Inside Edge

The Councilman and the Crooked Building Consultant

"What did he do for me?" griped one reluctant contractor, pressed for a $2000 contribution. "He opened the door," explained Lattanzio.

The calls brought results. In one example, Ognibene campaign records show Ognibene received $1750 from L&M Larjo, a Long Island-based waterproofing firm that pled guilty to a bid-rigging scam with Lattanzio.

As Ognibene's campaign was getting underway in July, Lattanzio worried openly in a conversation with Gallagher about how much he had spent. "The other thing we gotta think about is, you know how I've been paying for all these fundraisers? Is there any way that I have to hide that?"

Gallagher assured him that the campaign would pick up the costs, but filings don't indicate any such reimbursements.


PRIVATE EYE

Ognibene's biggest political concern that year was the threat posed by Frank Borzillieri, the extreme right-wing school board member and former Ognibene ally. Borzillieri entered primaries for both the Republican and Conservative party nominations against Ognibene. His candidacy was a long shot, but he had the councilman worried.

In July, Lattanzio told Gallagher he was going to hire a private detective to spy on the rival candidate. Investigators didn't note any objections to the plan in their affidavits. The wiretap records show that the private dick spent several days tailing Borzillieri, watching his house and gathering background information on the candidate. Lattanzio wanted the detective to take pictures of people going in and out of Borzillieri's home. "I wanna know if he has a car and if he paid his taxes," Lattanzio was heard telling the detective.

On July 26, the detective told Lattanzio he had obtained Borzillieri's credit report. It is a violation of state and federal privacy laws to reveal credit records of outside parties and the detective warned Lattanzio: "You got to make sure you don't mention that too much."

Lattanzio was more interested in the contents. "Is it good or is it bad?" he asked.

The detective stalled. "Umm, these things are somewhat inaccurate sometimes." Lattanzio pressed again, saying it was "real important" and the detective finally agreed to fax Lattanzio the report, adding one more caution: "It's defamation of character though, for you to say something about somebody's credit report, so you know."

Although Lattanzio told the detective he would spend "around $1500" for the investigation, Ognibene's campaign-finance reports show no such expenses.

Borzillieri was trounced by a three-to-one margin in the primaries. He knew he never had a chance against Ognibene. "I didn't take it seriously," he said. But the private eye's mission apparently stayed private. "I never heard anything about it," said Borzillieri.

Prosecutors allowed their eavesdropping war rants on Lattanzio's offices to lapse on November 7, 1997. An investigator said recently that the decision was based on manpower limitations, a change in tactics, and a belief that the wiretaps, which required hundreds of hours of investigative staff time, were becoming "repetitious."

Investigators, however, kept their court authorizations to maintain pen registers—devices that show numbers called and received—on Lattanzio's phones. From December 1997 until June 1998, when Lattanzio was arrested, the logs showed more than 200 calls between Ognibene's office and Lattanzio's—far more than those made by any other suspects involved with the crooked consultant.

In the final weeks of the eavesdropping, investigators heard Lattanzio's secretary continue to work on details of the bogus travel prizes for Ognibene and Gallagher. At one point, the secretary called Gallagher to tell him she was faxing a new award letter to another Ognibene staffer.

They also heard the secretary complain that Lattanzio wanted the travel agency to speed things up. The staffers, apparently, were used to it. "Ron wants to kiss these people's ass, I guess," explained his secretary to the travel agency. "I don't know why."

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