Inside Edge

The Councilman and the Crooked Building Consultant

"All right, one other thing," said Lattanzio to Ognibene. "I'm sorry to keep bothering you."

"You don't bother me," the councilmember assured him. Lattanzio explained that, despite phone calls from City Hall officials to buildings-department officials, his candidate, DeNunzio, hadn't yet been hired. The job application had landed on the desk of Barry Cox, the deputy commissioner who was later indicted, and there it sat, much to Lattanzio's annoyance.

"All right," said Ognibene. "I mean, you know how frustrating this is."

"Look," said Lattanzio, referring to Cox, "he's at a level in government now he's gotta choose sides. You can't fucking walk the fence at a deputy commissioner level, especially in this administration."

Ognibene responded with his own ominous comment. "Well, I got a quid pro quo coming up if everything goes well, and a big one. And he may be the fucking odd man out," said the councilman.

Investigators spelled out how they interpreted Ognibene's words: "He would see to it that Cox was punished if the job for DeNunzio didn't come through," they wrote in an affidavit.


‘What did he do for me?’ griped one reluctant contractor, pressed for a $2000 campaign contribution to Councilman Ognibene. ‘He opened the door,’ explained Lattanzio.


The subject of the architect's job became a steady theme in subsequent conversations. At one point, detectives heard Gallagher tell Ognibene that they were taking the issue to mayoral chief of staff Anthony Carbonetti and then-deputy mayor Randy Mastro. If that didn't work, Gallagher told Lattanzio, Ognibene would go to the mayor himself.

"I just got off the phone with Tom and I let him know," said Gallagher. "He'll go back down to Carbonetti and he's gonna try to get to Mastro today."

The buildings consultant was later heard boasting to the job seeker DeNunzio about how Ognibene had expressed his dissatisfaction to Carbonetti: "He went in to see Carbonetti and says you know, 'You got some pairs of balls . . . how many signatures did the mayor get for his petitions to put him on the primary [ballot], uh, for November? 25,000. How many did Queens give you? 15,000. Thank you very much! I delivered 15,000 signatures to you and you're fuckin' around my guy?' "

DeNunzio, who was never charged, told the Voice that he was ultimately offered a job at the buildings agency, but not at the level he or Lattanzio had hoped. DeNunzio insisted he had no pre-arrangement to help the consultant and had only casually forwarded his résumé to see if there was any interest in him. "The job had a pension, that was one reason I was interested," he said.

On May 21, 1997, Morgenthau amended his eavesdropping applications to add both Ognibene and Gallagher as possible suspects in violations of state bribery laws.


HELPFUL CALLS

As investigators continued to listen, they heard Lattanzio ask for the help of Ognibene and his staff with other problems. One was a potentially troubling investigation by the State Department of Education into the alleged misuse of the engineer's stamp by Lattanzio's firm.

Investigators poring over Department of Buildings filings found more than 150 plans had been submitted in less than a year by Lattanzio with the seal of approval from engineer Richard Kamholtz. But the engineer acknowledged on the phone with Lattanzio that he had never even visited the consultant's Canal Street offices.

After state investigators opened their probe, Lattanzio was heard telling Kamholtz: "We'll bring you up to at least 2000 a month but I'll throw in an extra grand next month for all your inconvenience." He assured the older man that his lawyers, one of whom was a former buildings-department inspector general, would take care of the problem.

Later that day, Lattanzio called Gallagher about the upcoming license hearing. "If you can do anything," he said. "I gotcha. . . . All right, sir," Gallagher confidently responded, adding, "I'm going to go in and talk with Tom."

Lattanzio was later overheard telling associates that he had squelched the probe with Ognibene's help. State officials declined to comment about their investigation, but confirmed that no action was taken against Kamholtz's engineering license, even though Kamholtz himself later admitted his scams to investigators from Morgenthau's office and the city's department of investigations. Kamholtz died earlier this year. "I don't know anything about it," his widow told the Voice.

Some interchanges between the consultant and Ognibene's office were simple requests for a helpful phone call. In an October 1997 conversation Lattanzio called Gallagher to say he had just put "a [campaign] check in the mail." He then went on to ask if Gallagher could help with a pending building-permit problem. "My girl is down there now," Lattanzio said, "trying to wiggle [a building permit] out of 'em herself at the administrative level. . . . But if you can have somebody make a call . . . "


"All right," said Gallagher, adding that he was already expecting a call from the commissioner. He then patiently took down the names of the agency employees who had Lattanzio's permit application on their desks.

The campaign check was just one of many Lattanzio rounded up for Ognibene. Campaign records show the consultant shelled out $5500 out of his own pocket in direct gifts and in-kind contributions. He goaded his associates, including several contractors with whom he was busy rigging bids, to ante up thousands of dollars in contributions as well. Although there was no indication that Ognibene played any role in the rigged bids, Lattanzio told his pals that the politician was nonetheless an important ally.

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