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The allegations are the latest in a series of political mishaps involving the 41-year-old co-commander of the Environmental Enforcement Division (EED), who has been highly praised by environmental watchdog Robert F. Kennedy Jr. The EED is the police arm of the DEP, which patrols the watershed that provides drinking water to New York City and parts of Westchester County. Previously strained relations between Gatto and some officers deteriorated with the alleged discovery recently of an offensive photograph some claim was put up by Gatto at the station house in upstate Croton.
A law enforcement source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Voice that a female officer "came across a photograph which disturbed her tremendously." It was an altered picture of the Three Stooges wearing Nazi uniforms. According to the source, the Stooges had been renamed Lee Siegel, Robert Chicola, and Stephen King. Siegel is a former Brooklyn assistant district attorney whom the Giuliani administration appointed to a top DEP post, bypassing Gatto; Chicola is the former DEP deputy director; and King is the former director and Gatto arch nemesis who died of a heart attack on October 31. The three officials and Mayor Rudy Giuliani are named in a lawsuitcurrently in the deposition stagein which Gatto demands that he be given his job back and that the DEP be prohibited from initiating future harassment or retaliation against his whistle-blowing.
Mrs. Gatto maintains that the charges against her husband were fabricated by DEP informants in Croton "to counteract [the agency's] own racism; the whole department is racist." She recounts an ordeal she says she and her husband were put through by officers in the now-defunct Bureau of Water Supply Police (BWSP) who objected to their interracial marriage. "My husband was first discriminated against because he was married to a black woman," she claims. "They called him 'nigger lover' and often asked him, 'How do you find your wife in the dark?' "
Gatto, she adds, spoke up for blacks and Jews and blew the whistle on a group of watershed cops who were implicated in a covert investigation of a black Muslim community. In 1992, the city's Department of Investigation released a report that charged the BWSP with carrying out the unauthorized investigation of the Muslim community, which owns homes on 55 acres in Delaware County about two miles from the city's Cannonsville Reservoir in upstate Tompkins. The unit also had "conducted investigations of the Weathermen and the JDL (Jewish Defense League) but intentionally kept no records of those investigations," a DOI official said at the time.
The BWSP probe of the Muslims, initiated in 1988, included "warrantless search, aerial photography, and record checks on persons and vehicles believed to be associated with the Muslim community," the report said. Community members were subjected to interviews and criminal history checks. One Muslim was detained, and officers entered the community compound on two instances for searches, the report added. The DOI concluded that the BWSP unit began the investigation "without benefit of a single allegation or complaint of criminal activity." After the scandal, the BWSP was renamed the Environmental Enforcement Division.
Croton station house insiders say that over the years Gatto has grown increasingly callous toward fellow officers and superiors. On the morning of November 1, when Gatto was informed of the sudden death of Director King, he "started dancing at the front door of the Croton Precinct and singing about how happy he was that King had died," one officer recalls. The source adds that later Gatto told a lieutenant, "One down, two to go"which he believes was an ominous reference to Siegel and Chicola.
Gatto's lawyer, Charles King, denies Gatto gloated. "It's patently false," the attorney says. "Even though they were not close colleagues, Captain Gatto was saddened upon hearing the news. He wouldn't wish ill on anyone."
If Gatto's alleged remark did not further dampen the somber mood at the station house, a statement attributed to a high-ranking cop with ties to Gatto put another nail in King's coffin. According to the source, after walking into the station house, the officer looked at wall portraits of King, Giuliani, and DEP commissioner Joel Miele, and declared, "Take this shit off the wallhe's not here any longer," and then went into Gatto's office. The next day, after someone handed the same officer information about a wake for King, he "wrinkled it up and threw it in the garbage and said, 'To hell with him. I'm not going. And he can go to hell.' "