The Man Who Got Away

A Well-Connected Mob Fixer Slips Through the D.A.'s Net

In a wiretap affidavit submitted to the court on December 17, 1998, investigators noted that McManus had recently resigned his longtime position as a senior administrator with the city's Board of Elections and, despite serving as an elected district leader, was essentially a private citizen.

They summed up their observations this way: "Although the above referenced conversations with McManus suggest that Crimi is brokering a payoff to McManus to expedite the catering license for DeGobbi, McManus is no longer a public servant, and thus, payment to him, standing alone, would not appear to be criminal." The conversations certainly suggested that McManus might be using his influence with a city official, the affidavit stated, but without further evidence, "whether payment to a public servant might be involved and whether McManus' acts are criminal, cannot be determined at this time."

Whatever the criminal implications, investigators were apparently unable to learn anything else about the incident. Although detectives continued to spot Crimi at Limoncello and overheard him telling other mob pals to meet him there, that aspect of the investigation never went any further.

illustration: Viktor Koen

"We had scant evidence," said one law enforcement official familiar with the case, who added that an examination of McManus's phone records produced no leads. "There are no further phone conversations about it. You have to flip somebody or have someone tell you what it is all about. McManus and Crimi aren't about to tell you. We never confronted them with this because we never learned more about it."

Last week, McManus sat at a long table in his political club, going over expenses from the funeral home he operates and preparing to handle the flow of neighborhood residents who come twice a week to the club looking for help. McManus grinned when reminded of the phrase Crimi had used to introduce him. "That's what they say," he said, shaking his head.

"I have known him a long time," he said, referring to Crimi. "I go to all the labor dinners. That's probably where I know him from. He was always a nice guy." Some time ago, McManus said, he had received a formal notice from the D.A.'s office, informing him that he had been overheard on the wiretaps. "I didn't worry," he said. "I had no dealings with Mike."

McManus said he had no clear recollection of the matter involving the Limoncello. DeGobbi is now a member of his club, he said, having joined the same year that the wiretapped discussions took place. "I could have tried to help him," acknowledged McManus. "That's a normal thing to do. Look, paper lays on a desk sometimes."

In fact, McManus had plenty of friends at City Hall who might have been eager to help. Despite his generations-old party affiliation, the district leader engineered an endorsement from his club for the re-election of Republican Rudy Giuliani as mayor in 1997. "I knew [Democratic candidate Ruth] Messinger couldn't win; that's what it was," he explained. There were also benefits. McManus's brother, Denis, won a high-level patronage post at the city's Off-Track Betting Corporation from the Giuliani administration, and the mayor was a regular attendee at McManus's annual birthday party and fundraiser.

The district leader said he had no memory either of the $5000 payment, but suggested it might have come as a contribution to his club. Later, however, he changed his mind. "If I'd gotten that money, I'd remember it. People are always saying they are going to pay me for favors. I don't take a dime."

McManus was more certain, however, that the matter had never come up in conversations with his friend, District Attorney Morgenthau. "I know him since he ran for governor," said McManus. "In what? 1958?" It was 1962 when Morgenthau ran a futile race against incumbent Nelson Rockefeller, before going on to become the city's premier prosecutor. McManus said the two men lunch together about every six months, usually at Forlini's, the D.A.'s favorite spot, on Baxter Street behind the criminal courts.

"I'm from the old school," said McManus. "You never ask your personal friends to jeopardize their positions."

Limoncello's need for a catering license also apparently ended. Neither the restaurant nor the hotel hold the permit, although catering is offered on a regular basis to guests. City consumer affairs department officials said they had no record of the permit or any past violations. DeGobbi, who is well known for having worked at Le Cirque and other restaurants, ducked several efforts to interview him, refusing to respond to numerous messages. As for his labor relations at the café, officials at Local 6 of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union said arbitrators have cited DeGobbi for shortchanging employees on wages.

The restaurateur wasn't the only one who didn't want to talk about Mike Crimi. Developer Mark Perlbinder is a society-page regular, an avid gardener at his estate amid the Sagaponack dunes, and a collector of rare French porcelain. He has built several expensive high-rises on Manhattan's East Side, but said he had no idea who Mike Crimi was when initially asked. Reminded about Crimi's work for his business in 1999, Perlbinder said, "I haven't spoken to him in four years." Whatever dealings he'd had with Crimi, the builder insisted, he had no memory of them. "I must talk to 100 people a week," he said. When the Voice offered to share with him a transcript of his conversations with Crimi, Perlbinder said he had no interest and hung up the phone.

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