By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The biggest growth industry at the state Department of Labor these days appears to be law enforcement inquiries.
Last week, investigators from the office of Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau executed search warrants on the upstate home and Albany office of top labor agency aide Edward Drago, a law enforcement source confirmed. Probers hauled away boxes of records and a computer from Drago, who oversees apprenticeship training programs for the state. The probe, the source said, centers on alleged misuse of funds intended for a regional conference of apprenticeship groups held in Westchester in 2000, but which instead wound up being used for Drago's family. The source said more than $20,000 allegedly went to pay for laser eye surgery for Drago's daughter, and to buy a computer for his son. Drago, whose sister is the acknowledged longtime mistress of state senator Guy Velella, didn't return repeated calls. Labor agency spokesmen were also mum.
Meanwhile, labor department officials are girding for embarrassing revelations from the federal trial later this month of former agency commissioner James McGowan on bribery, conspiracy, and mail fraud charges. McGowan, the former head of the state's firefighters' union, was picked by Governor Pataki to oversee the labor agency in 1998. He was abruptly fired in late 2000 after state investigators determined he had steered grants to a buddy who ran private driver-training schools.
In court filings, federal prosecutors have alleged that McGowan got a series of payments from driver-education mogul John Segreti, who is also charged. Prosecutors say McGowan also tried to get officials of the state-funded Consortium for Worker Education to give Segreti contracts. They also claim McGowan lied on a mortgage application in order to hide from his wife child-support payments he was making to a woman with whom he had a child out of wedlock. McGowan and Segreti have pleaded not guilty. The trial is expected to begin April 19.