By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Al DAmato, who spent 18 years in the Senate dodging federal prosecutors, is tryingalbeit indirectlyto influence the appointment of the next United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which covers Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Long Island.
While U.S. senators like DAmato used to make the recommendations for New Yorks presidential appointments, the Bush White House is reportedly ignoring the states two Democrats and listening instead to Governor Pataki and the leaders of the House Republican delegation, led by senior congressman Ben Gilman. A Pataki aide floated the name of a candidate in the Times a week and a half ago, right around the time that the governor announced hed appointed a screening panel of top lawyers to review possible nominees. Both the candidate and the panel have a decidedly DAmato aura about them.
The candidate, State Inspector General Roslynn Mauskopf, is the best friend of the legendary Zenia Mucha, who now lives in Los Angeles and is the six-figure communications director for Disney. Until recently, Mucha held the same title for Pataki. Before that, she was DAmatos eyes, ears, and mouth. Several sources knowledgeable about the appointment process say that Mucha has been pushing hard for the 44-year-old, Albany-based Mauskopf, who for years has stayed in Muchas Manhattan apartment whenever shes in the city. Mucha declined to talk to the Voice when informed of the specific nature of this story, as did Mauskopf.
In the nearly six years that Mauskopf has been charged with investigating improper conduct by state officials, she has not pressed a single case against a top Pataki appointee, though her predecessors did force the resignations of high-level Cuomo aides. Charles Gargano, the longtime DAmato fundraiser and state economic czar under Pataki, was the target of Mauskopfs most widely publicized case. But that investigationwhich she conducted jointly with Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthauwas recently closed without any charges being brought.
Even the seedy DAmatowhose brother was convicted in one of the many federal probes that targeted him (a conviction overturned on appeal)had a full panel of prestigious lawyers review the qualifications of prospective federal judges and prosecutors. But Pataki has named only one person to his screening committeeJohn OMara, an Elmira attorney. OMara has been joined at the hip to DAmato since he played a major role in the ex-senators first campaign in 1980. He served on DAmatos screening panel for years. DAmato brought OMara into Patakis first gubernatorial campaign in 1994, and he eventually became Patakis chairman of the Public Service Commission.
If it is a hot summer, all New Yorkers may well become unhappily familiar with the obscure OMara. He personally negotiated the backroom deregulation deals with the states six big power companies that the Daily News blasted last August for electrocuting the states economy. Though the News editorial page has been notoriously pro-Pataki, it called OMaras PSC the real culprit, responsible for a dopey deregulation plan, even before the threatened blackouts of 2001. The PSC blithely ignored the fact that no new power plants have been built in New York in 20 years, said the News, and forced the deregulated utilities to sell their generating facilities while doing nothing to encourage new energy sources.
A lobbyist since his 1998 defeat, DAmato has already been embroiled in one federal probe in Connecticut, which resulted in the conviction of the ex-state treasurer who was employed by DAmatos small lobbying firm. Not only is DAmato the registered lobbyist for Energy East, an upstate conglomerate that owns two of the big six utilities deregulated by OMara, he has also reportedly represented a gaming company with an interest in the states plan for a new Catskills casino run by the Mohawk Indians. OMara, the governors point man on all Indian issues, is negotiating the casino deal.
In addition, DAmato represents Telergy, a Syracuse-based communications company that has included OMara on its board since 1998. The company requires PSC approvals to use Con Ed rights-of-way to build a high-speed, broadband communications network in the city. It originally was a partner of Con Eds, another of OMaras big six utilities, but now plans to build its own communication lines alongside Con Eds lines.
Mauskopf has already demonstrated just how politically pliable a prober she is. In January 1999, Pataki named her to chair a three-member special state investigationcalled the Moreland Act Commissionto look at the citys School Construction Authority. The announcement came at a time when Pataki was particularly peeved at Rudy Giuliani and the SCA was chaired by the mayors longtime confidant Howard Wilson.
Giulianis Department of Investigations had just issued a report blasting Patakis appointee to the SCA, and the Moreland commission inquiry was widely perceived as payback. But when Giuliani subsequently stepped forward as the GOP alternative to Hillary Clinton, and Pataki endorsed him, Mauskopfs commission reversed course. Almost two and a half years later, the commission has yet to make a single public finding about the SCA.