By Jared Chausow
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Little did the Chungs realize that two of the three investigators questioning them were, ironically, bodyguards for the governor. Slater got his own first inkling of Prunty's ties to Pataki on the ride back to Manhattan, when the trooper volunteered that he remembered the incident with Mrs. Chung. Prunty told Slater that Mrs. Chung "was yelling something about her son being held in jail, crumpled up a piece of paper and threw it at the governor." Prunty said he got Pataki into the car, picked up the piece of paper and ran a check on the name she'd scribbled on it, determining that the son was in jail for a long time. Suddenly, Slater testified later in the grand jury, "it dawned on me how close he was."
Slater had just begun working with Brooklyn federal prosecutors on the case. When he now told them about the involvement of Wiese and Prunty, they instructed him to no longer contact the state police, "for obvious reasons." They told Slater, "It wouldn't be proper to have someone that close to the investigation who might leak information back to the governor's office." Slater, who by then had met with Prunty three or four times and had talked to him on the phone repeatedly, said he "was starting to feel the same way." After clearing this exclusion with his captain, Slater dodged Prunty's next call, telling him that a kidnapping had forced the Yoo case onto a back burner.
In truth, Slater was closing in on Yoo, putting John Jhang on the phone with him as soon as the Jhangs got back from their Korea trip. Yoo asked Jhang to come to his house. So on November 10, Slater wired up Jhang and brought him and his son Michael to Yoo's house, monitoring the conversation from a short distance away. Yoo was wary of Jhang, tipped off about the probe, but still hoping to change the part of his deal with Jhang that was clearly illegal. Yoo had forced Jhang to write him a check for $10,000 when the contributions to Pataki were made in 1994, and Yoo had then donated $10,000 to the campaign in his own namea proxy contribution in violation of the law.
Now Yoo had prepared phony documents to try to create a paper trail suggesting that the $10,000 was a loan he'd been slowly repaying over time. He was so uneasy he asked Jhang's son to leave, said five times that he was "under investigation," and even denied that he'd ever explicitly promised Jhang parole in exchange for contributions. He warned Jhang to keep his mouth shut because if anything came out publicly, it would destroy his son's chances of getting out of prison. At Yoo's trial in 2000, the prosecutor sized up Yoo's mixed message, saying that "by November" Yoo was "well on his way to trying to cover his tracks."
The Government Gets Stung
Then Slater, working for the first time with federal agents, set up a sting of Donahue, who both the Jhangs and the Chungs had said was fully aware of the parole scam. On December 17, Slater and Sassok followed the co-director of the governor's finance committee from his Park Avenue apartment to 355 Lexington, where the committee's headquarters were located. Slater radioed ahead to federal investigators what Donahue was wearing and the book bag he was carrying. A wired Asian agent and Michael Jhang were waiting outside the Lexington Avenue building at 9:30 a.m. when Donahue arrived; another agent was parked on the street monitoring the recorded conversation that ensued. Jhang and the agent confronted Donahue about the donations outside the building momentarily, and in the lobby for almost 45 minutes.
Donahue, who would ultimately be formally identified by prosecutors as a target in the probe and take the Fifth Amendment himself, made a series of exculpatory, self-serving, almost rehearsed declarations. When it was over, he went upstairs to the campaign office and told Blaney and Pyun he'd just been taped. He told his new attorney, Paul Shechtman, the same thing. An ex-prosecutor who'd stepped down as Pataki's Criminal Justice Coordinator a year earlier, Shechtman had been instantly brought in to represent Donahue. Slater's grand jury chronology reports that as soon as the taping was over, "Patrick calls Wiese, Wiese calls Tommy Curitore."
The next afternoon Slater went to a training session in Brooklyn, where he was paged by his captain, who explained that Curitore had just been up to see him. Curitore claimed that he'd just happened to be out on Lexington Avenue and saw the undercover operation "set up on Patrick." Curitore wanted to know who the other Asian guy with Michael Jhang was. The captain wanted to know why the state police hadn't been informed of the sting. Slater reminded the captain about the feds insisting the state cops not be involved. He knew that the undercover and Jhang had stopped very briefly outside the building, making "the chances of Curitore spotting them in the street slim." Slater later determined that Curitore had in fact learned of the sting from Wiese and Donahue, noting it in his chronology.