By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
No one outside George Pataki's family is closer to the three-term governor than Dan Wiese. On election night in 1994, Pataki was unsure he'd beaten Mario Cuomo until Wiese and a coterie of state troopers arrived at his Hilton Hotel suite to begin guarding him. A Pataki neighbor and Peekskill trooper when Pataki was the town's mayor and assemblyman in the '80s, Wiese was promoted to major and put in charge of Pataki's detail even before the new governor took office, eventually assuming an unparalleled role in the management of the first family's life. Wiese achieved national notoriety when he visited the Oval Office in February 2002 and gave George W. Bush the bullhorn he used at ground zero, which Wiese had taken home with him that day and was then presenting as a gift from the governor.
But, as this shocking story recounts for the first time, Wiese was also in charge of protecting George Pataki's campaign and administration from a federal criminal inquiry, a job he did so well that government prosecutors investigated him on obstruction-of-justice allegations. The Voice has learned that Wiese even took the Fifth Amendment before that grand jury, which was sitting in Brooklyn in the late '90s and was investigating the sale of state paroles for Pataki campaign contributions. Despite the assertion of his self-incrimination privilege in a probe involving possible abuse of his state police powers, Wiese was subsequently promoted twicefirst to lieutenant colonel in 2000, and finally to full colonel last year.
Retiring from the police in April at 48 years old, Wiese was named a day later to the new, $160,000 position of director of security for the State Power Authority, putting him in charge of protecting 21 terrorist-vulnerable power facilities across New York. Asked if Wiese informed the authority that he had been the subject of a federal probe and had taken the Fifth Amendment, Peter Barden, the authority's spokesman, denied by e-mail that Wiese had ever been a subject, but did not comment about Wiese's assertion of his Fifth Amendment privileges. Voiceinterviews with five law enforcement sources confirmed the probe of Wiese. Prosecutors even tried surreptitiously to tape a conversation with him, an indication that he was under investigation, as was Wiese's retention of two of the city's top criminal lawyers, Steve Kaufman and Dominic Amorosa. Wiese refused to talk to the Voice through months of inquiries, and Amorosa declined in a Voiceinterview to answer any questions.
With Wiese's $73,238 annual pension, $24,470 in accrual payments, and this lucrative new position that was neither advertised nor posted, Wiese embodies the rewards of loyalty in the Pataki universe, rising to the top state police position though he helped frustrate a probe that convicted four state or campaign officials.
The Voice recently obtained mountains of long-secret grand jury documents that detail Wiese's role in the 1997-98 parole board investigation, as well as that of Tom Curitore, an ex-city cop also once assigned to guard Pataki, now a $110,000-a-year deputy commissioner in the Bloomberg administration. While the evidence against both did not in the end rise to the level of a criminal charge, their conduct in the annals that follow, drawn from sworn grand jury testimony, paints a disturbing picture of the abuse of law-enforcement power. With Curitore and Wiese now taking home two and three times respectively what they earned when these events occurred, this saga also illuminates the pathway to prosperity in the ethically compromised world of a governor whose administration is a spawning ground for scandal.
A Chronology of Cover-Up
It was late afternoon on September 17, 1997, and George Slater, a city detective assigned to the Asian major-case squad at One Police Plaza, was sitting at his desk when "two gentlemen in suits came in" and asked for his captain. Slater noticed that one of them was wearing an earpiece "like the Secret Service and the FBI wear to communicate with one another." He said to his partner, Bobby Sassok: "We're in trouble." Slater sensed that whoever these guys were, they were there to complain about what he and Sassok had done the day before, namely, visit Friends of Pataki, the Lexington Avenue office of the governor's campaign committee.
They'd gone to the committee to investigate a complaint filed by John Jhang, a Korean businessman who said he'd made $23,000 in Pataki contributions after a campaign official promised to facilitate the release of his son, who was doing seven to 21 years on 1993 armed robbery charges. Jhang was outragedhis son was still in jail, he couldn't get his money back, and his son's sidekick in the holdups, John Kim, had been paroled early with the help of the same Pataki fundraiser (after his family and friends donated $7,000 to Pataki). Slater took the allegation even more seriously when he learned that the fundraiser named by Jhang, another Korean named Yung Soo Yoo, had already been convicted on a federal fraud charge.
When Slater also interviewed Jhang's other son, Michael, he got details about the family's conversations with a variety of Pataki aides, so he put the son on the phone with one of those aides, Julie Pyun, in a secretly taped conversation. Pyun, who was the campaign's staff liaison to the Korean community, handpicked by Yoo, generally confirmed the outlines of the Jhang allegations in the taped conversation. That's when Slater decided to go see Pyun to get as much direct and detailed confirmation as he could. His September 16 interview with her in a committee conference room went well, with Pyun acknowledging that she was "aware of a number of complaints" about Yoo from people who'd been "promised things in return for donations," citing the Jhangs and another family, the Chungs.