By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Farren also called and wrote Crockett's boss, then-DHCR commissioner Joe Holland, urging that "the hearing to remove Hazell be tabled." In the September 26, 1995, letter, the attorney says he was drawn into the Co-op City dispute by E.T. Marshall, a Republican businessman who ran unsuccessfully against Bronx congressman Eliot Engel in 1994 and was backed by Baez's faction on the project board. A few months later, Marshall was indicted for skimming nearly a half million dollars from a Brooklyn state housing project and funneling $30,000 of the proceeds into campaign donations for Pataki, the state GOP, and others (he pled guilty last year).
Farren's four-page letter went so far as to blast Crockett for backing the award of a $5 million toilet- replacement contract to a plumbing firm that "has no strong ties to the Governor's supporters." He also accused Crockett of "siding with" the seven-member minority on the 15-member board even though it included what he called a "communist true believer element" among project residents. While the letter indicated Farren's decision not to accept the retainer Hazell and Baez had offered, it warns that removing the board president "could create a very awkward circumstance for the state." Farren now says the letter was "a mistake."
Farren concedes that he then brought another firm Gibney, Anthony & Flaherty into the Co-op City controversy, and Hazell personally approved a $175,000 contract for the firm towards the end of 1995. Now one of the top lobbying firms in Albany, averaging $800,000 in annual billings over recent years, Gibney was to either share its fee with Farren or refer other future business to him, the lawyer says. "It wasn't settled yet," Farren told the Voice. "I would've liked to get some part of the fee. I did the work. But there are ethical questions about fee splitting and I wouldn't get it unless it was approved by my partners. I certainly hoped to get the business back. Gibney and my firm refer a lot of business to each other."
Crockett refused to approve the Gibney deal. Then in mid 1996 the governor's office began pushing for Gibney to be paid. Crockett contends in her deposition that Tom Doherty, the governor's appointments secretary, talked to Holland and her on a conference call, accusing her of "blocking a worthy firm from getting compensation to which they were entitled." Citing Doherty's "high energy level," Crockett testified that he questioned "the explanation I'd given him for why the contract didn't move forward" and insisted it be approved. "It was an unusual call," says Crockett, coming from a personnel officer who she says had nothing to do with contracts. "I felt threatened," Crockett concluded.
Farren says he "probably did discuss the Gibney retainer with Doherty," adding that he may have said: "Why not hire our people?" Indeed, current DHCR commissioner Joseph Lynch confirmed that Holland told him Doherty had called to complain about Crockett, adding that he'd also heard about the earlier Farren pressures from Holland. In response to Crockett's allegations, state attorneys filed a brief affidavit from Holland, but he did not comment on the Farren or Doherty calls, nor did Doherty himself file any contrary affidavit. Doherty did not respond to Voice calls about the allegation.
Ultimately, Director of State Operations Jim Natoli, who was one of Farren's contact people on the governor's staff regarding the Co-op City issue, ordered Crockett's firing, according to Lynch. In January 1998, Co-op City authorized a new $175,000 contract, this time directly with Farren's law firm. Farren was brought on to help with a $400 million refinancing of the project's state mortgage, which is dependent on approval from Pataki's Housing Finance Agency.
Though Farren says his firm has done a lot of bond work, the only specific bond experience it cited in a letter to Co-op City was its work on a $260 million Montefiore Hospital offering in 1996. A representative of Health Commissioner DeBuono, who is Farren's sister- in-law, voted as a member of the State Dormitory Authority for the Montefiore offering, and the expansion project funded by the bonds had to pass through what was described in Dormitory Authority minutes as an "unusual" Health Department review. Farren points out that his firm has done business with the hospital for many years and that he personally "had nothing to do with the Montefiore bond issue." W.B.