By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
On December 19, Slater got another call from Chief Allee. Curitore was with the chief, walking around the office, talking on a cell phone. "I told you to keep the state police advised of what you were doing in this investigation," Allee said.
"Chief," Slater replied, "can I talk to you a minute in private, alone?"
"No," insisted Allee, in what Slater recalled as a "loud, clear voice."
"Chief, I've got to let you know that I have a Federal Grand Jury 6E letter, which means I can't discuss the case with anybody." Slater was determined not to say one more word to Curitore about the case.
Allee railed about why Slater had taken the case to Brooklyn federal prosecutors. He ordered Slater to leave, insisting that he wanted to talk to the feds himselfa conversation Slater went to Brooklyn and arranged right away. Then Allee summoned him back from Brooklyn only to tell him one more time: "I don't want to see you, get out of here." That afternoon Slater was pulled out of the Major Case Squad and reassigned to Internal Affairs. Behind the scenes, U.S. Attorney Zachary Carter had spoken to Police Commissioner Howard Safir, and Safir decided that a reassignment might insulate Slater from any further interference. But it was too late; Allee's September insistence that Slater include the state police in the investigation clearly had already set enough wheels in motion.
Secrets From the Governor's Basement
Around December 29, Brion Travis, the Pataki-appointed chair of the state parole board, called Tom Grant, one of his special assistants. He gave Grant, whose duties include acting as the parole division's spokesman, the names of three Korean inmates and asked him to check out their computerized records. Travis was out of the office and did not say where he was or explain the reason for his interest in the then obscure cases. Within weeks, the division would be inundated with press inquiries and government subpoenas about these cases. But, according to their grand jury testimony, this was the first Grant, or the division's executive director, Joe Gawloski, whom Grant consulted, had ever heard of them.
Grant punched the names into the computer and immediately told Travis that two of the three were still in jail, which quieted Grant's fears that the three had been involved in some horrid post-release crime, the usual "bad news" story that hits parole officials. When Grant told Travis, however, that the third, John Kim, had been released, Travis told him to "pull the file" to see if there was anything that might be"he didn't use the word embarrassing, but something to that effect," Grant testified. Travis offered no return number, but said he'd call back.
Phone records subsequently obtained by the feds established that Travis was calling, incredibly, from the basement security office at the governor's personal residence in Garrison in upstate Putnam County, an office set up at a cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars by Wiese. The prosecutors even asked Grant if Travis had mentioned Wiese when he called. They also asked him, as they did Gawloski, if Travis was "with the governor" when he called. In fact Travis, who, like Wiese, also lives in the tiny village of Garrison (pop. 2,500), had long helped babysit the Pataki children, as had Wiese's wife.
Travis's intense interest in the Korean cases was extraordinaryas Michael Cohen, parole's director of operations, put it to the grand jury: Travis did not "get involved in the day-to-day runnings of parole." Instead, testified Cohen, he spent his time "at the governor's house" babysitting for the Patakis and watching the Weather Channel in his own office. Cohen also testified that "around Christmas," Travis "told me that Danny Wiese had mentioned to him that there was an investigation going on concerning Koreans." Grant, who says Travis did not mention Wiese to him, was so impressed by the urgency of Travis's concern about the Kim case that he immediately sent his secretary to the interstate bureau two or three miles away to pick up the file. He then took it home, reading it meticulously. Travis called about 7 p.m. and Grant assured him that Kim "looked like a good release."
Slater and the feds were now turning up the heat on the probe, visiting Pyun in her home. The prosecutors also interviewed Allee, launching what would prove to be an extended inquiry into the Wiese efforts to penetrate their probe. Allee told them he was still getting calls from Wiese, but that he had deliberately not returned them because of the instructions from the U.S. Attorney's office. The prosecutors told Slater to call Wiese back and tape him. On January 9, Slater called Wiese from a number in the U.S. Attorney's office. Wiese got back a few minutes later and Slater said to him: "I understand you are looking for some information, can I help you?"
"Let me be perfectly clear," said Wiese, who Slater believed was taping the conversation. "I am not looking for information on this case. I know what a gag order is." Like Donahue at the sting, Wiese began making a series of unsolicited, self-serving statements, suggesting that Prunty and Curitore had been assigned "to help you out with what you needed," and bitterly complaining about his unreturned messages. He said all he wanted was the name and number of the prosecutor handling the case. Slater gave it to him and, "within minutes," the prosecutor got a call from Shechtman, who was already representing Donahue. Slater's chronology, which is partially based on phone records, indicates that Blaney, Wiese, and Shechtman had a three-way conversation later that day.