Hear No Evil

GOP judge tried to shut down the Velella probe. Quid pro quo not always wrong, he said.

At one point, Buckley suggested that, in lieu of wiretaps, the D.A. should serve subpoenas and try to flip Gonzalez, the memo stated. Failing that, the judge suggested that Vincent Velella be charged. Prosecutors countered that subpoenas would only tip off the targets and that Gonzalez was unlikely at that stage to cooperate. As for Vincent Velella, Coppotelli said that "the old man"—as Gonzalez referred to the elder Velella—"would not end up going to jail anyway."

The discussion hit a brick wall when prosecutors said that ending the wiretaps would probably allow Guy Velella to escape unscathed. As described in the memo, the judge's demeanor suddenly changed: "To this, the judge replied abruptly and in a manner inconsistent with his tone to that point, 'I'm shutting you down.' This statement was quite startling because, up to this point, it had appeared that the judge had been agreeing that Guy Velella's conduct was illegal and that the wires continued to be productive."

Bitten by bugs: Guy Velella after guilty plea
photo: Shiho Fukada
Bitten by bugs: Guy Velella after guilty plea

When prosecutors continued to present their arguments, the memo said, Buckley "slapped his open hand down on his desk" and repeated, "I'm shutting you down."

According to the memo, Coppotelli then said: "What about the senator? He is the corrupt politician, he is the hub of the wheel. He is the thing that makes this scheme work."

Buckley was unmoved. "I'm shutting you down," he said.

When Coppotelli asked the judge the reason for his decision, the judge cut him off, saying, "Are you telling me that I need a legal basis? Don't I have the discretion to cut you off?" Coppotelli acknowledged that he did. "Of course you do, of course you have the discretion."

The judge then repeated, "I'm shutting you down."

The prosecutors made one last try, asking if there was "anything that could be done investigatively that would assuage the judge's concerns and allow for continued eavesdropping." Buckley said one more time: "I'm shutting you down."

The prosecutors thanked the judge for his time and returned to their office, where they promptly ordered the wiretap monitors to cease intercepting conversations.

Several hours later, the judge was apparently still thinking about the matter. At 6:30 p.m., Buckley called the prosecutors and asked when the deadline was on the current wiretap authorization. Told that it had another week to run, the judge said, "That's when I want to do it."

After Morgenthau's office won new eavesdropping warrants from Bronx Supreme Court Justice John Collins, records show the case grew substantially. The bugs were expanded to include Guy Velella's office, where much of the evidence later presented to the grand jury was obtained. Velella, his father, Gonzalez, and two others were later indicted, charges that resulted last week in guilty pleas from all, except for 90-year-old Vincent Velella. As Coppotelli had predicted, "the old man" beat the rap when charges against him were dropped in exchange for the senator's guilty plea.

Buckley was also unaffected by the incident. Last year, Pataki promoted the judge a notch higher—naming him presiding justice of the Appellate Division's First Department, one of the most powerful judicial posts in the state.

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