By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
McGowan was allowed to voluntarily resign his post in October 2000. His problem wasn't so much his constant pressure on behalf of his friend, Segreti, but that he had tried to fire a longtime labor department aide, James Dillon, who had close ties to Pataki favorite and now congressman John Sweeney, according to reports in the News and the New York Post at the time. It wasn't until federal labor investigators began probing McGowan that evidence of the payments from Segreti was found, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
Segreti's firm, National Traffic Safety Institute Corporation, is a multimillion-dollar, privately held business, based in Staten Island, with operations in 16 states. Along with an affiliated firm called Drive Safe New York, Segreti's firms handle a state-approved program whereby those who take its official courses can qualify for reduced insurance rates as well as have points taken off their licenses.
The company has ongoing programs, according to its promotional ads, with several state and city civil service unions, including organizations representing New York state police, state supreme court officers, and city firefighters.
It is not the first time questions have been raised about Segreti's operation. In a November 2000 exposé by NBC's Dateline, an undercover reporter paid $50 at one of Segreti's authorized training centers in Manhattan to get a certificate of completion of the safety coursewithout having to take the course. In the classroom itself, Dateline's cameras captured students snoozing while videos on driving safety ran, with no course instructor in sight.
Dateline confronted Segreti about the scam. "I don't have an explanation for you today, other than to say that we monitor these things," he said. "We look into them as well as the Department of Motor Vehicles. I know that's not something that we condone or goes on all over the country. That I know. We may have a bad apple here."
But officials from various unions said Segreti and his firm had been a constant presence for years at labor conferences, offering classes and services. Those who paid the entry fee got their certificates with little effort. "I always thought they were suspect," said one labor official.
In a statement following Segreti's indictment, National Traffic Safety Institute Corporation denied any wrongdoing.
When a reporter called the state Department of Motor Vehicles last week to ask about the agency's dealings with the drivers' education firm, a spokesman said it was the first inquiry the agency had received regarding the matter.
The Pataki aide then went into shut-down mode, refusing to discuss any aspect of their involvement with the firm, and referring all questions to the U.S. Attorney. It is the same tactic the governor's aides adopted when faced with earlier integrity issues, including a major parole scandal in 1998.