reinforce his argument that the jury should indict Groh, not the man they wanted to indict: Donald Manes. Keenan believed that there was insufficent evi­dence to nail Manes without Groh’s coop­eration, though he had formally taken steps to make Manes the ultimate target.

The indictment was eventually rein­stated and in 1979, Groh finally went on trial. The trial judge, Ernest Rosenberger, wound up dismissing one of the counts against him and the jury acquitted him on the other. A year later, Groh, who had actually only served a year as a civil court judge, was elevated by Manes to the su­preme court, where he still sits. Manes’s logs and diaries indicate that they contin­ued a close relationship until 1986. 

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A 1977 memo from Keenan’s office ob­tained by the Voice examines in detail the acquisition of several New Jersey apartment buildings by Donald, his brother Morty, and others. “These New Jersey holdings represent a sinkhole in which thousands of dollars of Manes’s money could be placed,” concluded the investigators, “and no one would have an accurate picture of just what money Ma­nes has taken in.” The mysterious Jersey investments “could provide the financial vehicle were he to decide to obtain illegal monies for his own personal use.” After months of investigation and the collec­tion of hundreds of bank documents, the investigators wrote that his finances were so murky that they could not even calcu­late “what his net worth is.” 

While some aspects of the Groh case, as well as the questionable character of his personal and campaign finances, have not previously been made public, there was enough published about both to cloud Manes’s reputation when Ed Koch became mayor in 1978. Indeed for Ed Koch, the Groh case, which wasn’t re­solved until a year and a half after he became mayor, hit particularly close to home: the judge criticized for his extraor­dinary appearance in the grand jury, Sandler, was so close to the mayor that he swore him in at the 1978 and 1982 inaugurals; the prosecutor who targeted Manes, Keenan, left office in 1979 to become Koch’s director of the Off Track Betting Corporation and then his crimi­nal justice coordinator; and the reporter who broke the story of the runaway grand jury that wanted to indict Manes was the Times‘s Tom Goldstein, who later became Koch’s press secretary. But the Groh case was hardly the only warning ignored by the mayor-who-didn’t-want­to-know. During the Koch years Manes would be publicly linked to a series of scandals. (See The Friends of Donald Manes, below.)

HIDING THE MONEY
Donald Manes’s public life started at the knee of an adopted uncle — a relationship of love that was his father’s most tangible legacy. But like so much of Manes’s life, even this relationship now appears to have had a criminal underside. Geoffrey Linden­auer told a federal grand jury last April how he and Manes planned to launder their PVB bribes. “We could get the money and Mr. Manes suggested that we buy antique jewelry, that we buy some art objects, that we buy some gold coins,” said Lindenauer. “Mr. Manes had an el­derly aunt, and he said what he was going to do, because he was the executor of the will, is when his aunt passed away, then he would permit this jewelry, the gold, and art objects to surface as part of her estate.”

When Uncle Dave Malbin died in 1980, he left his estate to his wife, Bea, who at 84 is still living in their Hallandale, Flori­da, condo. Dave Malbin’s will, obtained by the Voice, specifically referred to “col­lections” and “works of art.” It provided that if Bea Malbin died before her hus­band, 35 per cent of the Malbin estate would be distributed to Donald or Marlene Manes or their children. While Mal­bin’s Florida lawyers would not discuss the specifics of Bea Malbin’s will (she is deaf and cannot be reached by phone), one did suggest that it “mirrored” Dave Malbin’s. Another recalled that Bea Mal­bin had recently contacted him to change her will.

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Dave Malbin’s niece, Marian Trachten­berg of Kingston, Pennsylvania, who also got 35 per cent of his estate, recalled that when Malbin died, “Donald did go down to Florida to set up Aunt Bea’s bank accounts, take care of the insurance and everything.” Trachtenberg said that “whenever anything of a financial nature had to be done, Donald would go to help her take care of it.” She said, “He must have gone down every winter.” In fact Manes’s diaries indicate periodic trips to Florida. Trachtenberg said that a “devas­tated” Bea Malbin wrote her letters after the scandal erupted last year and that she was “happy that David hadn’t lived to see the horror of it.” Bea Malbin’s recent attempt to change her own will may have been connected with her disgust over the revelations about Manes. 

Dave Malbin was the executor of Ed Manes’s will in 1955. The holdings that Donald Manes inherited fueled a lifetime of lucrative investments. Three decades later he hovered over Malbin’s estate as if it were another potential gold mine. He talked about turning his aunt into a laun­dromat. There was, it turned out, nothing in Donald› Manes’s life that he wasn’t willing to dirty. ■

The Best of Manes
Donald Manes was more than the sum of his tawdry relation­ships and seedy deals. His achievements and his engagingly effective political personality have become casualties of the scandal. He was proudest of his success in pre­serving Jamaica, which he described as potentially the South Bronx of Queens. He got the Social Security Administration’s massive regional headquarters — housing 4000 employees — to locate there. He engineered the opening of York College, work on the Archer Avenue subway line and the reconstruction of Jamaica Ave­nue — all, as he put it, “breathing new life into downtown Jamaica.”

With Manes at the helm, Queens got the City University Law School, the reopening of the Astoria Studios, the transformation of the College Point Industrial Park from a virtually vacant development project to one “entirely sold or rented,” the Port Authority redevelopment of Long Island City, and the International Design Center, a million-square-foot project that Manes said made Queens “the worldwide center of the interior furnishings industry.” Politically, Queens became one of the strongest Demo­cratic counties in the nation, dominat­ing the Democratic National Conven­tion in 1984 with the emergence of Geraldine Ferraro and Mario Cuomo. And though Manes regularly used the courts to eliminate reform candidacies within Queens, his endorsements in statewide races were often not those of a machine hack — for example, he strongly backed Liz Holtzman in the 1980 Senate and the 1981 Brooklyn D.A. races.

“No one ever threw a tantrum or stormed out of a meeting when he was negotiating,”said one family member. “He was always able to find an avenue of compromise.” Sharp-witted and sure, he cuddled and kibbitzed with such charm that even the wary were conned. He turned his weight into a joke, vying with the mayor in a diet contest. When a reporter approached him with a question, he’d wrap his arm around the reporter’s shoulder and enlist the reporter in a joint composition of the answer, searching to­gether for “the right word.” His street­-tough talk and easy humor hid a man who, his closest aides said, loved to talk about feelings, especially his own. Geoffrey Lindenauer became such a force in Donald’s life because he was what one aide called “a compassionate listener who wouldn’t talk business with him and wouldn’t break a confi­dence.” That was what Manes needed.

The senior member of the Board of Estimate and senior county leader when he died, Manes was the master of the budget and the inventor of the borough presidency as a real force in city politics.

— W.B & R.H.

The Friends of Donald Manes: Warnings the City Ignored
Almost everyone in public life runs into a crook or two, but Donald Manes had a special knack for friendships that stunk. During the Koch years, long before the PVB explosion of 1986, a series of Ma­nes associations — political and person­al — blew up in his face. Councilman Gene Mastropieri was buried under an avalanche of charges, beginning with Arthur Browne’s relentless stories about him in the Daily News in 1979. When Manes finally orchestrated Mastropieri’s resignation — a day too late for the seat to be contested in a Democratic primary — he got the city council to in­stall his own staff attorney as Mastro­pieri’s replacement. 

At the same time that news stories of Mastropieri’s laundering activities for the mob appeared in 1979, Manes be­came a defense witness in the biggest public corruption case of the day: the trial of longshoreman boss Tony Scotto, an FBI-identified capo in the Gambino crime family who had so insinuated himself in city politics that Governor Carey and Mayor Lindsay testified as character witnesses at his trial. Unlike the other pols, Manes was a substantive witness who helped establish Scotto’s defense. Conceding that he had received thousands in cash payments from steve­doring executives who had labor con­tracts with his union, Scotto testified that the kickbacks were merely political contributions for Carey’s 1978 cam­paign and Mario Cuomo’s 1977 mayoral campaign. 

Manes testified that as Queens party leader, he put Joe Colozza, a vice presi­dent of Scotto’s union, in charge of the Carey campaign in 1978 and that Co­lozza ran the street operations — includ­ing phone banks, posters, literature, cabs. For Scotto, the most important part of Manes’s testimony was that he claimed that he’d given Colozza no money to finance this operation. Co­lozza then testified that he’d worked right out of Manes’s party office for months and that the only significant financing he’d received was a couple of illegal cash donations funneled to him through Scotto, totaling $30,000. Co­lozza said that Scotto, who handed him the money in envelopes at the union headquarters in Brooklyn, told him that it had come from the stevedoring execu­tives who’d testified as government wit­nesses about Scotto’s shakedowns. Though Manes testified that he checked with Colozza a couple of times a week to see how the campaign was going, he supposedly never asked Colozza how he was paying for everything. 

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When the jury convicted Scotto, they implicitly rejected the Scotto defense as a hoax. U.S. Attorney Robert Fiske re­ferred Colozza’s testimony to the State Board of Elections, which says it sent a report with findings against Colozza to the Brooklyn, Queens, and Albany D.A.s for prosecution. But no cases were ever made.

Colozza remained a friend of Donald Manes’s for years after the Scotto trial. Manes named him as a cochairman of the Tricentennial Commission, which organized the 1983 celebration of the county’s 300th birthday. He went to Co­lozza’s mother’s wake and funeral mass. When Scotto went to jail to begin a five-­year federal sentence, Manes went to the farewell party. The President’s Commission on Organized Crime de­scribed Scotto’s union in 1984 as “a synonym for organized crime in the la­bor movement” and cited Colozza as an example of the concentration of power within the union-noting that he held three union titles and was paid $146,000 in 1983. 

A few months after Manes’s testimo­ny in the Scotto case, the name of an­other Manes associate, Nick Sands, hit the papers. Sands had been appointed by Koch in 1978 to the board of the city’s powerful Public Development Corporation. Donald Manes had recom­mended him. Sands had worked with Colozza on the Carey campaign in Queens that year. In 1979 Manes’s Democratic county committee named him to fill a vacancy on the party’s state committee. In January 1980, Manes signed off on a Sands project to develop a facility for handicapped children in Queens. At the time, Sands was repre­sented by Manes’s right arm, Richie Rubin, in a bid to buy the Parr Mead­ows Racetrack in Long Island. 

On May 7, 1980, Sands was shot eight times by two gunmen who drove up to him as he left his Queens home and shouted out his name. The shocking hit became a page one story when it was revealed that Sands was a convicted embezzler who’d legally changed his name from Dominick Santiago. Sands survived the attack and tried to con­vince police that the murder attempt was connected with his membership on a local school board. “Sure we consid­ered that possibility,” Lt. Remo Franceschini of the Queens D.A.’s spe­cial investigations unit said in an inter­view years later. “We considered it for about five minutes. It didn’t ring true then and it doesn’t ring true now.” 

Sands/Santiago was described as “closely associated with several Colom­bo ‘family’ members” as far back as a 1967 Justice Department report, which attributed his rapid rise to the presidency of Local 3108 of the Carpenters Union to his sponsorship by a Genovese family member, Joseph Agone. Sands was indicted twice by federal organized crime prosecutors, acquitted once, and convicted in 1975 for misusing the union’s general fund.

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According to friends, Manes was up­set by the dramatic revelations about Sands. Nonetheless, as late as September 1984, Manes conceded in a Voice interview that he still had periodic breakfast with Sands. An FBI record obtained by the Voice lists Sands in 1986 as a “business associate” of Ma­nes. Confronted by the Voice twice in recent years, Sands dodged questions about his background and relationships. His lawyer supplied the Voice with a finding by a Pennsylvania local police department (where Sands was trying re­cently to win a public development con­tract) that they were “unable to con­clude at this time that Sands has any link to organized crime activities.”

On the heels of the Sands debacle, Manes and one of his closest advisers, publicist Michael Nussbaum (recently convicted in the cable cases) began pressing top City Hall officials for appointments and favors for a Chinatown businessman named Eddie Chan. They wanted Chan appointed to a prestigious board or commission and City Hall offi­cials moved to appoint him to the city’s Youth Board, which allocates millions to community groups for recreation programs. Manes’s logs list him as at­tending an Eddie Chan- and Nussbaum­-sponsored fund-raiser for Koch’s reelection on September 3, 1981. Manes was also able to set up a meeting for Chan in 1982 at City Hall — to discuss what Chan called police harassment tactics of Chinatown businessmen.

In the midst of the Manes contacts for Chan, the police department and D.A. Robert Morgenthau informed Koch that Chan had underworld ties. Though the police reports on Chan were conveyed to Manes by City Hall offi­cials, the two continued to meet and talk often. Nussbaum continued to represent him. Chan even arranged an ex­penses-paid, 1982 trip to Taiwan for Manes and an entourage of ten Queens public officials and businessmen.

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One of the Taiwan tourists, then City Council Finance Committee chairman Ed Sadowsky recalls that “one night, we were in a nightclub having drinks and out of the corner of my eye, I see Chan coming in the door with what appear to be several hookers. My wife is with us and I see this coming, so I tell them to get up and I steer them out of there.”

In late 1984, Chan also became front-­page news, named by the President’s Commission on Organized Crime as the crimelord of Chinatown. FBI records identify him as a “murder contractor” and a “narcotics dealer.” When Chan was exposed during the commission’s hearings, thousands of Chinatown residents lined up to withdraw their savings from a bank he partly owned. Despite the revelations, Chan threw a fund-raiser for Manes’s reelection in 1985. When the Manes case exploded in early 1986, Chan left the country, reportedly fleeing to the Philippines.

At the same time that Chan’s criminal connections surfaced in 1982, Herb Ryan, a city taxi commissioner and president of Manes’s Stevenson Democratic Club, was indicted for taking bribes to fix a taxi experimental contract. A Post story at the time quoted Manes as ac­knowledging that he’d “known Ryan for a long time.” In fact a city investiga­tions department memo identified Ryan, who had been with Manes since the first campaign in 1965, as Manes’s “chief fundraiser.” Ryan was busted af­ter he took two cash bribes from an undercover detective posing as a ven­dor. Ryan began the shakedown the day he met the undercover, talking repeat­edly about Donald Manes in his taped conversations with the detective and promising to take the fake contractor to meet Manes. An April 1982 New York Magazine article noted that Koch had killed the Ryan operation earlier than federal prosecutors wanted and that the feds saw it “as a way to open a wide-­ranging probe of the Queens Democrat­ic machine.”

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After an attempt to turn Ryan into a witness against Manes failed, Ryan re­tained Manes’s former law partner, pleaded guilty, did a few months in Al­lenwood, and returned to the Stevenson Club, where he was eventually elected vice president again. Manes’a phone logs show that Ryan remained close to Manes long after his conviction, calling him right up to the day of the first suicide attempt.

A couple of years after the Ryan warning, another member of the Ste­venson Club’s board of directors, attor­ney Helaine Brick, was nailed in a shocking city scandal. City leasing chief Alex Liberman, the principal fund-rais­er for Brooklyn boss Meade Esposito’s home club in Canarsie, pleaded guilty in 1984 in the largest bribery case in feder­al history — soliciting $2.5 million in bribes. Brick was named in 1984 news stories as a conduit for the biggest sin­gle bribe Liberman received — $421,000. Brick and her law partner, Saul Radow, both of whom were on the staff of Assembly Speaker Stanley Fink, posed as real estate brokers on one Liberman lease, collected an astronomical fee and kept all but $130,000 of it, which they gave to Liberman in cash. When Brick became a government witness, she was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor.

Brick’s association with Manes was well-known in political circles. She was named as a defendant in a widely publi­cized 1983 civil suit brought by Queens reformers which charged that Manes’s party organization had used Brick and other attorneys on public payrolls to challenge the petitions of insurgents. With Manes’s support, Brick bad also been appointed in 1980 by Civil Court Administrative Judge Frank Smith to the Advisory Panel that recommends the appointment of Housing Court judges (other Queens appointees on this panel included Geraldine Ferraro, John Zacarro, and Marco Colosi, the husband of Manes’s special assistant, Geri Co­losi). Brick resigned from the panel in 1984. Richard Kashinsky, a city electrical contractor, was so close to Manes that he was selected by both of the Queens cable franchise holders (subsidiaries of Warner’s and Time) to wire most of Queens (in a joint venture with two other firms). The owner of a private plane who flew Manes periodically to Westhampton, he had sought (with Ma­nes support) a city concession to run Flushing Airport and was a regular on Manes’s logs.

Kashinsky’s name first surfaced in March 1983, when the State Investiga­tion Commission released a report on four contractors who did $18 million in repair work under no-bid contracts at Co-op City. One was Kashinskyt who got $3.3 million in state payments. The report said that his company had over­-billed by hundreds of thousands of dol­lars, and that all the allegations had been referred to the U.S. Attorney. Though the SIC findings were sent to the city, Kashinsky continued to handle city contracts.

In 1985, Kashinsky was indicted for making over $300,000 in cash payoffs to two Co-op City officials, stealing $2.5 million from his company and paying $15,000 in bribes to a Citibank official who was laundering money for him. He and the individuals he bribed all pleaded guilty. Despite this extraordinary crime wave, Kashinsky, under a new corporate name (QNCC), is still wiring Queens for both Warner’s and Time. Represented by James LaRossa, the politically con­nected lawyer who has a piece of the Staten Island cable contract, Kashinsky’s cooperation with the govern­ment has so far been limited to admis­sions about Co-op City.

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All of these cases unfolded before Donald Manes cut his wrist and ankle. Indeed just a month before the first suicide attempt, Queens Supreme Court Judge William Brennan, whom Manes had backed for reelection in 1984 and had pushed vigorously for promotion to the appellate division, was convicted of taking bribes to fix mob cases. Brennan was one of a handful of Queens judges who regularly lunched with Manes. There were also other indicators of Manes’s ethical indifference — warning sig­nals that hit the papers but never re­sulted in indictments. For example, the appearance of his own executive assistant, Dan Koren, as the head of a planned Grand Prix race in Flushing Meadow Park. That Manes gambit, rancid with conflict-of-interest, was probed by the Queens D.A., who re­ferred the case to the federal Organized Crime Strike Force, who referred it to the U.S. Attorney’s office, which closed it without ever really probing it.

In addition to this parade of pre-1986 fellow travelers, Manes’s logs and diaries are also filled with messages from several post-suicide felons — Friedman, Shafran, Lazar, Lindenauer, Rubin, Smith, Michael Nussbaum, Andy Ca­passo, Tony Ameruso — as well as sever­al currently under indictment — Zaccaro, Lebetkin, Meade Esposito, Stanley Si­mon. Manes’s phone was a magnet for the city’s criminal class. He was a switchboard for sleaze.

The tidal wave that began last Janu­ary has already swept away many of the clubhouse clan that ruled this city for 20 years. Donald Manes is taking his net­work with him. It is clear now that when he killed himself, it was not just the threat of Lindenauer’s testimony that haunted him. Manes saw himself sitting under a hot light surrounded by a lifetime of co-conspirators, each of their mouths moving slowly through the details of his crimes.

— W.B. & R.H.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Requiem for a City: Mexico’s Impending Earthquake

For days, the sirens never stopped. The ambulances came screaming down the Paseo de la Reforma, the sound preceded by cars packed with young men waving red flags, honking horns, demanding passage. The ambulances went by in a rush. And then more came from the other direction, cutting across town on Insurgentes, grinding gears at the intersection. In the ambulances you could see doctors, nurses, tubes, bottles, a dusty face with an open mouth and urgent eyes. And then they were gone, heading for one of the hospitals in the great injured city of Mexico.

“Somos los chingados,” a man named Victor Presa said to me, standing in the crowd in the Plaza of the Three Cultures in the district called Tlatelolco. We are the fucked. Presa, 41, a tinsmith, didn’t know if his wife and three children were alive or dead. He lived with them in the 13-story Nuevo Leon building of the Nonoalco-Tlatelolco housing complex (one of 96 buildings erected in the ’60s to make up the largest public housing development in the country). When the terremoto hit at 7:19 on the morning of September 19, Victor Presa was coming home with friends. “We were up all of the night. Yes. I don’t have work, you understand? Still, no excuse. I was out, yes, we were drinking, yes … ”

The residents of Nuevo Leon had been complaining for eight months to the project’s officials about the dampness of the concrete, seepage of water, unrepaired fractures, the feeling of instability. The housing bureaucrats ignored them. And at 7:19 a.m., when Victor Presa was still almost a mile from home and thick with pulque, the building seemed to rise up, swayed left, then right, then left again, and all 13 stories went over, reeling down, slab upon slab, concrete powdering upon impact, pipes and drains crumpling, steel rods twisting like chicken wire. Within the gigantic mass, smashed among beds and stoves, sinks and bathtubs, among couches and cribs, bookcases and tables and lamps, ground into fibrous pulp with the morning’s freshly purchased bread, boxes of breakfast cereal, pots of coffee, platters of eggs, bacon, tortillas, there were more than a thousand men, women, and children.

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***

“Somos los chingados,” said Victor Presa, sore-eyed, his hands bloody, voice cracked, smoking a cigarette, staring at the ruins, as a small army of firemen, soldiers, and residents clawed at the rubble. A woman kept calling for a lost child: Ro-baiiiiiiir-to, Ro­baaaaaiiiii-irrrr-to. The scene seemed almost unreal; surely some director would now yell “cut” and everyone would relax, the calls to the dead and dying would cease, the special effects men would examine their masterpiece. But this was real all right, and Victor Presa stared at the building, summoning whatever strength he had left to join the others who had been smashed by what was being called El Gran Chingon. The Big Fucker.

“This was all we needed,” said an exhausted, hawk-nosed 24-year-old doctor named Raul Tirado. “Things were bad enough. Now this, the catastrofe. Pobre Mexico … poor Mexico.”

Before the catastrophe was the Crisis, always discussed here with a capital C, a combination of factors that were at once political, economic, social. The $6 billion foreign debt. The incredible $30 million a day that leaves Mexico just to pay the vigorish to the banks, never denting the debt itself. The accelerating slide of the peso (for years, 12.5 pesos were pegged to the dollar; last week you could get 405). The collapse of the price of petroleum. All these were intertwined with a wide-ranging cynicism; a loss of faith in the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that has ruled Mexico without interruption since 1929; contempt for the obesity of the state, where almost four million Mexicans are employed by federal, state, and local governments out of a total work force of about 20 million; despair at the monstrous growth of Mexico City and its transformation into a smog-choked, soul-killing crime-ridden purgatory; fatalism about the daily, hourly arrival of more and more and more children; and above and below everything, touching every level of the national life, persisting in the face of exposure in the press and President Miguel de la Madrid’s oratory about “moral renovation”: the rotting stench of corruption.

“There will be a Mexico when this is finished,” said Dr. Tirado. “But if they only clean up the physical mess, then we are doomed.”

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So the cranes will soon arrive to remove the top four floors of Continental Hotel on the corner of Reforma and Insurgentes, but neither the building nor Mexico will be easily healed. In 1957, when an earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale rolled through the city, killing 51 people, the Continental was a year old, a proud new member of the Hilton chain, with a blue-green mosaic mural rising from street level to the roof. That quake split the mural and fractured the building, but repairs were made and business went on. There were only 3.5 million people in Mexico City that year, and the city brimmed with optimism. But Hilton’s name was long ago removed from the building, and the mural torn away, and when I walked around the corner to Calle Roma to look at the aging weather-stained edifice from the rear, the top floors seemed to have been mashed by some gigantic fist. Business there will not go on. Not after El Gran Chingon. Across the street from the Continental there’s a statue of Cuauhtehmoc, the valiant Aztec prince who fought Cortez after Montezuma had failed; Cuauhtehmoc survived 1957 and survived September 19. But his pollution-blackened face now seemed sadder than ever.

“There’ll be nothing there next year,” said a 31-year-old insurance executive named Maria Delgado, staring at the Continental. “Who would build there again? Who would grant insurance? Who would build in many other parts of the city?”

Walking the city in the days after the quake, much of the damage did seem permanent. On the corner of Hamburgo and Dinamarca, a gallery called the Central Cultural de Jose Guadalupe Posada had been compacted from five floors into two; the art work had been removed, the building cordoned off behind a string of sad dusty pennants, but it didn’t matter now: there was nothing left to steal. Across the street, rescue workers combed the rubble of an apartment building: cops, soldiers, doctors in Red Cross vests, university students, men with flat brown Indian faces, all lifting broken concrete, smashed furniture, calling for sounds of life, hearing nothing. Such groups would soon be familiar all over the ruined parts of the city, and they helped compile the statistics of disaster: nearly 5000 dead, another 150,000 hurt, an estimated 2000 trapped in the rubble, dead or alive. Some bureaucrats, afraid of permanently losing tourist business, rushed to minimize the effects of El Gran Chingon; Mexico is a large city, they said (it sprawls over 890 square miles); only 0.1 per cent of its buildings were destroyed. And that was true.

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But you couldn’t minimize what happened to the people who’d been directly affected. On Calle Liverpool, a blue moving van from Romero’s Mudanzas was parked in front of Shakey’s Pizza y Polio, loading furniture from a damaged apartment house; in middle-­class areas, moving vans were part of the scenery, like salvage boats after a shipwreck. A few doors down, the tan cement skin had peeled off the facade of another apartment house, revealing cheap porous concrete blocks underneath. On Calle Landres, two buildings to the right of the Benjamin Franklin Llbrary tilted to the side like drunks in a doonvay; cops warned pedestrians not to smoke because there was gas in the air. At the corner of Landres and Berlin, tinted windows had been blown out of a building, its walls sagged, the street was piled with broken glass and rubble; but in one window you could see the back of a spice rack, its jars neat, orderly, domestic, suggesting life in a place where nobody would ever live again.

The contrasts from one block to another, one building to the next, seemed baffling. Why did this house survive and that one collapse? Of the more than 450 colonial-era buildings listed with the Mexican equivalent of the landmarks commission, not one had been destroyed. But more than 100 new government-owned buildings had fallen, including three major hospitals and many ministries; hundreds of others (including many schools) were mortally wounded. Fate bad never seemed more capricious. But every Mexican I spoke to offered the same basic explanation and it had nothing to do with God, faith, subsoil erosion, fault lines, the Cocos Plate, or the superiority of the 19th century to the 20th. Their answer was simple: corruption.

“Today, more than ever, it has been shown that corruption is a very bad builder,” said the Committee of 100, a group formed last March to combat the environmental disasters of Mexico (its members include writers Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Octavio Paz, artists Rufino Tamayo and Jose Luis Cuevas). “It is no casual thing that the historic center of the city, made to last, has survived the two tremors …”

Senator Antonio Martinez Baez, a professor emeritus of the National Autonomous University, said that corruption was widespread in the building industry, particularly in the 1970s, when Mexico was booming with oil money. Martinez Baez said the corruption involved more than government bureaucrats, who looked the other way when shoddy materials were used; it included contractors, engineers, building owners and their intermediaries, usually hustling lawyers.

“They should not be allowed to clear these areas until a thorough examination has taken place,” said an engineer named Rafael Avellanor. “Concrete, steel, everything must be tested, measured against the original specifications. And then the guilty should be jailed for murder.”

Corruption is, of course, one of the oldest, saddest Mexican stories; didn’t Montezuma first offer Cortez a bribe to go away? But corruption doesn’t explain everything. If the earthquake toppled many modern buildings, if it seemed a horrible act of architectural criticism to enrubble the Stalinoid fortresses of the permanent bureaucracy, well, El Gran Chingon also rolled into Tepito.

And while the camera crews faithfully assembled each day at the Children’s Hospital, at the Medical Center, at the Juarez housing project, where dramas of rescue and redemption were played out with touching regularity; while cameras for three hours followed Nancy Reagan in her yellow jacket and professionally concerned mask; while journalists sought out Placido Domingo, bearded and dusty in the ruins of Tlatelolco, working alongside ordinary citizens, searching for four of his lost relatives “until the last stone is lifted”; while cameras at the airport recorded the arrival of volunteers and aid from 43 countries; while all of that was happening, almost nobody went to Tepito.

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***

There seems always to have been a Tepito in Mexico City; it’s perhaps the city’s oldest slum, maker of thieves and prizefighters and entertainers. For most of this century, the Tepito poor have crowded into tiny dollar-a-month, one-room flats in vecindades (apartment houses assembled around damp central courtyards, described in detail by Oscar Lewis in The Children of Sanchez). They built houses for themselves too, of scraps of wood, homemade brick, parts of cars, discarded advertising signs. Boys from Tepito became toreros and football players; they went to the great gym called Baños de Jordan and fought their way onto page one of Esto or Ovaciones, the city’s daily sports papers; at least one, Raton Macias, became a champion of the world. Some became musicians and worked in Plaza Garibaldi, not far away, singing, playing horn or guitar for lovers, tourists, and each other in the Tenampa Club or the Guadalajara del Noche; some became cops; a few went on to become lawyers, doctors, teachers; many ended up a dozen blocks away in the notorious Black Palace of Lecumberri, the city’s major prison, until it was torn down a few years ago.

The women of Tepito had harder lives. They married young, bore children young, suffered young, died young. Most were faithful to the code of machismo, imposed upon them by the men; those who violated the code often ended up in the pages of Alarma, a weekly crime journal that specializes in the mutilated bodies of the dead. Too many became prostitutes, working in the three famous callejones, or alleys behind the Merced marketplace, alleys so narrow that men stood with their backs against the rough walls while the women sat on stools and performed for a dollar. They started there when young, las putas de Tepito, and many ended up back in the callejones when old. Along the way, perhaps, there were stops in the houses and cribs of Calle de Esperanza (now lost to reform), or if they were pretty enough, smart enough, tough enough, they’d move up to the dance halls on San Juan de Letran, or the more expensive whore houses beyond the Zona Rosa, where the politicians and generals arrived each night with their sleazy cuadrillas. They might hook up with a married man and be installed in a casa chica. Some went off to the border towns. But they were always men and women “de Tepito,” a phrase said with the tough pride of someone from Red Hook or the Lower East Side.

And now, a few days after the earthquake, Tepito was gone. In the cerrada of Gonzales Ortega, all of the houses were destroyed. Vecindades were in rubble along Brasil Street, on Rayon, Jesus Carranza, Tenochtitlan, Fray Bernadina de Las Casas, Florida, and Las Cardidad, all the way to the Avenida del Trabajo. This had always been a barrio whose true god was noise. A mixture of blasting radios, shouts, laughter, rumors, deals, quarrels, jokes, screaming children, imploring mothers, furious husbands. You could hear young men playing trumpet in the afternoons. You could hear lovers careening into melodrama, while dealers hawked contraband radios, hot jewelry, used clothes, drugs.

Now Tepito was silent except for one lone radio somewhere, playing a tinny mariachi tune. A drunk of uncertain age, grizzled and dirty, sat on a pile of broken brick, talking intensely to himself. A tinsmith poked at the ruins of his shop, a small boy beside him looking grave. An old man who had run a small antique record store trembled as he looked at his smashed collection. “I have great treasures here. Jorge Negrete. Carlos Gardel. Lara. Infante. Treasures. Of the old style. Ahora … ”

Ahora. Now. Now the men, women, children, and dogs of Tepito had moved by the thousands to the open spaces around the Avenida del Trabajo. They had improvised tents. They’d formed teams to search for water. Old women had set up charcoal mounds to boil water and cook. Together, they consoled each other, fed each other, cursed at politicians, cops, fate, God. They passed along news: the Bahia movie house was wrecked (“Ay, chico, where will we go now to get fleas?”) and on San Juan de Letran all six stories above the Super Leche cafeteria had collapsed, killing many people having breakfast (“Cuatey the coffee killed more …”) and more than one hundred government buildings had been wrecked, including the Superior Court, with all the city’s criminal records (“There is a God …”). They joked, as most jokesters do, because they are serious men.

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“We want to go home,” said a white-haired wood finisher named Jesus Torres. “But we have nowhere to go … ”

He was standing with a crowd of men among the tents. Someone said that the government estimated the homeless at 35,000. Torres said, “That means there must be one hundred thousand on the street.”

A young man named Eloy Mercado arrived with a copy of Esto. A story in one of the back pages said that Kid Azteca was among the missing. When I first came to Mexico in 1956, to go to school on the GI Bill, Kid Azteca had been fighting since the 1920s. He had been the Mexican welterweight champion for 17 years, an elegant boxer, good puncher, and in his forties he kept having one six­-round fight a year to extend his record as the longest-lasting Mexican fighter in history. Now he and his two sisters were missing in Tepito, perhaps dead. Jesus Torres shook his head: “He’s not dead.” An old man leaned in, his face dusty, teeth stained with tobacco, smelling like vinegar. “You know how to find Kid A’tec’? Go in the street and start to count to 10. Then he’ll get up …” He and Torres laughed, two men as old as the lost Kid Azteca who had managed to remain true to their origins. Somos de Tepito, hombre

So to experience Mexico after the earthquake, you had to go to Tepito too. You had to go to the corner of Orizaba and Coahuila, where seven bodies were spread across the sidewalk, packed in plastic bags of ice, waiting for hours for ambulances too busy with the living. You had to smell the sweet corrupt odor that began to drift from collapsed buildings. You had to hear the sirens: always the sirens.

You could also see Mexico after the earthquake in the baseball park of the Social Security administration, where more bodies lay under blue plastic tents, waiting for identification. In other times, a team called the Red Devils played here. Now a somber line of men and women waited patiently for admission, searching for their dead, while bureaucrats in the third base dugout compiled their mournful lists. The corpses were photographed and fingerprinted and those that were not identified were wrapped in plastic bags and taken away.

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Some were taken to the Cemetery of San Lorenzo Tezanco, and this too was Mexico in the autumn of 1985. Those who bad lost their names along with their lives were given numbers: Cuerpo 127, Cuerpo 128. About 20 gravediggers chopped at the weed-tangled earth. More people came to look at the bodies, and many brought flowers. The unidentified were buried in a common grave. Presiding over this rude democracy was a white-haired, white-bearded priest named Ignacio Ortega Aguilar, who gave the blessings and offered the prayers. On the fifth day after the earthquake be told a reporter: “With this tragedy God bas placed all of us in the same condition. In only a few minutes, while the earth shook, God permitted us to understand who he is and who we are. Today we know that we are owners of nothing.”

And to know Mexico after the earthquake, you had to listen to the sound of rage. There was rage in Colonia Roma, because some cops were demanding a 500 peso mordida to allow residents past barriers with cars or moving vans; rage at unconfirmed stories of cops who had looted wrecked apartments or pried wedding bands off the fingers of the dead; rage at flower sellers who tripled their prices outside cemeteries; rage at tienda owners who doubled and tripled the price of food, and at men who sold water among the almost two million who had none at all; rage at the makers of coffins, who jacked up their prices (some donated free coffins, too). In Colonia Roma I saw a man who had rescued hundreds of books from the ruins of his apartment sitting among them on the sidewalk.

“The rest has no value,” he said, his voice trembling, angry. “Only these. These I love.” He touched the books, some of them in expensive leather bindings. “But when my brother-in-law came to help me take them away, the police said he would have to pay 1000 pesos. I insisted no! I asked for a supervisor. Nothing! So I will stay here. I hope it doesn’t rain. But I’m prepared to die here before paying them anything.”

One morning I walked to Calle Versalles, where I’d lived in a friend’s apartment with my wife and daughters one winter in the ‘6os. The street was blocked at both ends by rifle-toting soldiers, while rescue workers chopped at the ruins of the old Hotel Versalles. Mattresses jutted from the rubble at odd angles. Men used plastic buckets to pass along the broken brick, plaster, concrete to waiting trucks. The house where we had lived was intact, with a lone broken window on the third floor. But the Versalles, across the street, was gone, along with the building beside it and another one at the corner. I showed a New York press card to a soldier who shrugged and passed me through the lines. The smell was then richer, loamier, the sweet sickening smell of putrefaction,

Suddenly everything stopped. Workers, soldiers, firemen called for silence. A body had been found. A middle-aged woman. Her jaw was hanging loose, hair and face bone-white from broken plaster, tongue swollen, eyes like stone. Her pale blue nightgown had fallen open. A man in a yellow hardhat reached down and covered her naked breasts. Mexico.

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***

Nothing had prepared me for Avenida Juarez. In the old days, this was one of the city’s great streets, a busy hustling thoroughfare. Turning into it from the Reforma, the Hotel Regis was on the left, along with a movie house, a pharmacy, the huge Salinas y Rocha department store. On the right was the Del Prado hotel, with one of Diego Rivera’s finest murals inside. Past the Del Prado was a mixture of shops, both elegant and tacky, silver stalls, handicraft shops, book stores, restaurants. In the distance, there was the great green space of the Alameda park, with its baroque red shoeshine stands, and the Palacio of the Bellas Artes beyond. In the 1950s, I went out with a woman named Lourdes who worked on this street, and for years afterwards I thought that one form of heaven would consist of the Avenida Juarez on a Saturday afternoon, with a new book or a newspaper in hand and a shine on my shoes and a nap in the grass of the Alameda park.

On this day, the old avenue was a shambles. It was as if some brutal general, bored with the tedium of a firefight, had called in an airstrike. The Salinas y Rocha store was now a giant shell, blackened by fire. Across the street, the Del Prado was closed (a Mexican reporter told me the Rivera mural was intact) and so were all the shops and restaurants. Three huge buildings leaned at a precarious angle. The street was packed with soldiers, sailors, doctors, nurses, reporters, and all attention was on the Regis.

The old hotel lay in a huge jagged mound; all 367 rooms had been destroyed. And I thought about the novel of Mexico City written by Carlos Fuentes in the 1950s, called (in English) Where the Air Is Clear. This was another city when he wrote his book, but Fuentes had premonitions of its ferocious future. One of his major characters was a revolutionary gone bad, an industrialist named Federico Robles.

But not he, he moued straight toward what he saw coming: business. 
the spot which will remain the center of style and wealth
in the capital: the ‘Don Quixote’ cabaret of the Hotel Regis …  

They were still at the Hotel Regis when I was there in the ’50s, the models for Federico Robles eating with Fuentes’s other great character, Artemio Cruz, laughing and drinking with all the other “robolutionaries” who came to power with President Miguel Aleman in ’46. They sat in booths or at small dark tables, heavy-lidded men dressed in silk suits and English shoes, graduated at last from tequila and mezcal and pulque to good Scotch whiskey, while their chauffeurs parked outside and the blond girls waited in the casas chicas on Rio Tiber. They were the men who made the present horror: the choked decaying capital, the failing banks, the greedy cement companies, the porous hotels. They invented Acapulco (with Aleman their leader), added Zihuatenejo, Cancun, Ixtapa, providing oil and shelter for the pampered bodies of the north. They were men who were all appetite. They ate the forests, they swallowed the rivers, they sucked up water from beneath the surface of the city and the regurgitated cement. In the end, under presidents Echeverria and Lopez Portillo, they ate Mexico.

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But even in the ’50s, when they still could be seen at the Hotel Regis, there were some who sensed what was coming. In Fuentes’s novel, a journalist named Ixca Cienfuegos says:

“There’s nothing indispensable in Mexico, Rodrigo. Sooner or later, a secret, anonymous force inundates it and transforms it all. It’s a force that’s older than all memory, as reduced and concentrated as a grain of powder; it’s the origin. All the rest is a masquerade …”

In a way, that secret anonymous force arrived at 7:19 on the morning of September 19, fierce and primeval. And now the Regis, along with so much else, was destroyed. Most of the men from the Don Quixote bar are gone too, dead and buried, the profits of old crimes passed on to their children; they stand now only as examples to the hard new hustlers of Mexico. There will never be statues of these men on the Paseo de la Reforma, but there are monuments to them all over the city: mounds of broken concrete and plaster, common graves in Tezonco.

And while many of the dead remained unburied in the week after the earthquakes, jammed among the slabs of the fallen buildings, everyone talked about the future. Mexico will never be the same again: the phrase was repeated over and over again in the newspapers. There were calls from the left and right for investigation of the corruption that led to the faulty construction of so many new buildings; there were demands that Mexico decentralize the government, sending many ministries to other cities; there were suggestions that the ruined sites be converted into parks, to allow some green open spaces for Mexico City to cleanse its lungs. Some insisted that Mexico would have to postpone its payments on foreign debt until after reconstruction.

And there were a few published reminders of another eartliquake, far to the south, that had led to the eventual overthrow of the Somoza regime in Nicaragua. That 1972 earthquake killed thousands too. And when the generosity of the world sent money, supplies, medicine, clothes to Managua, Somoza and his gang stole it. The great fear of some Mexicans is that the same massive robbery will happen here, that the endemic, systemic corruption will absorb most, if not all, of the money that should be spent on the people of Tepito and Colonia Roma, on the survivors of Tlatelolco and the Juarez housing project and all the other ruined places of the city. If that happens, Mexico will not require agents of the Evil Empire to provoke the long-feared all-consuming revolution. ♦

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From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Rogue Police Union: The PBA’s Bloated Overhead

The PBA’s Bloated Overhead
December 7, 1993

THROUGHOUT THE Watergate scandal, the operative phrase was follow the money, an axiom that also serves the PBA story.

In 1991, the PBA raised more than $7 million in dues from its members, while four distinct but affiliated PBA funds took in many millions more from New York City taxpayers. Although the main pen­sion fund for the NYPD — worth $7.5 bil­lion — is mercifully controlled by the city itself (PBA trustees sit on the board), a smaller annuity fund is maintained to pro­vide additional benefits. The city pays in $2 for each police officer each working day (261 a year). Between total contribu­tions from the city and income on invest­ments, this fund received more than $14 million in 1991. A health and welfare fund for cops on active duty took in an­other $22 million; and a comparable fund for retired cops another $20 million. For 1991 alone, total revenues coming in to the PBA, including $7 million in union dues, came to $63 million. The cop on the beat might well ask, “Where did it all go?”

Much of it went where it should have, into services for PBA members — supple­mental dental and optical coverage, death benefits, legal representation, and the like. In 1991 the PBA paid out to members $26.2 million in direct benefits. But in order to provide these services, the PBA spent $23 million, an overhead that should raise the eyelids of the sleepiest IRS or department of labor official. In fact, when the Voice presented this benefit-to-expense ratio to Bob Kobel, an IRS regional spokesman, he replied: “Given that scenario, I feel certain it would cause us to take a closer look, at least to deter­mine why administration costs are so high.”

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A close look at individual expense items raises even more questions. Of the PBA’s total overhead for 1991, a large bite — $4.5 million — was paid out for legal work, la­bor negotiating, and lobbying. If you add in the $2.7 million paid for the legal repre­sentation for members, the total legal bill comes to more than $7 million. Virtually every penny of that amount went to Ly­saght, Lysaght & Kramer, the law firm that took over the PBA’s account from attorney Richard Hartman. In prior years, comparable amounts had been paid to Hartman’s firm, to cover his fees for legal work and labor negotiating.

A police officer might well ask why over the last 15 years the union has paid so dearly for labor negotiating. Hartman joined the PBA in 1978, when the base salary for police officers was $17,458 — hardly generous. Despite his skills, the base police salary has remained constant with inflation ever since. In today’s dollars, the $17,458 of 1977 would be worth $40,415. After being paid millions in the interven­ing years, Hartman has managed to negoti­ate a base salary of $40,700 — a $300 gain, not counting fringe benefits. That annual raise does not compare favorably to the ever-growing fees the PBA and Phil Caruso were granting Hartman. In 1977, the PBA paid Hartman’s predecessor $141,467 for “labor negotiating.” In 1978, Hartman’s first full year, the PBA paid him $750,000. By 1990, Hartman’s last year as the union’s negotiator of record, the PBA was paying him $165,000 a month, for a grand annual total of $1,980,000, as a labor “consultant.”

Another large bite of the PBA revenue pie — $8 million — was taken in 1991 by insurance companies. Obviously the PBA has to pay heavily for insurance to pro­vide the benefits it must. But does it need to pay as much as it does? And the ques­tion would not even be raised were it not for the fact that the year after Richard Hartman surrendered his law license, and thereby a great deal of income, PBA suddenly discovered that its members needed a new Met Life policy, the $2.2 million commission on which went to a new insurance agent named … Richard Hartman. (By 1991, the Met Life insur­ance business was transferred to the wives of James Lysaght and Peter Kramer, part­ners of the law firm that was already get­ting all the legal fees mentioned above.)

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Instead of enriching cops directly, Caru­so has concentrated the PBA’s efforts on increasing fringe benefits. He argues in the Annual Report for the Annuity Fund: “The doubling of our annual annuity con­tribution by the city, won in our last round of contract talks, was significant, particularly for newer members.” But one is tempted to question both the priorities and the motives of the PBA and its negoti­ators. Unlike salaries, which flow directly from the city to the cops, the “soft” mon­ey flows from the city to the PBA, where it can be siphoned off for the benefit of a handful of friends and associates. The only significant fringe benefit negotiated by Caruso and Hartman that flows direct­ly to police members is the uniform allow­ance, which jumped from $265 in 1977 to $1000 in 1991.

The soft money has permitted the PBA the luxury of a huge overhead. In 1991, for example, the union spent $2.2 million on salaries, $900,000 for printing and publications, $650,000 on delegate ex­penses, and $340,000 for conferences and conventions. Even the relatively smaller expenses raise serious questions. For ex­ample, was the $208,000 fee paid to ac­countants Mendelsohn Kary Bell & Natoli to prepare the PBA’s various 1991 filings much of a bargain? The PBA’s 5500 forms invariably communicate as little as possi­ble. On the PBA’s 1991 filing for the an­nuity fund, for instance, MKBN lumped all assets under the familiar rubric of “other.” Yet a glimpse of the PBA’s annu­al report for the fund in the same year reveals that these assets are all invested in financial instruments for which the IRS provides line items on its 5500 forms: government securities, commercial paper, money market funds.

Indeed, the word “other” often covers some of the largest sums charged against the various PBA accounts. By the Voice’s count, in 1991 the PBA buried $6.6 mil­lion in expenses for its various funds un­der the word “other.” That, of course, would be fine if “other” were explained elsewhere. Conscientious accountants wishing to avoid audits provide supple­mental sheets where such large sums are broken down and detailed. Not so the PBA’s accountants. Two outside CPAs who reviewed PBA returns with the Voice commented that it appeared the union was not concerned about audits, almost as if it thought itself untouchable. They pointed out that several basic accounting rules had been flouted.

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For example, although the PBA submits 5500 forms for each benefit plan it oper­ates, those submissions do not include re­quired Schedule P’s, which must list trust­ees and to which the trustees must affix their signatures by way of accepting liabil­ity. Also missing are Schedule A’s, which show where an organization bought its insurance, how much commission was paid, and the names of brokers. Given the amount that the PBA pays out in insur­ance premiums and the name of the bro­ker who received many of these commis­sions — Richard Hartman — the oversight is strange indeed.

Finally, there is the sheer sloppiness of the filings. The PBA’s 5500 forms for 1991 were prepared on IRS forms from the prior year. In its 1989 annuity fund filing, MKBN reported a transfer of $9.9 million into the fund. It is only when one does the math that it becomes clear that the $9.9 million was transferred out of the fund. (The money went to smaller PBAs, the Superior Officers Council, and the Detectives’ Endowment Association, for reasons that are not altogether clear). In this instance, the difference between in and out is almost $20 million. Calls to the PBA accounting firm to get clarification on this and other matters went unanswered.

The various PBA filings yield a number of other issues and questions as well. In addition to the Legal Services Fund, de­signed to represent police in various mat­ters, including house closings, the PBA maintains a separate legal assistance plan within its Health & Welfare Fund. The city gives the union $75 per police officer each year to fund this service, designed to provide legal representation in civil suits brought against police officers whom the city, for whatever reason, does not want to represent (the funds also cover “pension counseling”). According to the PBA con­tract with the city, “These funds shall be maintained in a separate account and shall not be commingled with the other monies received by the Welfare Fund.”

But is that what happened to the $1.4 million taken in by the welfare fund in 1991 for this purpose? The PBA appears to have paid the entire amount to the Lysaght firm. Perhaps Lysaght has the money tucked safely away in an escrow account, But the public filings of the PBA offer no such assurance, and given the PBA’s “fact pattern” — as it’s put in law­-enforcement parlance — of raided escrow accounts and huge fees to lawyers, the transfer to Lysaght is disturbing. Did rank­-and-file police officers really need $1.4 million worth of legal representation for civil matters and pension counseling dur­ing the year? And if not, what is happen­ing to the accumulating funds? Does the city need to continue to fund this account at this level?

The biggest PBA account is the annuity fund, and the natural question is, how is all this money being invested? It is a question Caruso himself addresses in the annuity’s 199 l annual report to members. “The interest yield on An­nuity Fund investments last year was far from awesome,” he wrote, “but nonetheless strictly in keeping with prevailing rates.” In 1991, the annuity fund earned just under 6 per cent.

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Interests rates are, without question, down among all varieties of pension plans. But 6 per cent or under is not the prevailing rate. And there is a larg­er question about the PBA’s annuity fund that centers on the pattern of investing. With a stream of city reve­nues large enough to cover the antici­pated direct benefits to members, the annuity fund would seem to have very little need for liquidity. Yet over $40 million of its $55 million worth of assets are held in short-term financial instruments, with only $15 million in long-term. Had more long-term invest­ments been made years ago, they would still be yielding 8 per cent or better. Even long-term assets purchased today’s markets could yield as much as 7 per cent. Those numbers suggest that the PBA annuity fund could have fared much better. Com­ments James Hanley, the director of the city’s Office of Labor Relations: “I know other uniformed service heads boast they’re still doing 11 per cent and 12 per cent.” While Hanley’s numbers seem over the top, The New York Times reported this week that more than 80 per cent of U.S. corpora­tions interviewed recently about their pension funds base their decisions on an annual return of better than 8 per cent. Only 2 per cent anticipated inter­est rates below 7 per cent.

Who is really paying attention to these PBA accounts? According to Hanley, it should be Comptroller Eliz­abeth Holtzman’s office. Yet the comptroller’s office has yet to com­plete its only PBA audit during Holtz­man’s tenure, and it is not looking at the annuity fund. Indeed, Holtzman’s office took two months to confum for the Voice that it still had the authority to monitor the PBA following changes in the 1989 city charter.

The good news in reviewing the po­lice union’s public filings is this: be­cause neither the organization nor its accountants seem to have filed the proper Schedule P’s bearing the signa­tures of the trustees, the statute of limitations is thereby waived. The first auditor to have an extensive go at these books — perhaps incoming comp­troller Alan Hevesi — should have a field day. And he can take all the time he wants. ■

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker exposing corruption in the Patrolman's Benevolent Association

Categories
From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Rogue Police Union: Nassau’s GOP Affirmative Action Machine

Nassau’s GOP Affirmative Action Machine
December 7, 1988

NASSAU COUNTY abounds in poor role models, and Richard Hartman, a lawyer on the make, found more than his fair share. Take his first two bosses, for instance.

Fresh out of law school, Hartman clerked for Judge Floyd Sarisohn. A few years after Hartman left that job, Sarisohn was removed from office for improperly handling a speeding ticket and for giving a prostitute tips on how to deceive her pro­bation officer. Between 1965 and 1968, Hartman worked for Nassau district attor­ney William Cahn, who would go to jail for padding his expenses and for mail fraud. In 1968 Hartman entered private practice and, like Judge Sarisohn, special­ized in traffic matters. His first partner, Jack Solerwitz, would later, after separat­ing from Hartman, be convicted of steal­ing $5 million from clients.

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Hartman cultivated a reputation for helping influential people beat their raps, often at no charge. “If I had friends who got tickets, I sent them to Richie,” said a former city official in Nassau. “If Richie was your attorney, the cop who handled the ticket didn’t show up to testify.”

Meanwhile, as Hartman became famous for getting things done, lawyer Harold Foner was deciding he had too much to do. Foner represented two police unions, the Nassau and New York City PBAs. In 1969, weighed down by his New York City responsibilities, he resigned his Nas­sau position. As his successor, Foner sug­gested the up-and-comer Hartman, who had strong connections to the county’s Republican machine. Foner was neverthe­less surprised when Hartman consented, since the young man’s practice was yield­ing far more than Foner’s salary, which approximated the pay of a police captain. But Hartman correctly bet that handling police labor relations and legal matters could be spectacularly lucrative.

Police officials had taken note of Hart­man. “He lit up the courtroom,” said Wil­liam Rupp, a former state police officer (and later president of the Metropolitan Police Conference) who helped introduce Hartman to police unions. “I thought he could help us with our plight.” And he did. “Before him,” Rupp said, “we used to go to Albany or City Hall on bended knee and beg.”

Thanks to concessions won by Hart­man, within a few years Long Island cops would take it for granted that they earned more than FBI agents. After the Nassau police, Hartman added the Long Island State Parkway Police, then the Suffolk County police, and soon was the super­-lawyer for practically every cop in every city, town, and village on Long Island and in Westchester. At one point, by Hart­man’s own count, he represented 300 unions, mostly in law enforcement.

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A mystique built up. If you called Hart­man at 3 p.m., he might return the call at 3 a.m. and act like there was nothing unusual about doing so. People said he slept in his car; indeed, he was rumpled, his shirttails always hanging out. “I don’t think he hit his bed three times a week,” recalled Bob Pick, formerly of New York City’s Office of Labor Relations.

The marathon must have taken its toll, because one night in 1973 Hartman’s car jumped a divider, flipped, and landed on another car. Hartman suffered massive in­ternal injuries, and concerned cops mobbed the hospital. After that, Hartman had himself chauffeured around in a Cad­illac limousine. Always in a hurry, going 90 miles an hour, the limo would hit a bump, scattering his papers about the pas­senger compartment. The car got pulled over on numerous occasions, but was nev­er ticketed, unless it was in New Jersey, where troopers didn’t recognize him.

The high-speed legal practice, mean­while, didn’t stop with cops. Hartman vir­tually locked up the Nassau justice system, representing clerks and court officers, throwing Christmas parties for judges. Hartman’s generosity helped him prevail; aides routinely delivered gifts, ranging over the years from apple-shaped gold baubles to booze, VCRs, and a big­screen TV.

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Hartman’s New Year’s party guest list was a Long Island who’s who. One table was invariably heaped with honorary PBA shields, which could be pinned in a wallet and flashed if an officer asked to see a license. “Richie was great at networking,” recalled Daniel Guido, a Nassau police commissioner in the ’70s and now a crim­inal justice professor at John Jay College. “He had the judges in his hip pocket.”

Apparently, there were not enough cops and clerks to keep Hartman busy. He built a long list of criminal clients, which bothered some people, among them Guido: “I suggested to Hartman that it was inappro­priate for him to be repping our 4000 police officers while also … representing people his clients were arresting.”

But no mere police commissioner was going to tell Hartman what to do. The lawyer hit Guido with two $10 million lawsuits accusing him of slander. Hartman eventually withdrew the suit, yet he won the war. Nassau County supervisors did not renew Guido’s contract.

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

BESIDES HIS ENERGY and his open wal­let, Hartman had deep roots in the Repub­lican organization that ran and still runs Nassau County. So did two brothers, Ar­mand and Alfonse D’Amato. All grew up in the same time, the D’Amato household a few miles from Hartman’s. During the 1960s, Hartman’s father, Bill, nominally a grocer but more significantly a GOP committee man, worked for Joseph Carlino, then the powerful assembly speaker and former law partner of Armand. Early in his career, a young Richard passed the machine’s admissions test, offering himself as the sacrificial lamb for the GOP in a futile 1969 city council race in Demo­cratic-controlled Long Beach.

These connections would become useful to Hartman when he began to negotiate police contracts. His bargaining table suc­cess, insiders said, was not just a matter of caffeine and number-crunching. “The un­spoken thing was that Hartman had such a friendship with [longtime supervisor] Al D’Amato,” a Nassau political operative explained, “that D’Amato went out of his way to get him good contracts.”

Small wonder. D’Amato and fellow su­pervisors — even a Democrat or two — won their seats with the Nassau PBA endorsement and contributions rounded up by Hartman. “Almost anybody from either political party could ask Richie for a contribution,” said John Matthews, until re­cently the Nassau Democratic chairman.

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So staunch was that solidarity that even independent-thinking Republicans were banished. Ralph Caso, a Nassau county executive until 1978, told the Voice that when finances tightened and he began op­posing big police wage increases, fellow Republicans, including D’Amato, turned against him and ensured his defeat.

It often seemed many figures in the la­bor-bargaining process, from negotiators to the county executive, were either politi­cal allies or accepting Hartman’s gifts. Hartman began bargaining sessions by sending out for lavish spreads of food and drink, even beer, for both sides of the table. Then he went to work, putting on the appearance of sweating out the details. One observer recalled the lawyer’s tactical devices, as demonstrated at a late-’70s bargaining session. Hartman was leafing through a thick book, and gesticulating: “Now if you look at page 1385, subsection C, paragraph 4, you’ll see that it says, ‘Differential, blah, blah, blah.’ Now if you’ll go back to page 943, you’ll see in subsection … blah, blah, blah.”

“The poor suckers across from him,” the observer said, “just couldn’t keep up.”

Another Hartman tactic was to make excessive demands at the table, which would put the decision into the hands of presumably neutral arbitrators, such as Jo­seph French. In a 1978 settlement, French awarded Hartman’s client, the Nassau PBA, interest on retroactive pay increases, a highly unusual concession. He also doled out a three-year, 24.5 per cent raise. “There were strange aspects of the deci­sion, a strange rationale,” said Bruce Lambert, who covered the talks for News­day. It was noted that French had a few conflicts of interest. He was not only a police buff (a brother and brother-in-law were cops who would benefit from the settlement), but his divorce had been han­dled by Hartman’s firm. (French did not respond to messages left by the Voice.)

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In 1979, Al D’Amato himself inter­vened directly in favor of a record salary increase for Nassau Community College’s adjunct faculty, which was represented by Richard Hartman. The lawyer won ex­traordinary labor gains for the adjunct faculty. The contract was written in such a way that it allowed a high percentage of new teaching positions to be filled via the Nassau GOP patronage network — run by the very people negotiating police contracts.

The agreements were so exceptional that they infuriated the full-time faculty, which would reap outsize gains as well. The faculty, whose salaries currently aver­age $72,918, includes D’Amato’s wife Pe­nelope (math) and Hartman’s brother El­liott (math). In turn, the faculty unions gave cash and material support to the campaign of Nassau County Executive Thomas Gulotta, whose wife Elizabeth teaches biology at the school. The most recent faculty contract, in the words of college trustee Richard Kessel, a Demo­crat, “is one of richest municipal labor contracts I’ve ever seen.”

When Al D’Amato intervened in the Nassau Community College negotiations, the math department was headed by Abe Weinstein, a close D’Amato and Hartman pal who has since become a vice-president at the school. Al D’Amato himself has been a Nassau Community College trust­ee, as has Jeffrey Forchelli. Until recently, Forchelli was a law partner of Armand D’Amato — sentenced in November to five months house arrest and 19 months of supervised release (with disbarment proceedings pending) for mail fraud. John Cornachio, who monitors the college’s construction contracts, is the brother of a former Hartman law associate who now represents the Nassau PBA. In 1966 and 1971, Richard Hartman himself taught math classes at Nassau.

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The relationship of the college to police labor negotiations is critical to under­standing the quid pro quo nature of Nas­sau County contracts. Regional officials who got themselves or their relatives ad­junct teaching positions at the college were in many cases the same people approving nice contracts for Hartman’s oth­er clients, like the Nassau Police union.

The Nassau County cops became the highest-paid police in the country; their base pay is currently $52,229. With over­time, some officers earn as much as $90,000 annually. Nassau police also re­ceive the best benefits ± days off and va­cation account for half the calendar year. And though police routinely cite the dan­gerous nature of their work as a basis for raises, Nassau officers have a relatively low casualty rate.

When Hartman moved on to New York City, he did not do nearly so well for its police officers, who have a far more peril­ous job. But the concessions he won proved incredibly lucrative to executives at the PBA, its staff, and its small circle of service providers. ■

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

Categories
From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Rogue Police Union

Corruption is the tone you set at the top. — Rudolph Giuliani, September 9, policy speech

THE MOLLEN Commission hearings that concluded October 7 filled pages of newsprint and hours of TV, forcing New Yorkers once again to wonder just how high up police corruption might reach. Cocaine-riddled cops, blue-uniformed sadists, and see-no-evil superiors confessed crimes and shortcomings in excruciating detail. Reformers described lonely, futile efforts. Yet for all the candor, there was a dramatic silence — a dog that did not bark. 

Somehow, not a single person on the Mollen panel or at the witness table addressed the one institution that routinely defends cops accused of malfeasance and that blocks serious reform programs: the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. The Mollen Commission report, due this month, is expected to be equally silent on the role of the PBA in police corruption.

The 20,000 member union is so dominant and so brazen it can hold the city hostage if it sees fit, as it did last year when a PBA rally turned into a drunken riot, with thousands of police officers storming the steps of City Hall and blocking traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge. Mayor-elect Rudolph Giuliani’s proposed anticorruption endeavors won’t mean a thing if they don’t include the PBA’s influence in police affairs and in New York politics.

For the PBA, life is mostly a one-way street. Politicians kowtow to it, and taxpayer dollars provide most of its financing, yet PBA officials operate with virtually no accountability to the public, the police brass, or the union’s own rank and file. Meanwhile, inside the New York Police Department little gets done without tacit PBA approval — which is to say without the consent of its president, Phil Caruso, who refused to meet with the Mollen Commission. Now in his fourth four-year term and with no challenger in sight, Caruso has outlasted five police commissioners and two mayors. On January 1, president Caruso will see the inauguration of a third mayor, one the PBA strongly backed over incumbent David Dinkins, a man the union leadership despised and publicly challenged.

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Since 1980, when Caruso became the union’s head, the PBA has evolved into an all-but-invincible network. Much of the credit for the union’s ascent, and perhaps most of the blame for its worst impulses, goes to Richard Hartman, who from 1978 to 1991 served variously as the PBA’s lawyer, labor consultant, and insurance broker, and who continues to this day to have ties to the PBA’s law firm. Together, Caruso and Hartman shaped the once-complacent PBA, formed in 1894 to assist widows and orphans of slain police officers, into a potent, feared, and secretive organization. 

A year-long Voice investigation has uncovered a shameful history within the PBA, a litany of misdeeds and disturbing associations that raises fundamental questions about the values of the city’s police union leadership. Both Caruso and Hartman developed a practice of blatantly favoring their friends and punishing their enemies. The Caruso Hartman team has also demonstrated a willingness to associate with, and often act like, the very crooks police are supposed to arrest.

The Voice has learned:

  • Since Caruso and Hartman attained power in the PBA, law enforcement wiretaps have caught La Cosa Nostra figures bragging about their relationships with the two men. These gangsters included soldiers and associates of the Genovese and Luchese families. In addition, former Hartman associates told the Voice that Frank “Kiki” Testa, a retired sanitation worker who appeared to have ties to the Philadelphia mob, was for a period of time a menacing presence around the office where PBA legal matters were handled.
  • Caruso stood by as a gambling addiction engulfed Hartman and compromised the integrity of the union. Like so many compulsive gamblers, Hartman became both liar and thief as he piled up enormous losses in Atlantic City casinos. Besides improperly taking funds from a police officers’ escrow account — i.e. the officers’ own money — to feed his habit, Hartman turned to a loan shark and to clients who agreed to pay their bills in cash. In one instance, an associate with a criminal record delivered $250,000 in cash to Hartman’s Atlantic City hotel room, so the lawyer could get back to the craps tables. Many sources for this story believe that the millions Hartman blew at the gaming tables came mostly from the grossly inflated retainers, fees, and consulting contracts he received from Phil Caruso’s PBA.
  • Hartman relied on his close relationship with Senator Alfonse D’Amato and other friends in the Nassau County Republican machine to aid him in winning extremely generous contracts for clients. As a Nassau County supervisor, D’Amato intervened in labor talks on behalf of the Nassau Community College adjunct faculty. Hartman reciprocated by playing a vital role in D’Amato’s first successful race for the U.S. Senate. Among other things, Hartman allegedly funneled contributions through his staff. D’Amato later hired Hartman’s brother-in-law and eventually helped the man attain a judgeship, despite his lack of significant courtroom experience. The senator also assisted Hartman clients, including a felon, in efforts to get gun permits.

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  • By massaging the labor negotiating process in Nassau County, Hartman racked up huge salary gains for cops there. He then cited the Nassau contracts as fair precedents in getting concessions from New York City, concessions that benefited the PBA bureaucracy far more than New York’s police officers. Although Hartman had previously seen numerous associates charged with legal improprieties including two bosses, a coworker, and a law partner, he greased this process by providing gifts and favors to officials in Nassau county. Among other plums, certain county officials who favored Hartman were rewarded with well paid teaching jobs on the Nassau Community College adjunct faculty, a client of Hartman’s and a patronage pit.
  • Caruso transformed the modestly paid position of PBA counsel into a gold mine, paying Hartman millions of dollars a year and sending him millions more in referral business. Prior to Caruso’s election to president, the PBA spent a little above $1 million a year for legal representation, labor negotiations, and lobbying. By 1991, the PBA was spending more than $7.2 million for the same services. The huge bargaining budget had virtually no effect on the basic police officer’s salary, which at best has only kept pace with inflation. Others benefited greatly, however; Hartman poured contributions into Caruso’s campaigns for the PBA presidency and in 1981 gave Caruso a Jeep. According to investigative sources familiar with a 1988 Manhattan grand jury, convened to examine embezzlement in the union, the topic of cash kickbacks to a PBA official was also explored.
  • The PBA foiled investigations of police corruption. Before going to jail in 1985 for bribing witnesses not to testify against cops, Walter Cox, the PBA’s private investigator, recounted that he had been operating under explicit orders from superiors. More recently, a PBA precinct official tried to sidetrack initial police probes of renegade cop Michael Dowd. And law enforcement sources say the PBA also recently ruined a Bronx D.A./NYPD sting set up to snare crooked cops.

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  • After the Manhattan D.A. discovered that Hartman had raided the PBA members’ escrow fund to pay for gambling binges and got him to surrender his law license, Hartman turned right around and set up a cozy relationship with the PBA’s successor firm, Lysaght, Lysaght & Kramer. The new outfit, headed by Hartman’s former roommate, an ex-cop named James Lysaght, seamlessly took over the lucrative PBA account, moving into Hartman’s offices and retaining his staff. Several Hartman relatives are on the Lysaght payroll and his brother Elliott until recently has handled the firm’s bookkeeping, just as he did before the transition.  Furthermore, the Voice observed Lysaght holding a clandestine meeting with Hartman during the past year, one of a string of business discussions Hartman held in near empty parks on cold winter days. If legal matters were discussed, such a meeting would seem to violate Hartman’s agreement with the district attorney to get out of the PBA’s legal affairs.
  • Instead of firing Hartman for dipping into the escrow funds, Caruso continued to reward him. After Hartman gave up his law license, Caruso granted him another multi-million dollar compensation arrangement. Hartman became both a “labor consultant” to the PBA and the broker on an expensive new life insurance policy sold to PBA members, before handing the account off to the wives of PBA lawyers James Lysaght and Peter Kramer.
  • Caruso, his staff, and PBA accountants are decidedly cavalier in the way they handle the PBA’s huge cash flow — $63 million in annual contributions from the city, dues from PBA members, and income on assets. In every document filed with the government, one of the biggest line items is always “other,” which is rarely explained on supplemental sheets. In 1991, a whopping $6.6 million in expenses was lumped under “other.” That figure only hints at the overhead that the PBA carries today. Because of its extravagant administrative costs, and huge payouts to lawyers, lobbyists, and labor negotiators, the PBA’s expenses nearly equal the benefits it disburses to members—approximately $26 million. (See “The PBA’s Bloated Overhead,” page 28.) For United Way and other tax-exempt organizations, such spendthrift practices have recently triggered public outrage and forced resignations. So far, the PBA has successfully avoided virtually all inquiry and criticism.

WEARING EXPENSIVE tailored suits and a withering scowl, Phil Caruso is the face of the PBA, and to a large degree of the New York Police Department itself. Commuting from his home in Sayville Suffolk County, he encourages a hostile view of New York City, the notion that it’s nothing but an armed camp that issues nice paychecks. The same outlook informs the PBA’s 19 other executive board members, most of whom live in the suburbs. They’re all white, all male, and, though they don’t perform any police work, all collect taxpayer financed NYPD salaries and have generous PBA expense accounts. The next level down on the PBA hierarchy contains 364 delegates — virtually all white and male, most of them living in the suburbs.

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

Despite the PBA’s fundamental alienation from the city, the organization has become an increasingly potent local political force. Although it made no formal endorsement in the mayor’s race, its sympathies were obvious: Rudy Giuliani was the man. Giuliani joined Caruso at the infamous September 1992 City Hall police rally. The candidate screamed out one “Bullshit!” after another in his critique of Mayor David Dinkins, and Caruso told the mob, “The forces of evil are all around. They are trying to surround us. They are trying to defeat us.”

Ever since that rally-cum-mutiny, the PBA has championed Giuliani. As tallied by Shaun Assael and Wayne Barrett in the November 2 Voice, PBA-connected sources contributed $20,500 through a single bundler to Giuliani’s campaign, and many police officers worked as volunteers. Yet now that he’s moving into Gracie Mansion, the former prosecutor has to decide if he is willing to stand up to his PBA supporters. He’s sent out mixed signals so far: he pledged that, for the time being, he will leave alone the Dinkins-mandated civilian police review board, which the PBA is staunchly against.  But in a year, Giuliani warned, he will review the board’s performance “to see if officers are being treated fairly.”

More encouragingly, Giuliani has also called for the return of an independent special prosecutor to investigate police misconduct, a post Governor Mario Cuomo abolished in 1990. With the Mollen commission ready to issue its report and with Giuliani about to name his police commissioner, there has perhaps never been a better time for an independent prosecutor to look into police affairs, especially the inner workings of the PBA.

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Not that it will be easy. Almost every source the Voice approached in preparing this article was reluctant to speak. People intimately familiar with the PBA said they feared for their lives and those of their families if they talked.  As one person put it: “It would be suicidal for a police officer to speak out.”

After months of building trust and cultivating leads, however, the Voice persuaded many knowledgeable sources to reveal what they know. Interviewed were more than 100 people — many of them several times — including PBA employees and other law enforcement sources from New York City, Nassau County, New York State, New Jersey, and the federal government. Along with details drawn from stacks of documents and files, the insights of these administrators, investigators, police officers, attorneys, and other professionals enabled the Voice to piece together a portrait of an organization that operates above the law and without review.

Caruso himself refused to comment, declining repeated requests for an interview and saying  through a spokesman, “The Village Voice is anti-cop, anti-PBA, and anti-Phil Caruso.”

Attempts to contact Hartman were ignored or rebuffed. A prominent criminal defense attorney who has represented Hartman promised to relay the query, but no answer came back, and a phone message left with a woman at Hartman’s west side apartment was not returned. Neither did Hartman respond to letters mailed to him at all known addresses. As for the firm Lysaght, Lysaght & Kramer, which has taken over Hartman’s enormously profitable PBA work, both James Lysaght and Peter Kramer abruptly hung up the phone when the Voice called to request an interview. 

When the Voice telephoned the PBA office to ask how to get in touch with Hartman, a woman who refused to identify herself said, “He’s retired.” Then how do you reach him? “You don’t,” she snapped, ending the conversation. Hartman’s formal ties with the union may indeed have been severed, but a network of friends, relatives, and legal and business allies remains firmly in place.

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PHIL FOR PRESIDENT

FOR CLOSE TO A DECADE and a half, Phil Caruso and Richard Hartman have been the odd couple of police organizations.  Disheveled, charming, and compulsive, Hartman was the Nassau County conjurer who brought to the union political muscle, negotiating savvy and dubious associates. Manicured, reserved, and willful, Caruso was Hartman’s sponsor, bankroller, and enabler, feeding him larger and larger retainers and contract, and backing him with the unqualified, unquestioning support of the PBA. Together, using tax revenues they bargained for in the name of the cops on the street, Hartman and Caruso built a powerful, wired institution that stands virtually beyond scrutiny. 

The unlikely partnership began in 1977, with Hartman making a pitch for the New York PBA’s legal work and Caruso a bid for the PBA presidency. Hartman had just come from the patronage pit of Nassau County politics. A bright, energetic student at Long Beach High, he had scored in the top percentile on his college board exams. At New York Law School, he had been taught by none other than the notorious Roy Cohn, the Joe McCarthy aide whom Hartman would cite as a role model and who would be disbarred for improperly handling a client’s funds. Hartman went on to ace the bar exam, and presumably could have aimed high in the legal field, perhaps for a clerkship for the U.S. Supreme Court justice or a career in corporate law. Instead he descended into the mercenary, brawling world of Nassau County law and government. (See “Nassau’s GOP Affirmative action Machine”

Then, as now, Nassau politics had little to do with issues or ideas; it was all about power, getting ahead, and helping yourself, your family, and your friends. Throughout these early years, Hartman played protégé to a string of ethically challenged mentors. A Nassau D.A. he worked for went to jail for padding his expenses; a Suffolk district court judge for whom he worked was removed from the bench for improprieties ranging from fixing traffic tickets to advising a prostitute on how to avoid prosecution. 

Besides his intelligence, energy, and colorful presentation, Hartman could rely on the Nassau GOP machine, in which his father, a grocer and bookie, had been a party committeeman. Richard established early relations with the D’Amato brothers, Alfonse and Armand, friendships that later proved fruitful for all concerned. After taking over representation of the Nassau PBA, he began adding other police unions, including the Suffolk County PBA, and before long had an incredible stable of 300 client unions, most in law enforcement. Hartman’s connections, combined with his penchant for handing out tokens of his esteem to county officials, helped make the Nassau and Suffolk police the best paid in the country. Nassau officers currently earn a base pay of $52,229 after seven years of service. With overtime, some officers earn as much as $90,000 annually.

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While Hartman was first making a name for himself in suburban police labor negotiations, Philip Caruso was rising fast in New York City politics. After two years in the army and two years installing telephones, the young Brooklyn native had joined the NYPD in 1958 and served as a patrolman and plainclothes officer working 42nd Street. Caruso began his climb through the PBA hierarchy as a delegate, a sort of shop steward who represents the union in his precinct. In 1971, the PBA president elevated Caruso to sergeant-at-arms, the first rung of PBA leadership. 

Caruso stood out from day one. He spoke more eloquently than others. “The guys were hail fellows well met,” said Stuart Linnick, a former PBA attorney. “Phil was more dignified.” And he polished his resume by picking up a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in public administration from Pace University. Former colleagues recall that Caruso considered himself above, and was even embarrassed by, uneducated, inarticulate officers. 

In 1974, a slate of young policemen, including Caruso, ran unopposed, and were elected to slots on the executive board. In a typical display of bravado, Caruso immediately announced that in the 1977 election he would take on president Ken McFeeley. When ‘77 rolled around, Caruso’s platform included a promise: If elected, he would hire Long Island wunderkind Richard Hartman as the PBA’s attorney and negotiator. Hartman reciprocated by helping to finance Caruso’s run.

Though Caruso lost, narrowly, the rest of the slate prevailed. The top four officers below president Samuel DeMilia were Caruso allies. The group quickly staged a confrontation, hoping to force DeMilia to hire Hartman.

On December 30, 1977, DeMilia and the board met at his home. According to a contemporaneous memo written by DeMilia’s counsel, Harold Foner, “DeMilia stated that the opposition members of the Board led by [first vice president Charles] Peterson wanted Hartman retained… [I] emphatically told DeMilia not even to consider Hartman, that it was rationally stupid and untenable to retain a man who gave large sums of money to defeat him and who had actually campaigned against him.”

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On February 15, 1978, in a meeting at the PBA’s offices, Caruso’s executive board allies, including Charles Peterson, plus Hartman, met with Carmine Perrotta, the man who had been hired the previous August to handle the legal assistance plan. The group presented Perrotta with an ultimatum: step down. His back to the wall, Perrotta, whom the PBA was paying $47,500 a year, reluctantly agreed to a $100,000 buyout. The following day, at age 37, Richard Hartman became attorney and chief negotiator for the PBA, with an annual retainer of $750,000.

Two years later, in March 1980, DeMilia, suffering from eye cancer, resigned, elevating Charles Peterson to the position of acting PBA president. Hartman maintained a friendly demeanor with his ally Peterson, yet behind the scenes he was plotting the new president’s downfall in the June election. Sources said that between 1977 and 1980, Hartman pumped large sums into the PBA presidential elections, and though some of it went to Peterson, the bulk flowed secretly to Caruso. “Richie was smart enough to realize that Peterson wasn’t the politician Phil is,” a former Hartman staffer recalled. Hartman was not only observed as a Caruso bankroller but according to sources close to the elections, also fed Caruso information straight out of the Charlie Peterson camp. 

“Everything Peterson told Hartman, Hartman told Caruso,” according to former PBA spokesman George Douris, who was dismissed by Caruso in late 1980. In other words, to insure that Caruso would win, Hartman sucker punched Peterson. (In an odd twist, years later, after Peterson himself died of cancer, Hartman would wed the man’s daughter.)

The pattern of overthrowing friendships was hardly unique to Hartman. Caruso, too, saw pals as expendable if they got in his way. PBA vice president Nick Chiarkas, a man responsible for Caruso’s rise through the PBA ranks and one who urged him to pursue degrees at Pace University, paid dearly for his encouragement. Once Caruso secured the presidency, he dispensed with the older Chiarkas, who was known for his integrity. At the time, Chiarkas was retired from the force and working at the PBA as a civilian. When Chiarkas left the PBA, Caruso refused to allow Chiarkas to continue his medical insurance at his own expense.  When Chiarkas died of cancer in 1985, his wife and daughter were left to fend for themselves.

“That son of a bitch double-crossed me,” Chiarkas told a friend after being cut loose by Caruso. 

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FAVORS AND APPEARANCES 

IN 1980, WHEN Phil Caruso took the PBA helm — as its eighth president in 10 years — the triennial labor negotiations were already underway. Hartman and Caruso were so confident of doing well that the PBA team bragged before bargaining began about exactly what gains they would be attaining. They even discussed the need to drag the discussions on for the sake of appearance. During negotiations, PBA officials were upstairs in a hotel room partying. To help pass the time, a couple of them even enjoyed the favors of prostitutes, according to a source who said he personally brought the women to the hotel. 

Hartman was able to engineer increases in the form of complex benefit packages, which often benefited the union more than its members. But he was less successful in his efforts to force salary gains in the NYPD by pointing at rates he’d won on Long Island. Today, the base pay for a Nassau police officer stands almost $12,000 over that of a New York City officer. 

Still, Hartman couldn’t resist using unorthodox methods that had worked well on Long Island. A favorite ploy was developing warm relations with negotiators on the other side of the table. For example, former assistant labor relations commissioner Bob Pick told the Voice earlier this year that Hartman had come to Pick’s house to tutor his wife in math, and when he got too busy, sent over the head of Nassau Community College’s math department, Abe Weinstein. Asked about this, Weinstein said that he could not recall a Bob Pick, and that he did not do tutoring. Accepting such favors or gifts would be improper, according to Bruce McIver, the Office of Labor Relations director and the superior of these negotiators from 1980 to 1985: “You can’t let them buy you lunch, you can’t let them buy you tickets to the theater.” 

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If warming up bargaining opponents weren’t enough, Hartman also befriended neutral arbitrators. In 1976, while Hartman was unofficially advising the New York City firefighters union, arbitrator Eric Schmertz awarded a controversial, generous settlement. “My feeling was he had lost some of his impartiality,” said McIver. “My impression was he was favoring the fire union.” 

Schmertz nevertheless moved on to more prestigious posts, including that of dean of Hofstra Law School. One student who enrolled at Hofstra during that period was Phil Caruso’s daughter Lynda, who has since become a lawyer at the PBA’s law firm. (Schmertz later served as director of Mayor Dinkins’ Office of Labor Relations. In October he was nominated to the National Labor Relations Board, but told the Voice last week he had just withdrawn his name for “political considerations.”)

Right after winning the 1980 police contract, Caruso and Hartman faced another pressing task: moving Al D’Amato onto the national stage. The Nassau County supervisor, already close with law enforcement, bonded anew with police that August when he called a press conference to denounce a Nassau police department affirmative action plan, designed to answer a lawsuit that challenged the makeup of the force, 97 per cent white and male. Immediately thereafter, the Nassau PBA endorsed D’Amato’s Senate bid, in which he was contesting the seat of fellow Republican Jacob Javits.

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Hartman and his associates went into high gear.  “His election came up. We dropped everything,” a Hartman staffer remembered. Hartman called his clients for donations to D’Amato’s campaign. He also, according to a onetime employee, gave cash to some staffers to donate in order to circumvent contribution limits. 

“Richie was pulling [D’Amato’s] strings,” said a former associate. “Al knew he needed Richie for the campaign contributions and all the clout Richie had. He represented 200 police organizations at the time. D’Amato got every single police department endorsement when he ran. That’s a hell of a base to start with.” 

So close were the two that Hartman loaned his driver to the supervisor to ferry his family to the 1980 Conservative Party convention at the Diplomat Hotel in Manhattan. Hartman’s driver did other errands for D’Amato during the campaign, even babysitting his kids during the victory celebration at the Hempstead Marriott. 

After D’Amato won, he gave a job on his Senate staff to Hartman’s brother-in-law, Bruce Alpert, who was married to Hartman’s sister Lynn and worked as Hartman’s office manager. Alpert’s job largely involved fund raising. With D’Amato’s assistance, Alpert later won a judgeship, which raised a few eyebrows. “You should have a little trial experience, a day or two at least,” joked a former cop who knew Alpert. Reached by the Voice, Alpert said that he had tried cases as a lawyer, but could cite no specifics. 

In 1987, D’Amato also sought judicial robes for Robert Roberto, a former colleague of Hartman’s in the Nassau D.A.’s office, recommending him for a federal judgeship. Roberto’s confirmation was sunk when it was revealed during hearings that he had once carried out his own sting on a prostitute in which he arrested the 16-year-old after she masturbated him. He voluntarily withdrew his nomination. Roberto nevertheless went on to win an appointment to the state supreme court, with D’Amato’s backing.

D’Amato’s image as Senator Pothole extended beyond judgeships to small but potentially deadly favors. For instance, D’Amato helped get a pistol license for Raymond David Tse, a controversial Chinatown businessman, restaurateur, and Hartman client who in 1988 would kill a young gang member in his office. At his 1991 trial, where he was represented by a non-Hartman lawyer, Tse argued that he fired 18 shots in self defense. He was acquitted. 

And when Hartman was representing boxing promoter Don King, D’Amato intervened in an effort to get King a pistol permit, despite the fact that he had served four years for manslaughter after he beat a man to death. Felons are generally prohibited from owning weapons, and the police denied the permit.

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THE PBA’S FINEST

THE CARUSO HARTMAN ERA ushered in some new faces at the PBA. One figure with a troubled past was Gary Melius. As a young thug, he’d met Hartman and gone on to work his way into the union’s circle of friends.

In 1963, the teenaged Melius and three friends had offered a ride to a young man who had been waiting for a bus, then choked him and robbed him of $40. The following year, Melius was convicted of malicious mischief — six months, suspended sentence. In 1971, he and James C. Mileo, a 40-year-old Nassau County patrolman, were arrested in an attempted $1000 shakedown of a narcotics courier, a young woman caught with a pound of heroin in her car. She said she didn’t have the money, so the patrolman ordered her to go get it. When she returned, Melius, who worked as a general contractor, was there to receive it. Perhaps the scheme would have been successful if the woman had not been an undercover police officer.

When Melius was arrested after driving off with the money, attorney Richard Hartman represented him. He had Melius plea bargain to third degree grand larceny, and to the great relief of the young builder, Hartman turned a potential 15-year sentence into three years probation and a $1000 fine. “[Hartman] always inferred he was a connected guy,” Melius said in a Voice interview.

Melius was later arrested for his role in a “steal to order” business that delivered hot tractor trailers and construction equipment on request. The ringleader was a young woman connected with organized crime figures. Melius was charged with grand larceny, and Hartman again got the charge reduced to a misdemeanor and probation.

Subsequently, Melius moved the office of his small construction company into the ground floor of Hartman’s dumpy two story building at 300 Old Country Road in Mineola; Hartman’s law firm occupied the upstairs. Melius began chumming around with the attorney and before long was both a personal aide and social pal.

“I just hung out with him,” Melius said. “We went to the movies. We went to the racetrack, to Roosevelt, to Nathan’s.”

By 1975, the two had become such fast friends that Hartman sold 300 Old Country Road to Melius for $250,000. Melius said he paid the entire sum two years later. Subsequently, Melius demolished the building and constructed a sleek three story professional office condominium complex, which he sold for a huge profit.

In 1979, law enforcement officials again took an interest in Melius. This time, investigators for the Manhattan D.A.’s office came upon his name while following checks written by loan shark Teddy Moss, operating from the garment district. One such check, for $25,000, had gone to Gary Melius

When the $25,000 check surfaced, investigators summoned Melius to their offices. “Once he saw that check he literally took off,” one investigator said. “He fled out the door.” Ten minutes later, Richard Hartman called the investigator to quiz him as to what he wanted with his friend. Melius, who does not recall the meeting in the D.A.’s office, but does remember a phone call, said he told the investigator that the money from Moss was a loan.

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The loan shark was a familiar figure: back in the ’60s, Moss had been a principal prosecution witness in the Crazy Joey Gallo trial. He’d worn a wire and gotten protection from the D.A. because Gallo wanted to kill him. But by this time, Moss’s days of cooperation with law enforcement officials seemed long over.

Prosecutors suspected Moss’s check to Melius was a means of laundering illicit profits. And though Moss pled guilty to criminal usury (charging 69 per cent interest) and paid a $45,000 fine in 1980, an investigator on the case feels it was not Moss’s idea: “Somebody told him, ‘You better plead or this thing is going blow up in people’s faces.'”

Soon after Phil Caruso’s election to the PBA presidency, the ubiquitous Melius entertained the policeman and his family on Hartman’s yacht Big Bart. (The name was Melius’s moniker for Hartman, drawn from a dirty joke about a pig.) “Richard bought the boat for entertaining, especially to take Phil out,” Melius recalled.

The PBA boss put Melius to work handling production of the union’s magazine, New York’s Finest. “That was Phil’s idea,” said Melius, who coordinated ad sales and got to keep some of the revenues. Prodigious spending on printing and advertising was a pre-Caruso PBA tradition; hiring publishing consultants with criminal records was something new. Though it is not clear whether Caruso knew of Melius’s history, one would assume he hadn’t checked. And Melius and the Carusos were decidedly friendly, even attending a Lincoln Center concert together.

“Phil was sickeningly obsequious with Gary,” said one associate. 

CRAPPING OUT

Most people who gamble don’t really want anyone to know what they are doing. Most of them will lie about what they had for breakfast. Compulsive gamblers who are down on their luck steal 90, 95 per cent of the time.
— Bill, Gamblers Anonymous

OUTSIDE OF WORK, Hartman had only one pleasure: dice. His father, the grocer and politico, had tripled as a bookie, so Richard’s obsession with gambling was not entirely surprising. Early in his career, according to acquaintances, Hartman had wagered heavily, then eased off. But in September 1980, only a few months after Phil Caruso won the PBA presidency, Hartman opened what appears to be his first line of credit in Atlantic City, at Caesars. Over the next several years, he opened credit lines at eight different casinos. 

Hartman was enthralled by the craps tables and would stay at them far too long. In one night in 1983 at Bally’s Park Place, for example, he lost $667,500. “It irritated the hell out of him that he couldn’t beat the system,” a former associate said. 

As a man who rarely bothered with a good night’s sleep, Hartman was a natural for the casino environment. He was also the ideal casino client. One night in Atlantic City, Hartman had $5000 on the table. He turned to a companion and asked him to roll the dice. “I kept rolling sevens and elevens, and the stack of chips kept getting bigger and bigger,” the companion recalled. When the winnings began to pile up, he suggested stopping, but Hartman urged him on. The next toss crapped out — one roll, $148,000. “Typical degenerate crapshooter,” a high ranking casino official recalled when asked about Hartman. 

As they commonly do, casinos tripped over themselves to offer the big time spender loads of perks, beginning with complimentary rooms, even ones he could pass on to friends. In the mid ’80s, when his former PBA cohort Charlie Peterson was being treated for cancer near Philadelphia, Hartman suggested to the ailing cop’s daughter, Patricia, that during her hospital visits she stay in one of his comps in Atlantic City, not far from Philly. Patricia, a Long Island Rail Road cop, seemingly unaware that the lawyer had betrayed her father in the 1980 PBA presidency campaign, started seeing Hartman in October 1986. He lavished her with expensive gifts. Within a month, she asked her husband, a New York City police officer with whom she had a rocky marriage, for a divorce. 

Hartman’s cash flow was like a torrent. It came in fast and went out faster. Like most obsessive gamblers, Hartman was always short of funds. 

Often, sidekick Gary Melius was with him in Atlantic City, but even when he wasn’t, Hartman might desperately summon him. An acquaintance remembered overhearing an imploring call: “Richie kept saying, ‘C’mon Gary, c’mon’ like, jokingly, but he was really begging for money.” 

A couple of hours after one such plea, Melius arrived in Atlantic City, having been flown down on a private plane from Nassau County’s Republic Airport. He came directly to Hartman’s casino penthouse carrying a bag crammed with cash. “He opened it up and emptied the money onto the bed,” recalled another person in the room. “Two hundred fifty grand. I had never seen that much fuckin’ money.” 

Melius, who confirmed the incident and the amount, said he got the money out of Hartman’s bank, Irving Trust, where he routinely cashed sizable checks, made out to “Cash,” from the attorney’s business account. (Hartman, always preferring cash, apparently did not maintain a personal bank account.) Melius also made deposits there, as much as $300,000 at a time. An Irving Trust vice president personally fussed over Hartman’s account. 

Much of Hartman’s gambling money was, of course, New York City tax revenue that had gone to the PBA and out to Hartman. His PBA retainer had grown to $1.2 million, but even that was not enough. Some funds apparently came from the aforementioned Teddy Moss, who Melius says he has known for many years. Besides his loan sharking enterprise, Moss is said to own pizza parlors, a Chinese restaurant, movie theaters, bowling alleys, and a First Avenue card shop. 

During Hartman’s casino meltdown, according to a former Hartman associate, a courier picked up sizable amounts of cash several times over a two month period, sometimes from Teddy Moss’s Chinese restaurant. Reached by phone recently, Moss volunteered that he had accompanied Hartman on several visits to Atlantic City, but denied ever loaning him money, beyond what he described as “car fare” for the millionaire lawyer to get back to New York.

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Hartman was close enough with Moss to have his driver pick up Moss’s daughters and take them to the airport for a trip to Europe and one to Israel. Even when the driver began working for Phil Caruso, if Melius or Hartman asked that the chauffeur handle airport runs for Moss, he would do so. Moss said he met Caruso on one or two occasions. 

Clearly, Hartman had lost control of himself. He even started lying to those who had previously accompanied him to Atlantic City, denying where he was headed. Instead of summoning his driver, he began taking private flights from Republic Airport. Eventually, morale in his Queens office deteriorated, along with its finances. One week in 1983, the paychecks actually bounced. 

Eventually, Hartman finances fell into such disarray that he ceded Melius almost total control over his monetary affairs. For a short period during the early ’80s, Melius controlled all of Hartman’s business bank accounts, personally handling the money himself. 

By early 1984, following a three-month craps binge, Hartman had defaulted on $700,000 in gambling debts. At Hartman’s prompting, Melius wrote a letter to casinos urging them to allow Hartman to settle. The attorney ended up paying just 42 cents on the dollar to Bally’s, the Golden Nugget, Caesars, the Sands, and Resorts International. 

Why was Melius doing Hartman’s deals? “Richard couldn’t negotiate his own deals,” Melius said, insisting Hartman’s publicly acclaimed bargaining prowess is much exaggerated. 

It was around this time, when Hartman’s gambling put him into a financial tailspin, that Frank “Kiki” Testa, a retired West Hempstead sanitation worker, began hanging out in Hartman’s office. Testa, the father-in-law of a Melius high school chum, was a man with a menacing aura. 

A staffer in Hartman’s office got the impression that Testa was there to keep watch over the operation. One former associate recalled seeing Testa in Atlantic City with Hartman on several occasions. Testa had confided to a handful of Hartman associates that he was a member of the Angelo Bruno organization in Philadelphia — a Philip Testa ran that family for several years — and that he had killed quite a few people. Melius, for his part, had told an associate that he himself was connected with the mob.

In an early Voice interview, Melius said his claims about being in the mob were inventions intended to impress people. In a subsequent conversation, he denied ever making the claim: “That is very inaccurate.” Such a boast would indeed seem particularly misplaced since he was hanging out at the office of a police union. He couldn’t provide a satisfactory explanation of why Testa would have been spending time with Hartman, though he did allow that Testa could have had mob ties: “I’d believe that he knew people.”

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While Testa was around, “Gary didn’t say so much as boo,” said a Hartman associate. “When Kiki came into the office people were very uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable.” One young Hartman assistant remembers Testa offering him a word of advice, drawled out with exquisite meaning: “You know, working with Richie, you’re in a verrrry sensitive position.” 

That was a lesson Melius himself soon learned. Hartman had come to believe that Melius, having access to Caruso, had become such a presence that he was a threat. Also, as Hartman’s gambling made him more dependent on Melius, the contractor appeared to lose respect for his onetime mentor. Hartman quietly began working to oust him, making sure that all the top PBA officers knew the full extent of Melius’s criminal record. The conspiracy did its work. By mid-1984, Melius had been eased out the door, never realizing that it was his growing clout in the office that had done him in. 

Yet even after Melius was pushed away from the PBA, Hartman had one more request. By 1985, the lawyer was so desperate for cash that he decided to ask former associates to rejoin his ranks in order to recapture clients that he had voluntarily relinquished years before. 

“He wanted me to talk to them, and I wouldn’t do it,” said Melius, explaining that he had tired of serving as Hartman’s point man on such assignments and that this refusal was the last  time he spoke to Hartman. 

In his interview with the Voice, Melius confirmed his crimes prior to his friendship with Hartman. But he argued that for quite a few years now he has been a decent family man, with a respectable reputation. In a November 23 letter to the Voice, Melius writes, “I have spent my adult life establishing myself as a business man whose word is his bond and a responsible member of the community.”

Indeed, Melius was featured on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous in 1986 as the owner of an estate in Cold Spring Hills, Long Island, a 120,000-square-foot palace, the second largest private residence in America. Formerly known as the Otto Kahn Castle (or Oheka), it had been built in 1917. Melius purchased it in 1984, fixed it up, and sold it in 1988 for $22 million to a Japanese businessman who insisted on a no-publicity clause. Today, Melius has sizable developments throughout Long Island. 

Of his earlier activities, including his association with Hartman and the PBA, the 49-year-old Melius has regrets: “I was trying to hang out with what I thought were the good guys — lawyers, law enforcement. I would have done better with the bad guys.” 

Without Melius, Hartman still managed to finance new excursions to Atlantic City, judging by a civil suit the state of New Jersey filed against Trump’s Castle for having allegedly violated state gaming laws in authorizing Hartman credit. On September 17, 18, and 19, 1987, Hartman cashed three separate checks at the casino, each for $500,000. Then, on September 22, he arrived at Trump’s Castle with a certified check for $817,000 later identified as the money from the New York City police officers’ housing escrow fund. He went on to lose much of this money shooting craps. From October 12 to October 14, 1987, also at Trump’s Castle, he would blow $475,000. A few days later, on October 17, the Castle raised the high roller’s nearly exhausted $500,000 credit line to $1 million, approved by Ivana Trump via a phone consultation. That day he lost another $541,000. This pattern was typical: he’d bet a couple million dollars, some of it his own money, some not. Apparently, he always knew there was more to be had. 

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Given Hartman’s gambling fever and the presence of Melius and Testa, perhaps mob connected figures could be forgiven for thinking they had a friend at the union. On two occasions, law enforcement officials listening to wiretaps heard the names of the PBA president and counsel being bandied about by organized crime figures. While listening to a September 3, 1985, phone conversation between Genovese soldier Federico “Fritzy” Giovanelli and Harry Dickran, a friend and associate, FBI agents and city detectives were startled to hear the PBA president referred to with great familiarity. (See Streetbeat, William Bastone, Voice, October 13, 1992.) 

Dickran told Giovanelli he was worried about having been followed and surveilled on Friday afternoons as he met with associates in a Long Island restaurant. According to the FBI audio tape, Giovanelli then asked, “What kind of car? Take the plate number.” Dickran responded with the number. “I’m gonna give it to the PBA to track it down. You know, I’ll get it from Phil, Phil Caruso. He’ll take care of that for me.” 

Caruso wasn’t unique in this respect. Starting around 1983, Hartman reportedly spent time at Roosevelt Raceway with Jerry Corallo, the son of mob heavy Antonio “Tony Ducks” Corallo (now in jail). A law enforcement bug, placed in a Jaguar, picked up a conversation between Tony Ducks, former boss of the Luchese family, and Sal Avellino, a Luchese soldier. The two were worried about being watched. 

Corallo: “I’m going to have Jerry check with that guy.” 

Avellino: “You mean Richie, Richie Hartman?”

Corallo: “Yeah. He hangs out with Jerry at Roosevelt racetrack.” 

According to Melius, the relationship didn’t end with the son. He claimed Hartman personally knew Tony Ducks and was in fact Tony Ducks’s attorney. 

That the PBA’s president and lawyer would be cited as helpful contacts by organized crime figures seems especially noteworthy in light of the access the PBA has always enjoyed at police headquarters. Corruption investigators confirm that any information from the police would be extremely useful for criminals, especially those involved in the numbers racket, an activity that the department closely monitors. Requests from PBA officials for sensitive NYPD files could be couched as PBA business. According to one former PBA official, “We could pull out any piece of paper in the police department and look at it.” 

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HARTMAN FALLS, HARTMAN RISES 

IN SPRING 1988, Phil Caruso and Richard Hartman were at the top of their professions. Caruso was king of the cops, and Hartman his legal magician, racing hither and yon, negotiating contracts, getting cops out of trouble. The previous year, Hartman himself had filled out a form declaring estimated annual earnings of $6 million; a highly placed prosecutorial source told the Voice that his actual income, including referrals, probably topped $10 million and may even have approached $20 million in some years. A large chunk of his money came from his PBA work and related referrals, and the rest primarily from other unions representing housing and corrections officers. 

Suddenly, though, the two men found themselves on the defensive. A Manhattan grand jury wanted to know why Hartman had withdrawn $817,000 in 1987 from a police officers’ real estate escrow account — which held for safekeeping the payments PBA members made in the process of buying a home — and cashed a check for that exact amount at Trump Castle in Atlantic City. 

Hartman explained, in testimony to insurance investigators two years later, that “to avoid the embarrassment with all the attorneys in the office, of taking funds out of the regular operating account and making it out to a casino, I would take it from the escrow account, which was in my sole province…”

Caruso, called to testify, backed his friend, insisting that Hartman’s unorthodox dipping was okay because the PBA owed him money anyway. Caruso even said he had authorized the “advance,” and other ranking trustees testifying before the grand jury said they, too, had known about and approved the invasion of the escrow account. 

Investigators told the Voice they were amazed that Caruso had authorized the withdrawal from the escrow account; it was even more startling that a number of ranking PBA officers would condone the removal. In any event, it was surprising that Caruso, who had turned the PBA into a virtual fiefdom and was privately referred to as the “dictator,” would feel the need to consult with his board members on the sensitive matter. 

Although District Attorney Robert Morgenthau’s office believed that the PBA charter did not permit Caruso’s authorization for Hartman’s withdrawals, Morgenthau felt he had no choice but to abandon the prosecution. “All funds removed from escrow accounts by Mr. Hartman were repaid before the investigation began,” Morgenthau announced, “and there is no evidence of any harm to any client. The investigation is now closed.” Instead, Morgenthau settled for the forfeiture of Hartman’s law license.

Hartman later told department of insurance examiners, “I resigned [my legal license] because after one year of investigation and making the newspapers I thought I embarrassed everybody enough…”

In deciding not to press for an indictment, Morgenthau was following New York State law pertaining to embezzlement, requiring the existence of a “victim” and either the intent not to repay the lifted funds or the inability to do so. Apparently, when the D.A.’s office launched its investigation, senior staffers had no idea how much money Hartman was earning. In fact, they were stunned to learn his income.

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Notwithstanding the D.A.’s rationale, some law enforcement figures found the whole affair curious. “What made it unusual was that Hartman was able to plea bargain before the grand jury could issue an indictment,” New Jersey deputy attorney general Kevin O’Toole told the Voice.

It didn’t hurt that Hartman’s negotiator was Michael Armstrong. After serving in the early ’70s as counsel to the Knapp Commission on police corruption, Armstrong had built a lucrative practice handling high profile white collar criminal defenses, like that of disgraced Queens borough president Donald Manes. Armstrong had also become a close personal friend and adviser to Hartman’s ally, Senator D’Amato, and would later serve as his counsel during Senate ethics investigations. 

Although the D.A. decided he couldn’t bring criminal charges against Hartman, Armstrong, who had worked under Morgenthau when Morgenthau ran the U.S. Attorney’s office, presumably couldn’t save Hartman’s law license. Under the lawyer’s code of professional ethics, dipping into escrow accounts is grounds for disbarment, even without an indictment. So by conceding the license without a fight, perhaps Armstrong (who wouldn’t comment on the case) was foreclosing the possibility that the D.A. would develop something more serious on his client. Information from sources close to the grand jury indicates that prosecutors were probing the broader nature of Hartman and Caruso’s relationship, including the possibility that Hartman had improperly channeled gifts to Caruso — such as the Jeep that undeniably ended up in the PBA president’s driveway, wrapped in a red bow. Prosecutors were also said to have quizzed witnesses on a variety of names associated with organized crime. 

One thing was certain: Hartman came out of the proceedings with his reputation sullied. But no sooner had Hartman’s resignation from the bar been announced than a PBA spokesman rushed to his defense, declaring: “Richie will always have a role with the New York City PBA.” 

In short order, the PBA awarded Hartman a labor consulting contract worth a staggering $2 million a year. As if that weren’t enough, three months later Hartman decided on an insurance career, selling the PBA supplemental term life policies and earning himself a fat $2.2 million commission. The extravagant brokerage deal would be virtually concealed from the public and PBA members until 1992, when an accountant working for Hartman sued him and the dispute opened previously hidden financial papers. 

In other words, Caruso had presented Hartman with a magnificent golden parachute. But where was the money going? It seemed a fair question, because shortly after winning his new contract, Hartman began to pass cash around as lavishly as ever. In a single day, for example, Hartman wrote out eight different checks to “Cash” for a total of $20,000.

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THE HARTMAN HAND OFF

BY FALL 1988, Richard Hartman had become a huge embarrassment to the PBA. To be sure, he had won concessions from Ed Koch’s city hall; he had helped Phil Caruso build one of the most powerful and intimidating organizations in the city; and he had made them all a great deal of money. But the public gambling, the bad debts, the indiscreet cash payments, and the open associations with the likes of Teddy Moss, Gary Melius, “Kiki” Testa, and Jerry Corallo was getting to be too much, even for Hartman’s friend Phil Caruso. 

But what exactly could Caruso do? What could any PBA official do? When Robert Morgenthau’s grand jury began to investigate Hartman’s looting of the police escrow account, the union president and his lieutenants had little choice but to back him. Whatever had really gone down around the missing $817,000, Caruso (testifying under immunity) and his officers trooped before the grand jurors and backed their wunderkind attorney. They knew what Hartman had done, they testified, and they had approved it. 

“There’s no question Phil told the trustees to say they had authorized it,” said an investigative source familiar with the grand jury. If they had, it would have been an extraordinary betrayal of their membership.

“At the point Hartman got fucked up on the gambling, do you think they could throw him to the wolves?” asked former police sergeant Robert Hughes, who headed the NYPD’s 1980 sick leave abuse prevention operation and therefore became a PBA nemesis. “Hartman knew everything,” Hughes told the Voice. “It was the same concept as J. Edgar Hoover: ‘I have so much on everybody, all you can do is pay me.’ ” 

When Caruso did just that, naming Hartman upon his resignation from the bar to the highly paid labor consultant position, the question became: What would happen to Hartman’s lucrative PBA legal business? The solution was simple: Caruso hired Hartman’s good friends at Lysaght, Lysaght & Kramer. In a remarkably smooth transfer, the small Lysaght firm moved into Hartman’s office on Horace Harding Expressway, in Queens (to which he had moved from Mineola years earlier). The name plates were changed, but Hartman’s staff of attorneys and secretaries remained virtually intact. Over time, the Lysaght firm’s payroll would include Hartman’s mother-in-law Mary Peterson, his sister Lynn, and his brother Elliott, who has done the firm’s bookkeeping. Phil Caruso’s daughter Lynda Caruso Nicolino is currently an attorney at the Lysaght firm. 

The firm had been founded by James I. Lysaght, who went on to become a village judge. When the firm took over the PBA account, it had two senior partners. One was former Nassau cop James J. Lysaght. The younger Lysaght had shared an apartment with Hartman and was widely considered the office’s public face. The other partner was Peter Kramer, whom most people regard as the firm’s workhorse. 

Hartman had been dealing with Lysaght, Lysaght & Kramer long before 1988. For years, he had been referring personal injury cases to the firm, in return for referral commissions. Many of the cases came via his work representing the PBA. These were among the referrals that the prosecutorial source included while estimating that Hartman’s annual income could have been as high as $20 million.

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A TALK IN THE PARK 

IN AUDITS OF the New York City housing police PBA, which was headed by Caruso buddy Jack Jordan, city officials discovered that Richard Hartman had received $60,000 in improper advance payments.  

In 1991, after 16 years in office, Jordan was decisively trounced by a reform slate. The new president, Timothy Nickels, accused Jordan of making another unauthorized payment, this one for $50,000 to Lysaght, Lysaght & Kramer, issued on Jordan’s last day in office. No paperwork could be found to explain the expense.

Upon taking over the housing PBA presidency, one of Nickels’s first actions was to drop Lysaght as the union’s law firm and fire Hartman as its bargaining adviser. The union has confirmed that its annual legal costs immediately dropped 50 percent. 

In rejecting Hartman, the housing police were the exception. While that union’s reformers were moving away from the Lysaght firm and Hartman, other police groups were cozying up. One example is the 1500 member New York City Sergeants Benevolent Association, the bargaining unit that recently pulled out of the Superior Officers Council, which represents ranks above patrolman. The SBA, which controlled most of the council’s money, is being wooed by Caruso and represented by Lysaght, Lysaght & Kramer. Over at the transit police union, for the first couple of years after the surrender of his law license, Hartman served as labor consultant. Lysaght provided, and still provides, legal services there. 

Indeed, Lysaght, Lysaght & Kramer is the dominant law firm in the world of police unions, a status it clearly owes to Hartman. “I believe they are out to monopolize all business from all unions in this city,” said a high ranking union official. 

During the past two years Hartman’s formal role with these organizations has been almost entirely ceded to Lysaght, yet the link has apparently not been broken. In March, the Voice observed Hartman leave his temporary home at the Gramercy Park Hotel and approach a car registered to James Lysaght. He asked its driver and sole occupant, “We’re going to the park?” They then drove to Stuyvesant Park, which was nearly empty on an extremely cold, damp day. There, the two pulled out a cellular phone and engaged in lengthy consultations. “How many files in the account? … How much volume are we talking about?” Hartman was overheard asking. 

Since his supposed retirement from working with the PBA and other unions, Hartman has developed a fondness for meetings in parks, even in the poorest weather. And on occasion, Hartman has been seen leaving his home and walking a number of blocks, then suddenly getting into a waiting car. In August he was observed climbing into a vehicle registered to Teamsters Local 237. Until recently, Local 237 was run by Hartman’s good friend Barry Feinstein, who was forced to resign in April when federal investigators found that he had misused more than $500,000 in union funds. Recently, Feinstein has been under investigation by the state for his own insurance brokering arrangement. 

If Hartman’s new career in labor consulting was designed to be profitable, selling insurance would be equally so. Affiliating with Met Life in 1989, Hartman became the PBA’s broker and agent for a new insurance plan to supplement coverage that members already had. Hartman, and later James Lysaght, were also instrumental in passing special legislation in Albany that made it easy for tens of thousands of PBA retirees to buy such extra insurance as well. By signing up once, members could have premiums automatically deducted from their pension checks. 

[related_posts post_id_1=”716582″ /]

Hartman handled his Met Life commissions in a curious way; he immediately wrote a series of small checks to “Cash.” Over the course of two days, upon receiving a check for $550,000 from Met Life, he wrote out three checks to “Cash” for $9500 and 16 more for $2500. This pattern of keeping transactions below $10,000 would be repeated when Hartman received checks from his Chicago commodities broker, Gerald Inc. On October 12, 1990, Gerald issued Hartman three checks, each for $9500. In the final week of that month, the firm issued four more checks, again for $9500 each. And two months later, one more for the same amount. 

The suspicion, which would be raised by Hartman’s own accountant in the course of a bitter, still pending civil suit (the accountant argued that Hartman did not repay him loans he had extended Hartman to cover his escrow pilferage), was that Hartman was trying to hide his income, and specifically to avoid the Bank Secrecy Act, which requires the reporting of all cash transactions of 6,000 or more. The law also bars the intent of getting around the limit by exactly such devices as Hartman seemed to employ. (By way of response, Hartman in his affidavit did not explain his writing checks to “Cash” that slip in just under the reporting limit, other than to say: “There is nothing illegal per se about making withdrawals in amounts under $10,000… I categorically deny ever having violated or intending to violate the said federal regulation.”) 

Hartman would stay with Met Life into 1991. Then the PBA’s insurance work was transferred to an insurance brokerage called Deblin Planners, which had gotten its license shortly before. The firm, interestingly, is a partnership between Deborah Martz Lysaght, wife of James Lysaght, and Linda Nunziato, wife of Peter Kramer. Met Life currently lists Deblin as the PBA’s broker. The Voice has obtained a copy of a $100,000 check that Linda Nunziato Kramer wrote to Hartman on March 12, 1991. In the check’s memo space is the word “Installment,” though it is not clear what the compensation was for. Around the same time, Nunziato’s partner Deborah Martz Lysaght also made a $50,000 payment to Hartman. 

Currently, according to Met Life, Deblin represents the New York City Sergeants Benevolent Association; the New York City Superior Officers Association; the New York City Transit PBA; the New York City Housing PBA; the Stamford, Connecticut, Police Association; and Barry Feinstein’s old union, Teamsters Local 237 — all former Hartman insurance clients. 

In 1992, the state department of insurance began its second of two examinations of Hartman’s fitness as a broker in light of his dicey financial background. The state took no action against Hartman. In the previous year Hartman’s labor consultancies had started expiring, including the $165,000-a-month agreement with Caruso’s PBA and a $12,500-a-month agreement with the New York Transit PBA. Now some of his insurance contracts were winding down. Several presidents of police unions, including Caruso, wrote letters to assure the state that Hartman’s commissions were deserved and, moreover, wholly unrelated to his former legal and labor relations work. A few noted that Hartman had even waived commissions so that the unions could offer rebates to their memberships. Assuming this was true, Hartman’s generosity began after he had pocketed millions of front loaded commissions that could also have gone toward substantially reducing PBA members’ premiums. 

Hartman’s apparent relinquishment of those accounts would conform to his pattern of establishing business relationships, then passing them on to friends and associates. While it’s unclear exactly what compensation, if any, Hartman continues to receive from the accounts he has handed off, the insurance business did enable him to get back to the craps table, despite a 1988 assurance from his lawyer to the D.A. that Hartman was seeking help for his gaming addiction. 

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In February of 1990 Hartman told a state examiner from the department of insurance that he had put his gambling problems behind him. He said he had been attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings two or three times a week for two years and had also sought psychiatric help. “I haven’t bought a lottery ticket since [the escrow account invasion] either.” 

Before the year was out, however, Hartman suffered a relapse. In the final weekend of 1990, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer article on casino profits, he arrived in Atlantic City with a cashier’s check for more than half a million dollars. That month, other financial papers of Hartman’s confirm, he received a $550,000 commission check from Met Life. Caesars and Harrah’s allowed Hartman to wager the proceeds, despite his outstanding $2 million debt to Trump Plaza and Trump Castle. (Merv Griffin’s Resorts Casino had already written off $500,000.) Shooting craps at Harrah’s over four days, Hartman won $600,000. 

Perhaps that marked a shift for the better in Hartman’s luck. If so, he needed it. By 1990, Harman was paying the IRS $105,000 a month to settle outstanding unpaid taxes; in October 1991, the payments dropped to $100,000 a month. Apparently he kept current on these payments, and even somehow managed to have more than a half a million dollars left over to risk in Atlantic City. 

As he has done in the past, much in the mold of the late Roy Cohn, Hartman continues to live on a cash basis despite his substantial income, with practically no credit trail or attachable assets. He and his wife, Patricia, have no personal checking or savings accounts, no credit cards, no vehicles, and no listed property ownership. Alimony checks from Patricia’s ex-husband are deposited by Hartman’s sister, mother-in-law, or by the Lysaght firm. Hartman’s mail goes to a house in Merrick, Long Island, inhabited by his sister Lynn and aforementioned brother-in-law, Bruce Alpert, a state supreme court judge. Reached at his office, Alpert said he could not confirm the arrangement because both the mail and family finances are handled exclusively by his wife. Despite a promise from Alpert to ask his wife to call the Voice, she did not. The Alperts’ home number is unlisted and the judge would not provide it. He did, however, confirm that for a time Lynn had a job at the Lysaght firm. “She was a paralegal, I guess you could call it.”

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 PRESIDENT FOR LIFE?

 Phil Caruso is more difficult to get to than the mayor or the president.
— Eric Adams, president of the black officers’ association, the Guardians

IF THE CARUSO REIGN has been longstanding and omnipotent, the police commissionership has been ephemeral and constricted. “The turnover in the police department administration is so rapid, that nobody knows the whole story,” former NYPD investigator Robert Hughes said. “And nobody wants to know. They are afraid of them.”

Even within the union, Caruso’s only rival was J. Patrick “Paddy” Burns, until recently the first vice president and a man known for his expensive tastes. For whatever reason, however, Burns didn’t challenge Caruso. Perhaps he merely lost his ambition. “Paddy Burns didn’t do any work while I was there,” Gary Melius said. “He played golf.” (Efforts to interview Burns were unsuccessful, though on one occasion he returned a call but left no number.) 

In 1991, when Burns was replaced as second in command by Caruso aide decamp Thomas Velotti, Burns was transferred to Albany as the PBA’s principal lobbyist. As lobbyist, he received $50,000 a year, which, combined with his patrolman’s salary, put his earnings at about $90,000 a year. 

For 1993, PBA filings list lawyer James Lysaght as the principal lobbyist. Burns, who has reached the mandatory retirement age of 62, nevertheless has a contract with the PBA through 1995 at $50,000 a year. “The PBA has enormous influence in Albany, particularly through its campaign contributions and through providing help in campaigns,” said New York City lobbyist John Bozella. “I’m not convinced they’re successful because they’re discussing issues on their merits with the rank and file members of the legislature.” In 1991 the PBA political action committee dispensed S140,000 in campaign contributions, largely to state legislators. 

Ironically, it is not legislators from the city itself who are the most responsive. “Those little legislators from outside the city are totally intimidated by them,” said one lobbyist, referring in particular to representatives of suburban communities in which so many New York City cops live. 

The favorable legislation just keeps on coming. In 1991, PBA allies in the legislature passed a law that allowed injured cops to sue the city as individuals. This gave them the opportunity to earn bigger settlements than what the city already provided. 

Last summer Albany nearly handed the PBA a weapon that would have dramatically strengthened Caruso’s hand, a bill with staggering consequences for the battle against police corruption. On July 7, the senate and assembly — the latter by a vote of 135-3 — passed the Confidential Communications bill. This ominous law, sponsored in the assembly by Harvey Weisenberg, a Democrat from Long Beach, Hartman’s home town, would have shielded conversations between police union officials and their members, even criminal admissions. In other words, a delegate couldn’t report, or be forced to disclose, a patrolman’s confession of taking a bribe, selling stolen drugs, or killing somebody. 

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The law would have made investigating the PBA impossible. “It was a pro-police corruption bill,” lobbyist John Bozella said. Alarmed by the implications, Governor Cuomo vetoed the bill when it reached his desk in August. Yet the audacity of the legislation is a PBA trademark, and if a PBA or D’Amato ally were sitting in the governor’s seat, it is likely that it would have been signed. 

Even without such a barrier, apparently no agency wants to probe the activities of the PBA. “Morgenthau went after them in 1988 and fell flat on his face because he let a deal be cut,” noted one knowledgeable observer, referring to the grand jury and Hartman giving up his law license. “He is politically afraid to try to go after them again.” Asked by the Voice to respond to this, Morgenthau said, “Nobody has come to our office and said that Hartman, Caruso, and the PBA warrant a deeper look.” 

Although the D.A. does prosecute individual officers, taking on police institutions presents special problems. For example, district attorneys cannot successfully try criminal cases without cooperation from the officers who made the arrest. So excessive zeal in rooting out police corruption can make life difficult for prosecutors.  

Sometimes only the press can ask the tough questions. Among the dailies, New York Newsday is easily the most aggressive in covering the union. Its reporters and columnists — Jimmy Breslin, Jim Dwyer, Leonard Levitt, and Kevin McCoy, to name a few — give Caruso fits, and he no longer grants the paper interviews. The PBA seemingly doesn’t appreciate the right of the press to ask questions, a lesson learned by Bruce Lambert, a New York Times reporter who looked under a few rocks when he was at Newsday. In the ’70s, Lambert wrote a series of articles critical of PBA negotiations. Governor Hugh Carey, outraged by the generous contract terms, called to compliment Lambert on the work. Later, the reporter would be told by the PBA’s private investigator, Walter Cox, that he’d probed Lambert’s personal life on behalf of the PBA. In particular, Hartman wanted to know if Lambert was gay (he isn’t) — information that could not have possibly served any legitimate purpose. 

In its investigation, the Voice has continually encountered PBA insiders and associates who express fear of reprisals. As one ex-PBA staffer put it, “Keep me out of it. I would like to live a little longer. I have a family.” Two people with intimate knowledge of the PBA said they would consider granting an interview, then had their telephone numbers changed and unlisted. Another PBA employee described the union’s environment this way: “It’s like the Mafia. Once you’re in, you’re never out.”

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“A cop knows from day one, you do what the union tells you,” said a former police officer. At monthly delegate meetings, a member or two occasionally got up to complain about Hartman or his staff. Sitting on the dais, Hartman would laugh, while other members shouted down the dissenter. Some delegates would try to make the maverick’s life miserable. As an investigator put it, “Members will always support someone with clout over someone trying to reform the system.” 

That clout allows the PBA to stymie corruption probes targeting its members. Leading this effort for a number of years was the PBA’s investigator, Walter Cox. A Nassau County Republican committeeman, Cox had retained Hartman to represent him in 1971 after he got drunk and robbed a Massapequa supermarket. In 1974, Cox was convicted of impersonating a federal officer. Hartman put Cox, who had no private investigator’s license, on his payroll and assigned him to look into cases in which PBA members were accused of wrongdoing. 

In 1984, Cox was arrested in Florida, where he had been tape-recorded in a Fort Lauderdale disco attempting to bribe a potential witness in a police corruption case. Shipped to New York to face charges, Cox had legal representation, courtesy of Hartman; nevertheless, he was convicted of bribery. But before going to jail he turned on his PBA bosses, giving a crucial deposition in another case, backing up former NYPD investigator Robert Hughes, who had been fired by the department under pressure from the PBA. As head of the NYPD’s sick-leave-abuse-prevention operation, Hughes discovered that 2 per cent of police officers were responsible for 51 per cent of the absences, and he saved the department $3.25 million. (One officer was running an insulation business while out with a proclaimed bad back.) In 1987, Hughes sued the PBA and its first vice-president, J. Patrick Burns, for harassment. Eventually, he was vindicated when a judge granted him two $400,000 court settlements, one from the PBA and one from Burns. (The PBA paid Burn’s share.) Cox testified that Burns instructed him to “get Bob Hughes.” But Cox was unwilling to elaborate further, and shortly thereafter suffered a heart attack in jail and died. 

The PBA’s blocking actions against corruption probes were more recently evident in the case of patrolman Michael Dowd, the leading villain in the Mollen Commission hearings. Dowd would not have been able to run his cocaine ring for years without an active PBA enforcing the code of silence. When Dowd got into trouble in 1992, according to New York Newsday, Jack Fitzgerald, the PBA delegate in the 94th Precinct in Greenpoint, called high department officials and got them to back off. Hardly a role model himself, Fitzgerald was known as “the mayor” for his ability to fix schedules and assignments for his buddies. One of Dowd’s partying pals, Fitzgerald ran a Monte Carlo club in the precinct’s basement kitchen, where cops bet and boozed. 

In recent years, the PBA has gone even further in undermining efforts to clean up the department. In one instance, according to a law enforcement source, it sent people over to a Marriott hotel, where they apparently compromised a joint Bronx D.A./NYPD sting set up to snare dirty cops. (The Bronx D.A. refused to comment.) 

Although Hartman himself has been tripped up by the IRS, PBA finances apparently escape scrutiny. The last city audit, by then comptroller Harrison Goldin, was in 1986. Comptroller Elizabeth Holtzman’s office recently completed field work on its only audit of a PBA account. The examination covers the 1991 tax return for the union’s health and welfare benefits fund for active members — just one of five benefits accounts the PBA maintains. Press secretary Maerwydd McFarland said the final report will likely be completed in January, when Alan Hevesi assumes the office. “There are no significant findings,” McFarland said. 

Two accountants, asked by the Voice to review a stack of federal 5500 forms (enumerating employee benefits and charitable trusts) and 990 tax forms going back to 1977, were shocked at how poorly they were prepared and how vague they were in their details. They noted many unusual characteristics. Particularly troubling was the sloppy preparation, which would be a certain invitation to an audit, a rigor federal tax authorities have seemingly spared the PBA. 

No one is better qualified to explain these apparent irregularities than Richard Hartman, and someday maybe he will. In January 1995, Hartman will be eligible to reclaim his law license. He could join the Lysaght firm and even become the PBA’s attorney again. 

Caruso’s term ends in three years, when he will be 62, the mandatory retirement age for a police officer. The PBA constitution and bylaws, substantially revised during Caruso’s tenure, leave open the possibility that he may stay in office as long as the membership continues to reelect him. 

The coming months could be decisive for the union. An announcement on a new police commissioner is expected any day. The Mollen Commission report is due within the month, and Governor Cuomo will have to decide whether to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate police corruption. Like most other municipal bargaining units, the PBA has been operating for two years without a contract, and the new city administration will soon have to begin bargaining. More importantly, mayor elect Rudolph Giuliani will have to decide how to deal politically with the police union that was instrumental in getting him elected. ♦

Research assistance: Jeremy Bogaisky, Lea Carnevali, Malene Jensen, Kate King, Julie Lang, Carlo Martino, Jodi Melamed, Adam I. Rich, and Mark Stamey

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ADDRESS FOR SUCCESS

TODAY 300 Old Country Road is a sleek office condo complex, but it once was the address of a seedy two-story building owned by PBA attorney Richard Hart­man. In 1975, Hartman sold the run­down property to his crony Gary Melius.

Nonetheless, 300 Old Country Road continued to be a repository of opportun­ism. Hartman ran his law business upstairs. The downstairs was occupied by Davis Optical, a small firm that grew rapidly after getting the PBA contract to supply eyeglasses to police officers and their families. Squeezed into the tiny storefront next t0 Davis was a branch of the Money Store. Famous for its ads fea­turing retired Yankee great Phil Rizzuto, the business would come to be criticized for its extremely high-interest loans to the poor. The Money Store co-owner was Steven Gurian, also president of Long Island Development Corporation. At the time, Gurian was allegedly under investi­gation for mob connections.

Gurian prospered on deals backed by the Small Business Administration. It was Senator Alfonse D’Amato who had pushed vigorously to broaden the SBA program under which Gurian and his Long Island Development Corporation/ Money Store operated.

In addition to the construction, optics, and finance firms, 300 Old Country Road served as a hangout for a clique that included Philip Basile, a music pro­moter, club owner, and alleged front for mobster Paul Vario. The D’Amato brothers helped Basile obtain his nightclub permits; Armand P. D’Amato was Ba­sile’s lawyer. ln 1983, just hours before a jury would convict Basile of conspiracy to defraud (he gave renowned goodfella Henry Hill a no-show job after Hill got out of jail), Senator D’Amato would tes­tify that Basile was “an honest, truthful, hardworking man, a man of integrity.” To the amazement of the jury, he then kissed Basile on both cheeks.

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

Categories
From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Frank Serpico: A Letter Home

A Letter Home
February 3, 1975

Many people have written me letters over the past couple of years. As much as I’ve tried to answer each personally, I just can’t answer them all. People write asking all kinds of questions. They want to give me advice. They want me to give them advice. They tell me their life stories. They want to do favors for me. They want me to do favors for them. Some of the letters contain specific, personal information about what’s happen­ing in police departments across the country, in the fight against crime and corruption. Some people admire me. Others despise me. I’m a hero. I’m a freak and a Commie. I guess it’s all part of being the focus of public attention.

Anyway, I thought I’d try to answer most of those letters with this one. It will probably be a little disorganized, but I try to say what’s on my mind.

I’ve gone through quite a few changes since leaving America over two years ago. Some are personal, some political, but most­ly they blend. I’ve watched what’s happening politically in America, with Watergate and Nixon and Ford and now Rockefeller. I returned for a short time to work for the election of Ramsey Clark to the Senate, and witnessed his defeat. I spend a lot of my time reflecting on the things that have happened to me, the things I’ve seen in America and over here in Europe, the people I’ve met.

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The first thing people always want to know about me is what I thought of the book and the movie, whether or not I figured Pacino portrayed me the way I really am. All I’m going to say is this: The typical things happened with the movie that happen with any movie, you know. The producer puts his girlfriend in a role at the cost of one of the characters, that sort of thing. But I don’t want to talk about the book or the movie or Pacino because any complaints I have about the film just aren’t that important in com­parison to the issues and problems raised in the book and the movie, problems which persist in the NYPD and in America as a country.

When I first became a cop… well, today people ask, didn’t you know what it was like? I never heard… the things that I finally learned, I never heard of them as a kid. I had heard comments, about apples and lunches and things, then when I became a cop, I heard vague rumors about envelopes, you know? But still, no one would tell you directly about it. I found that I slowly started becom­ing a cop. You just don’t become a cop once you take the oath. They start to mold you. You become exposed to a certain way of life, and you start doing things that way, and after a while you start thinking that’s the right way to do it, and you start thinking: You’re always right. And if you’re not right, you’ll make it right. That’s the part that started rubbing me the wrong way. Maybe it was my conscience that was bothering me, because either you face up to your con­science, or you go along with the system, and you just become totally committed, and then there’s no turning back. Maybe I got my conscience from my folks. I’d like to think it was always there. I’d like to believe it exists in everybody. It’s just a matter of listening to it.

For example, there might have been some things I did when I was a policeman that I thought were really right, and maybe I didn’t question them too deeply. But the real turnabout came when there was something material, that I could grasp, when they said, “Whamo, here’s the bread, either you take it or you don’t.” And I said, I don’t want it, because I don’t want to take this money. That was something I could reject. Everybody seems to focus on the monetary aspect of it, but like Eliot says, “That’s not what I meant at all.” It’s from the “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” I can’t recall it exactly. He says, if one, turning to the window or throwing off a shawl, would turn to me and say, that is not what I meant, that is not what I meant at all. Those aren’t the exact words, but they’re repeated several times, and what I had gotten from it is exactly that. People are always going along with things.

For example, you meet a girl, and right away, if you’re sexually oriented, you figure, yeah, well, we’re going to meet, and we’re going to get into a thing. And the woman, she’s afraid to reject and say no, because she feels this is what is expected of her, this is what she’s supposed to do. So many women have done this, and so many men. A guy figures, this is my macho at stake here, and I have to prove it and make her in one night. And if only one of them should have the guts and turn to the other and say, this is not what I meant at all. Sure, there are people who say it, but they don’t really say it. They bring up all these excuses and vague generalities, and going off on tangents, but they never really face the issue. They use defenses, not truth.

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the typical American epic. It’s been beaten into us by films and stories. A guy who really covered it nicely was Vonnegut. He said we’ve become as disposable as tissues. Au­thors find it very convenient to just dispose of certain characters, have them assassinated, killed off. When I was a kid, watching the Phantom, watching these melodramas they pounded on us, the hero kills the villain, saves the girl, and that’s the end of it. They live happily ever after. Popeye the Sailor. Now the American epic has extended itself from saving the little damsel in distress to saving the nation. And everybody’s really swallowing this crap, that we’ve just been saved. We haven’t been saved from any­thing. We’re in the same rut that caused us to be in a rut in the first place. There was a great line in Time magazine a week or so back, where they’re congratulating their staff for their work on the Watergate story: “High officials who used lawless means to manipulate the public they were supposed to serve have been stopped. But it was too close a call.” We have another “victory.” It might be an editorial victory. But not as far as the nation is concerned. Nothing has changed, really.

The funny part of this is that most of the people who live in the ghettos do know what democracy is all about. They know they’re being shitted on all the time by the police. I’ll bet that in contrast to upper-class and mid­dle-class people, the ghetto people, the lower-class people were the least shocked by the presidential situation, by Watergate and the Nixon pardon. These people know what the American epic is really about. They know that the villain isn’t being destroyed, like all the melodramas taught us. He’s just being replaced. And the people don’t have anything to say about it. The two men running the nation are both there without so much as a single word from the society. Ford got appointed by a man who is qualified as a criminal in the eyes of the law, and Rock­efeller, our national millionaire, is sitting there, right beside him. America can only suffer at the hands of these two men, until the next election. Hopefully, what we’ve gone through woke the public up. And maybe next time, they’ll have some good people to choose from and can elect a good leader.

I guess I still have hope. I believe in the need for good leadership, and it’s got to start right at the top, whether you’re talking about the country or the police department. But look what we’ve got now? Ford is trying to make the poor shlump in the street feel guilty because he’s eating too much. He really insults the intelligence of the average American. He says, now clean your plates and eat all your food. That’s such bullshit.

Leadership is a two-way street. If Ford, or any other president wants the respect and the help of the American people, he can’t keep treating them like idiots. In order for the system to work, the leader has to give out as much respect as he demands from those below him. It was that way in the police department, only the thing was, there were so few true leaders. Here is what a good leader was in the department: He was a guy who didn’t feel that he had to tell his men to go out and arrest a bunch of kids for smoking a joint, so they could show a bunch of narcotics arrests for statistics, for the re­cords.

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In my experience, a good cop is a cop who can go before a court of law and tell the judge exactly the way it happened. That’s what a good cop is. But too many cops falsify arrests records, because they’re led to believe it’s essential in order to get a conviction, because the defendant is going to lie anyway, so they might as well lie, too. Well, the fact is, this type of behavior has brought about the distrust of the police by the society. A cop is just like President Ford. He is supposed to have the public trust. But in order to get the trust, he has to earn it. These days, neither cops nor presidents care enough to earn the trust of the public.

In some of these European countries, the policeman is trusted because he is an honor­able person. He is known not to lie. But with what has been happening in America, even the judges, the honest judges, have come to mistrust the testimony of cops because they’re known to lie continuously. And if they don’t believe it, all they have to do is check the court records and see the court affida­vits, how repetitious and humdrum they are, the same things, said the same way, over and over. Nothing that really happened could possibly happen continually, the same way, over and over again.

Recently someone sent me a clipping from the Attica trial. One of the defendants is late for his trial — he’s out on bail — so the judge revokes his bail, he goes back to jail, and the guards knock him unconscious, they really batter his whole body. An expert comes to testify that this man has been beaten up. Then the guards are called, and this is the scene: one guard has him by the left arm, the other guard has him by the right arm, and “The defendant fell to the ground, your honor. That’s how he got all those bruises.” This is something policemen have done for years. First they brutalize the guy, bloody his nose, beat his head, then when he gets into court, if the judge should ask what happened to him, they say, “Oh, he tripped down the stairs, your honor.” This kind of corruption is encouraged in the department, because the men who are now leaders in the department behaved the same way when they were on a beat.

The department is complaining now about being supervised too closely, they say they can’t function properly knowing they’re being observed all the time. It was in The Voice article by Parachini. They say, in fact, there’s a new breed of policeman around, and this kind of close supervision is no longer essential. I say that it’s much too early for them to leave this new breed to function by itself. Like a sapling that’s growing, if you don’t give it support until it can stand by itself, it’s just going to get crooked. Same with the new young cops. I’m not saying that all of them who are there would get crooked. Many aren’t crooked now, and won’t go bad in the future. But until they can prove themselves — the leaders in the department, I mean — they have to accept the responsibility for what has gone on before. Had they been more conscientious about their jobs, the corruption wouldn’t have existed then, and it wouldn’t exist now. The police say they want to police themselves. Well, let them show us they can do it. In my experience, I’ve seen that they can’t.

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Some of the most honest cops I knew, men who wouldn’t take a nickel, men who were so righteous they wouldn’t even use profanity, they would never turn in another policeman. It was something you just didn’t do. It was supposed to be the responsibility of some higher agency. They made us believe there was a mysterious Boogeyman out there who would police the corruption. I say bullshit. It’s the responsibility of every man who wears that uniform. Any misdeed by any man in the blue uniform is a reflection not only on the department as a whole, but on the individual who witnesses it.

I was equally responsible. I admit it. There were times I saw cops taking traffic money, and I never did anything about it. I was led to believe by the supervisors, by the leaders, that, yeah, there are men who do that. Don’t get caught doing it, but it happens.

The police have got to get away from this thing they’re pushing that taking money is the only kind of corruption there is, the kind Serpico exposed. That’s bullshit. There’s all kinds of corruption. Lying on the stand. Falsifying arrests records. Cooping. That still goes on. Everybody knows. it. Illegal searches and seizures. All of this is corrup­tion, and are they dealing with it? The Knapp Commission didn’t deal with these other kinds of corruption, and the department isn’t dealing with it now. And the cops want you to believe because there’s a so-called new breed of cop, you don’t have to worry about corruption. But what about the guys up top? Who are they? Why should we trust them? How did they get where they are?

I remember one time when I was a young cop, I was assigned over in the 81st, and there happened to be a lot of burglaries in the precinct. My partner and I — we were young cops — wanted to make some arrests, but we were on foot patrol, in uniform. We had no mobility, and the men who were supposed to be working the area, the men in the radio cars, were all cooping. So the burglars were running wild. So me and the guy on the next post, we just decided we’d use my private car and patrol, so we could park in an area, and watch, and not be noticed. One day we happened to pass the sergeant. He was on his way to his coop. I can’t say what he thought we were up to, but he gave chase, I mean chasing us. So we had to split to a luncheon­ette, and we took our books and wrote down “coffee break.” When he confronted us there, we had to pretend we were there all along.

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Then a short time later, I happened to be assigned to drive this same sergeant, and the first thing he says when he jumps in the car is, “Where can I go to pick up a quick 50 bucks?” I said, “Search me?” and nothing else was said. That same guy is an inspector now.

This is what I mean about leadership. When I was on that beat in Brooklyn, why couldn’t I talk with the sergeant and tell him what we were up to, that we were trying to make burglary arrests and needed my car to do so? But the rules said, no use of private vehicles. So we had to make an excuse or we’d have been brought up on charges. You should see the book of rules and procedures. It’s the fattest book you’d ever want to see. It’s the size of the Manhattan telephone directory. And it’s continuously being changed. Amendments are added to that book faster than a computer could possibly follow, and they expect an average person with a high school education to keep up with it. I think that whole book should be revised. They should throw it out the window and start over. I remember when I was a kid, I found a copy of a policeman’s rules and procedures, and it was about six inches by three inches, the size of a personal address book or notebook. You could keep it in your pocket for references.

So why can’t a man patrol in his own car? Because they’re afraid the man is going to jump in his car and drive home. But you’re supposed to be a police officer. The heads of the department, the leaders, should have enough faith in their men to expect them not to abuse the privilege to be able to patrol in a man’s own car. This is why so many of the rules and procedures are so counterproductive. Most of them were brought about by a feeling of mistrust for the men.

The superiors in the department are asking the cop on the beat to be a superman, more than a man, in the sense that he has to abide by all these picky little department regulations. Yet the superiors themselves don’t abide by them. The only area where they should ask more from the men is in the area of integrity. I wouldn’t even say that they should ask that a cop be more honest than the average man. He just should be honest. Just like men should be honest. Why not allow cops to be normal human beings and fit in with the society they’re supposed to be protecting, so they can interrelate better, the cops and the people.

Look at what’s going on in New York now. The commissioner’s office plants wallets, supposedly lost, where cops will find them to test them to see if they will do their duty and turn them in. Now the PBA runs its version of the test on the public, to show the public isn’t honest, and they reply, then how do you expect the police to be honest? That isn’t a fair test. You don’t compare the behavior of the police to the behavior of the public. The police have the public trust. They were chosen, selected for their job. The PBA mentality here is the Nixon mentality. I don’t have to be straight, because the other guy isn’t being straight. It’s the same mentality which says there’s something wrong with a man if he doesn’t have short hair.

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What has police leadership been waiting for? If they haven’t instituted fundamental changes yet, what are they afraid of? What are they holding on to? What is the mysteri­ous power which makes them perpetuate this antiquated system? Where were they when John Bal, the “Bethesda Fountain cop,” was run out of the department on trumped-up charges?

The irony here is that the system which they have perpetuated has turned against them. For many, many years, police were not permitted to live in, or hang out in the precinct in which they worked. This came from mistrust within the department, they figured you’d be loading up at the local saloon on the arm, or shaking down the storekeepers, intruding on the precinct pad.

Then suddenly they get this idea to place a man in a precinct where he was living, and it just didn’t work, because by this time, the public had lost its trust in the police. You see the dualism? Mistrust of cops by other cops within the department has bred mistrust of­ the cops by the public.

What cops don’t understand, or what they refuse to understand, is that police officers shouldn’t expect more from the public than they do from themselves.

This is what I mean by professionalism. I remember an instructor at the police aca­demy who said: “Never give a man a traffic ticket just because he happens to bad-mouth you.” In other words, if you stop the car, and you had no intention of giving him a ticket, you were going to warn him, that his light was out, and he says, screw you, why don’t you go get the muggers instead of wasting your time on taillights. You don’t go getting your back up and give the man a ticket because he offends your manhood. If you do you’re just a high school squirt out on the street who feels stuffy behind a badge and a gun, and you’re just shoving your power off on people. It’s so easy to take away people’s liberty.

A friend of mine in New York who is a landlord was out fixing his window one day, and somebody spotted him for a burglar and called the cops. They started working him over right there. Maybe they didn’t like the way he looked, but they start beating on him before they’ve even asked him a question. It’s a typical thing. So they get him in the squad car, and they’re going through his things, and they find a picture of me in his wallet, and they really start going over him then — a friend of Serpico’s huh? Well, they tried to get him to sign a release. They beat him up right in front of his father, and they wanted him to sign a release! He wrote me a letter, and said, Jesus, is this what they’ve been doing to the blacks for years? And this guy had been a red-neck. Really opened his eyes.

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I was talking to a police commissioner here in the Netherlands. I asked him what he thought about having his men watched, the way the article in The Voice describes is going on in New York. He said he didn’t like the idea of an elite organization within the department having the power to spy, or pass judgment on your actions. He didn’t like it because trust exists between cops in his department, and between the cops and the people in his town. I can understand his position, because if a police organization is honest, it is an affront to their integrity to spy on them. You must have trust to get trust.

This is the way it is in the Netherlands. A high police official in the same department I just mentioned was sent a bottle of Cognac after he had helped in the investigation of a crime. This police official told me, “I sent the bottle back, because if I didn’t, it would have cost me my job.” That same man got a call from the head of a major department store and was asked if it would be all right if the store sent small gifts to the cops who had helped in the investigation of thefts from the store. The first thing is, the guy called up and asked permission! But the police official said, no, he didn’t think it would be proper or warranted, because the men were just doing their jobs, and they were being adequately paid for their jobs. That is the level I would like to see the NYPD elevated to. There should be no privileges for the cops in New York, not free meals, not even a cup of coffee. They don’t need it here, why should they in New York?

Here the police have their own cafeterias, they pay reduced rates, just above cost, the food is very good, they even have little patios where they can sit and eat under umbrellas when the weather is good. Now the police might say that this isn’t applicable to New York, because it’s too big. In London they’ve got cafeterias, or they issue chits to their men, which are good for a meal outside the cafeteria. This could be done in New York, and it could be done in such a way that the system is self-sustaining. Policemen for years have been cooking their own meals in precincts — only difference is the fact that most of them get the food on the arm. And the firemen cook their own meals. I remember times when you were working nights, and there weren’t any restaurants open, except some greasy spoon, so you’d walk back to the precinct, fix up a little something to eat, and walk back to your post. It didn’t take any longer than it would have to find a restaurant that was open. Besides, they’ve done these studies that show during any given period of time, there are almost as many men in the precinct as there are on the street. They’re working on paperwork, or pulling desk duties, a dozen other things. So it would be possible for police cafeterias in New York, and the money the cops paid for the meals could pay for them, and they could do away with this whole meal-on-the-arm business once and for all.

Here in the Netherlands, I was asked if I would speak to all the top police officials in the town, including the mayor. The way this came about is kind of a funny story, but it illustrates, again, the way the police work here.

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I was living in a little pad along the river here, and I was getting ready for bed, when Alfie starts doing his number, whining, barking, making a fuss. So I tell him to be quiet and go to sleep, but he keeps it up. Finally I look out the window, and I see this guy walking on a houseboat at 1 a.m., and I figure it must be his boat. I had noticed the houseboat before and wondered whose it was. Anyway, by this time, I’ve become more of a Netherlander, I’m less suspicious, you know, not so quick to look for the bad side of things. I could see, even in the shadows, that the guy had long hair, but many people here have long hair and beards, and this means nothing, not even to the cops.

But then he kicked in the front window of the boat, and I figured, well, maybe he forgot his key. Then I thought: It’s 1 a.m., why didn’t he wait until morning? So I figured, what the hell, maybe I should alert the neighbors and call the police. So the guy upstairs called the police, and they responded so quickly! They were there by the time the guy was walking out the gate from the dock, and he had his arms full of goodies he had taken from the boat. But, the way the police responded to the scene… [nothing to] get excited about, no lights flashing, no hullabaloo, no grabbing of the defendant and ­pushing him up against the car. It was all done with a very civil tone. They asked him to put the goodies down and turn to the car to be frisked. Then they actually guided him into the car, as you might help an old man into the back seat. The attitude was: Here is somebody who needs your help, rather than this is some kind of an animal, to be handled like an animal.

When they got him into the car, they didn’t start questioning him immediately, trying to get him to trip himself up. He knows what he did, they know what he did, and the pro­cedure was: now just come into the sta­tionhouse, and let’s see what can be done here. There was no ridicule, none of the, “Okay, we got you,” macho business… it was as if a crime hadn’t even taken place. Nothing to see any of that New York attitude: “Whoo­pee! I made an arrest! I got him!” They took my name, and asked me to come down to the stationhouse the next day. There was no rush. I found out later they had taken him in, identified him and questioned him, and he was allowed to go home. They didn’t incar­cerate him, or haul him off to court in the middle of the night.

I could hardly believe it, but it became more real to me when I discovered the follow-up the detectives did on the case, to find out his background, what might have caused him to commit the crime, had he been in trouble before. In New York, it would have been an open-and-shut case. The cops caught him in the act, there were witnesses. A detective wouldn’t even have been assigned to the case. But here, the whole emphasis seemed to be on finding the reason this man had acted this way.

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The detective questioned me, the officers who responded, and other witnesses. Another man came up who had seen the whole thing. Here, people aren’t afraid to “get involved.” But the interesting part was this. I was in the stationhouse, and apparently my name had gotten up to the police commissioner, and he came down and said, “Mr. Serpico, I would like to shake your hand.” I said to him, “It’s always a pleasure to meet a policeman who wants to shake my hand.” So we got into a rap, and that was when he asked me to come speak to the police officials of the town.

They made arrangements to show the movie, and I was to address them. My observation to the police officials, after they saw the film, was this: The movie didn’t do so well in the Netherlands. The police, as well as the people, couldn’t relate to the movie as a real-life drama, like it really had happened. In New York and in Italy, where police systems are more or less on the same level of corruption, people could relate to the film as the truth, it was real to them.

So I told them what my reaction was. I was pleased that the movie didn’t do well here, and also I was pleased that these officials found it hard to believe that such a police system existed. We had gone over certain incidents in the movie, and their questions indicated they were incredulous. So the good fact was they couldn’t relate to it, but I told them there was a bad fact: The danger exists. I told them I hoped they wouldn’t let down their guard, so that something like this could happen in the Netherlands. They have to safeguard against corruption. They un­derstood exactly what I was talking about, even though the facts in the movie had been almost incomprehensible to them. These officials were very bright, very professional. They all understood English. Some of them spoke German and French. They were in­credibly civic-minded, they really care about their city. Later I was invited to the Police Academy. That’s a whole story in itself. When I saw the Police Academy, it was easy for me to understand why I had found the police and the brass so professional. Here, it begins right there in the academy. They’re serious cops. There’s no bullshit.

The point I want to make is this: The talk in New York, like The Voice article, is about how the police have changed. But the way I have been treated here in the Netherlands by the police, and the way I’m treated by the police when I come back to New York — it’s worlds apart. I didn’t notice any change in police attitudes when I walked into police headquarters in November (1974). You could see the rage on their faces. I asked one guy a question, he didn’t even answer me and walked out of the office. The funny part of it was, when the civilian personnel found out I was in the building, they started asking me for autographs. You could see the antagonism and the rage on cops’ faces. Why? Why does this exist?

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Talking about the difference in police systems between here and New York, and the differences in attitude, gets us into the whole area of the kinds of corruption which aren’t being dealt with in New York. There was the Knapp Commission, but essentially all they were concerned with was the buck. Guys on the take. And who did they get? Nobody, really. Little fish. But there is corruption of all sorts. Let me give you some examples, and compare them to the way things are over here. We’ve already talked about the difference in the attitude of the arresting officer, and the concern for the defendant in the judicial process, how in the Netherlands they assigned a detective to a case that was open and shut. Within this system in the Netherlands, no cop would lie on the stand, something which goes on all the time in New York.

In Italy, I was talking with a police officer, and I looked at his Beretta and it looked kind of rusty, and I asked him, when was the last time you shot it? He said, “Oh, I don’t remember.” All he had were six shells. And here in the Netherlands, policemen are not allowed to purchase ammunition. They are issued six bullets. That’s what they carry with their automatic weapon. This provides for control over the manner and the fre­quency of usage of police weapons. In America, policemen are carrying all sorts of unauthorized weapons. They can purchase any type of ammunition they want. I have observed New York cops giving their informants weapons and ammunition. I’m not trying to say that cops shouldn’t carry weapons, that they shouldn’t use them. If it comes to a point-blank shoot-out with a guy, and he’s trying to kill you, then you had better get him first. But when it comes to the point of indiscriminate use of weapons, which goes on all the time, firing a weapon for no reason at all, then something has to be done.

Knives are another big problem, and they lead to corruption of another sort. Too many policemen carry knives which are above necessary specifications, beyond what is required in the performance of their duty. If they need a knife to cut a rope or something, okay. But I think every policeman would have a standard knife, a boy-scout type knife, like a Swiss Army knife. And it should have his badge number on it, like his night-stick and other personal effects have. But too many cops carry knives which are later supposedly found at the scene of the crime. Several young children have been killed by policemen in Harlem, and later the officers claimed they were attacked by the child with this knife, which in fact belonged to the cop. He carried it just so he could drop it at the scene. I think this would prevent a lot of racial tensions, because in Harlem they know the cops have got these knives. In fact, it was a standing joke up in Harlem after one of these killings, because when the sergeant came down to investigate, he was kicking knives around the floor, saying “Get these knives out of here,” because so many guys had thrown knives on the floor to be found by the investigator. The same is true with guns. Some cops carry an extra “clean” gun, so if he kills a guy, and the guy didn’t have a gun, he can place it in the guy’s hand, then the killing was justifiable.

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Well, the cops would object to this. They’re going to say it’s not fair, they have a right to protect themselves. They carry a police revolver; they don’t need to protect themselves with a knife or a so-called “clean,” untraceable gun. And as soon as cops begin enforcing the law equally, as soon as they start meting out justice to the society, they might find that the society will start meting out justice to them. In America, it won’t be an easy process to establish, or reestablish this kind of system, but I still feel it can be done.

Now in New York they’ve got this new system whereby police are given points on the promotion exam, depending on how many medals you have. So cops want to blow every arrest all out of proportion, trying to get medals, so they can get points, and get ahead. What this leads to is police activity being geared to personal advancement. Their performance of duty is inspired by how many points they can get toward the promotion exam. The men stop performing as civil servants and begin performing as robots in a system of examinations to get continual increases in their pay. The PBA will go bananas over what I’m saying, but it’s true. Here, that kind of attitude is simply incomprehensible to the police. They’re out on the street, not to scheme how to trip up their fellow man and get him in trouble. Rather their attitude is, how can I help society and keep this guy out of trouble. Too often, misbehavior is concocted in the mind of the policeman.

The cop is the factor in whether man or a kid becomes a criminal.

Example: Here in the Netherlands, a kid goes in a store and lifts a piece of candy. The people are involved as much as the police. The man catches him and he puts him in the corner, and he says, “Okay, I’m calling the police.” The kid gets all shook-up, embarrassed, because everybody who comes into the store knows what the kid did. When the cops come, they don’t write him up on a Juvenile Delinquency card. They reprimand him, and maybe take him home to his parents, and by this time, the kid is so shook-up, he’s never going to try that again.

I never got any bullshit when I was working in Harlem, and I was working there by myself. My attitude was: Hey, man, I’m a fucking cop and there’s no two ways about it. The guy’s a smack dealer. You know what you’re doing, man, and I’ve got you. I found there was respect when you dealt straight with people. Sure there’s always going to be guys who are mentally disturbed, or guys who are going to shoot at you; sure, I’m not trying to make a generality. But there are areas you can help. Don’t scheme to put a guy in the can if there are ways you can help him to stay out of the can.

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I’ll tell you what I did up there in Harlem, and I don’t give a damn what people think. I would catch kids with needles in their arms. I’d pull the needle out, if the kid was ODing, and I’d call an ambulance. But why lock up the kid? What would that accomplish? But afterward, when I saw that kid on the street, that kid respected me. After a while, some of those same guys I helped would turn in the guy who was selling them the shit.

I’d go get the guy’s brother and tell him, you better clean up your brother’s act. And I’d tell the kids, look, why are you using this shit? This stuff just wipes you out. Haven’t you smoked grass? Why don’t you stay with some good grass, and forget smack? I’d even advocate those kids using grass. I’d be a goddamn hypocrite if I didn’t. I would rather see them using one rather than ODing on the other.

I found that people basically want to respect authority, but they want it to be a just authority. Everybody wants police, but they want a just police force. They want to feel pro­tected. They want you to make their neighborhood safe to live in, so they can feel safe walking the streets. They want to feel good when they see a cop. That’s why you don’t hear people gripe about the cops here in the Netherlands, because their police are honorable men, they’re good cops, and the people feel comfortable with them around.

But you talk about the problems of the police in America, or the prob­lems of the police here, and in both instances, there is a larger issue. Before you can have a dedication to duty, you must have a dedication to country. And you can’t have a dedication to country, unless you respect that country. Watergate is a good example.

I had retired when Watergate broke, and I was already living over here. But I knew the feelings of the guys I was associated with on the police force. I knew Watergate was bound to affect their sense of duty. “If the fucking President does this and gets away with it, why should they pick on us?” That would be the feeling. The cops would feel they’re the victims of a passing of the buck. It’s all right for the big guys to get away with corruption, but not for the ­little guys.

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I was talking about this on TV with that reporter, Geraldo Rivera. We were talking about Ford pardoning Nixon. Ford had said he thought Nixon had suffered enough, and what good would it have done to prosecute him anymore? Well, what good would it have done? It would have restored people’s trust in justice. Not just the little shlump gets it while Nixon pulls off the caper of the century and walks. That’s first-class corruption. Number one. I think the pardon did more to hurt the morale of the American people, and of their police, than anything that’s happened in this century. Is Richard Nixon still an American? Does he still have his rights? The right to vote? He accepted a pardon for felony crimes. I don’t think he should have.

That segment I did with Geraldo Rivera will be the last television interview I do. In a sense, I feel he distorted what I had to say not only about the country but about police corruption as well. He went on camera after he showed the interview and said, well, Frank Serpico has been living in Europe, and he really hasn’t been in touch. He doesn’t know the changes that have gone on. I don’t know his exact words, but that was the gist of his comment.

I’m in better touch than Geraldo Rivera thinks I am. Sometimes I feel I’m a public confessional. Guys are always writing me about corruption, not just in New York, but all over the country. One of the most recent letters I got was from a guy in the Drug Enforcement Administration. Same story there. Rip-offs. Take-offs. Beatings. What does this guy ­Geraldo Rivera know? The whole idea of being interviewed by these TV guys turns me off. They twist what you say, and then say you don’t know what you’re talking about any­way.

People have written me, and they ask me all sorts of questions: How does it feel to have done what I did? How does it feel to be famous? Why do I live here, instead of in Ameri­ca?

I guess I really never allow myself the time or the liberty to reflect on these questions. I just want to know who I am, and that’s all that really matters to me. I feel really deeply about America, about the police, about these things people write me about. They’re all a part of who I am, as an individual. I want the right to exist as a free individual. I want everybody to have an equal opportu­nity to have that same right. And that’s got nothing to do with how famous you are, or how much money you have.

In Italy, people who were told that I was supposed to be somebody immediately wanted to invite me into their establishment and wine me and dine me. And not charge me anything. I understood that to refuse them was an insult. But to accept was an insult not only to myself but to people who are not able to accomplish that which I have accomplished. If there was a poor guy on the road and he was starving, they wouldn’t invite him in for a free dinner. So how could I accept this free meal? It really all boils down to that story my father told me. It’s repetitious. It was in the book and it’s been quoted everywhere. It was about the prince who went to town in his old rags to see how the people of the city were going to treat him, and they treated him like shit. Then he went back to his royal garb, and he was a prince again. It’s just a matter of being able to be yourself.

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All I can think of now are the essentials in life. A place to live. Enough to eat. And just some peace of mind. When I look at it closely, it’s really a hard number to do. For example, I might walk into a place, and people look at me like, “what do you want?” Just because I don’t feel like cutting my hair, I’m happy with long hair. I feel like wearing blue jeans because when Alfie slobbers on them, I don’t have to worry. I throw them in the washing machine. I’m comfortable. I’m warm. I’m dry.

And then when people treat me like shit, I want to say, “hey, don’t treat me like shit! Don’t you know I’m not a poor man?” But what the hell is the use doing that? When some poor man who really is poor, and he gets treated like that, he’s got nothing to say. Maybe this all came about from the treatment I got when I was in the police department. When I would pull out my shield, it was a big joke. Eventually I realized, hey, I’m not always going to have this shield in my pocket, and then who am I? That shield isn’t me. I’m nobody.

It can be trying, getting all this mail. I don’t want to be anybody’s pen pal. But I try to understand the position the person is in who is writing. They’re taken in by a fan­tasy world that we’ve created, and if I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of their fantasy, well, I can’t hold it against them. But as far as sending photographs, or auto­graphs — I don’t want to be held on that level, of being some kind of idol. Because anybody who holds himself up to be some kind of hero has to be ready to face defeat at some point. I don’t mean it like I’m a boxing champ, resigning before I’ve been beaten. That’s something I want to make clear to these people who have been writing letters, urging me not to quit, not to give up. Well, I’m not quitting, and I’m not giving up. I’ll always try to maintain the same attitude I have now. I want to try to make it possible for everybody, in­cluding myself, to be able to relate to each other one-to-one as human beings, not as slots at different levels in a system.

I want to go on, reflecting on my experiences and on life itself. But I always need something to keep me busy. So I find things to do with my hands, like refinishing an old cigar box, or carving something.

I’m not living off any of the money I made from the movie and the book. I don’t intend to, ever. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it. I’m not going to dump it on a bunch of charities, because I’m too aware that whatever you donate to chari­ties gets siphoned off before it gets to those for whom it was really intend­ed. I’m living off the disability pen­sion I receive from the New York Police Department.

I maintain a moderate living stan­dard. I haven’t felt the impulse to get myself an XKE, or a couple of Brooks Brothers suits. In fact, all this business with the money I’ve made has only served to make my life more complicated. It’s a real problem. Too many people become motivated by making money, rather than in being happy.

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What makes me happy right now? I have a nice place to sleep. I have food to eat. I have somebody I am close to, I can talk to. In this regard, there’s something many people don’t understand about me, judging from the letters I’ve gotten. They think I’m some kind of exile, wandering around aimlessly. If I wander around a bit, it’s because I want it that way. Many people have this image of me as a loner, and they write: “Talk to me, I’ll understand.” Well, I wouldn’t even try. What is a loner? I’m a loner, I guess, in the sense that I don’t go to parties, I don’t socialize all that much. But I’ll walk down the street and talk to anybody who’s willing to talk to me.

That’s the way life should be. I read a sad story about a girl who was afraid to go to parties because she didn’t know what to say to people. Well, if you don’t know what to say, maybe there is nothing to say.

I have a kind of emotional security, I think. It’s just something which has come to me over the past couple of years. Look at what mental midgets our heads of state are, and who has been running the police department. They were purported to be better than everyone else, and were just people. When you look at them, you know you don’t have to worry about yourself as a person.

I got a letter from a guy, and it struck me as strange. The guy was in therapy, and he says, I learned something which helped me, and I want to help you with it, and that’s love. It seemed so strange to me, that someone would have to learn not to be afraid to love somebody. But I’m just saying these things in answer to people who write me, thinking they can help me in some way. I appreciate their concern, but I’m helping myself.

Something that I’ve learned — maybe it’s just because I’m getting older. I’ll be 39 in April. And that’s not to set your sights on too much. A lot of people say aim high, and you’ll come in somewhere close to the mark. Which is really bullshit. I guess I’m getting into a sort of personal philosophy. It’s the same old thing — the dread of what may happen “makes us rather bear the ills we have, than fly to others that­ we know not of” — you know? But it doesn’t have to be the ills we have. It could be the things we have. Many people are always looking beyond what they have, the grass-is-greener syndrome. I’m just focusing and being content with the immediate things that surround me.

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What I did in the New York City Police Department totally over­whelmed me. When I was going through all that, I had thoughts of writing the president, and I thought, it’s all bullshit. They’re all the same. I remembered what had happened years ago, the first time my taxes got audited as a cop. This was in the ’50s. I had an accountant, one a lot of cops I knew used. And he comes to me and says, listen, you’re going to be audited, and it’s going to cost you this much, but I know the guy, and I think $100 will cover it. And I said, bullshit!

It goes way back. I knew how many of them could be bought. I didn’t have the confidence in the system, that I could write a letter and believe it would make a difference. Again, it’s the typical American epic, the belief when I reach Mr. “X,” he’ll come down on his white horse and save me and make everything good again. There isn’t any man on a white horse who’s going to make it good for us. It’s either we make it good, by ourselves, and for ourselves, or we may as well forget it. People write me and say, “Right-on, Brother!” Well, “Right­ on” isn’t enough. It doesn’t end there. If you believe it does, you’re perpetuating the fantasy, helping to fuel the old American epic. I’m only one man, and I don’t own any white horse.

People have got to understand that it’s just as patriotic to try to keep your country from dying, as it is to die for your country. I guess I should try to end this letter. I want to make this clear: I really don’t feel I accomplished anything other than these little things — holding some people together, giving someone else a little inspiration. But I would really feel I accomplished something if I could convince people in America that all they want to attribute to me as having achieved, has not been resolved. We haven’t come close to resolving it. And if people can understand that, and I can get that across, then I’ll be content. Then I’ll feel I accomplished something.