By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Back in August, a couple of weeks before the Democratic primary, the New York Times featured a 36-paragraph investigative story about Fernando Ferrer's "once-close relationship" with Manny Gonzalez, a Bronx parking lot manager and Ferrer fundraiser who'd recently completed a highly publicized jail sentence. Gonzalez was the "other felon" in the celebrated case of former state senator and Bronx GOP boss, Guy Velella, and both pled guilty to bribery conspiracy charges last year.
The Times story stirred up a temporary hornet's nest of interest in what it called Ferrer's "roots" in a quid pro quo "Bronx political culture," an apparently more alluring history lesson than an examination of Bloomberg's ongoing alliances with the mob-tied GOP titans of Staten Island (see "The Odd Couple,"). Packed with caveats and denials, even from the prosecutor, the Times story nonetheless left the unmistakable impression that Gonzalez was caught on tape selling his influence with Ferrer to squeeze contributions for the 2001 mayoral campaign out of city contractors.
While the Times relied on affidavits and tape excerpts that were part of the court record, the Voice has obtained full transcripts of 1999 and 2000 conversations about Ferrer that have never been disclosed. One conversation goes well beyond anything the Times reported, establishing that a key official in the Ferrer campaign cited by the Times, Leonard Carr, agreed to facilitate a city loan for a donor. Other conversations undercut the Times' portrayal of the relationship with Gonzalez, assailing Ferrer because the then borough president was stiff-arming the project of a donor.
The mixed picture that emerges is hardly a plus for Ferrer, whose press secretary told the Times that he "had no reason to be suspicious because Gonzalez was someone he had known and trusted, for most of his life." In fact, that is precisely the reason Ferrer should've stayed away from Gonzalez, whose main benefactor was Ramon Velez, the notorious South Bronx antipoverty baron long derided by Ferrer.
On January 19, 2000, Gonzalez called Carr about a $500,000 economic development loan for Victor Cintron, an owner of pharmacies and health centers and a "client" of Gonzalez's "consulting" firm. At Gonzalez's urging, Cintron had already hosted a fundraiser in his home for Ferrer and retained Ferrer's campaign manager Roberto Ramirez as his attorney. The Times story noted that in late 1999 Gonzalez had called Ferrer personally on behalf of Cintron's loan application and left a message asking him "to move this thing along," provoking a return call from a Ferrer aide asked to look into it. But by mid-January, the still-unapproved Cintron was pushing a panic button.
Gonzalez told Carr that Cintron had called him at 9 p.m. the night before and was "very frustrated in his efforts to get that loan." Gonzalez asked Carr to call Joe Ithier, the president of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation and Ferrer's executive assistant, to win a final sign-off. Clearly referring to a future contribution, Gonzalez added: "You want to hear something? He's going to be there big time next time around."
Carr responded: "Freddy wanted to help Victor. He's mentioned as much. I had this conversation last time about this. I will call Joe regardless, because he's, I mean, you know, he's been a friend of Freddy's for a long time. Just on the merits, you know, on the merits alone he deserves this. So let me give a call to Joe." Gonzalez then shifts to a request for a bus driver job for the nephew of another contributor.
As the Times noted, affidavits filed by investigators in the Gonzalez case indicated that Ferrer "wanted Gonzalez to be more involved in the fundraising activities" and asked Carr to work closely with Gonzalez. The Times also quoted a former senior Ferrer aide who said Ferrer and his staff "often agreed to meet with people" Gonzalez brought in "who were looking for economic development loans." But, the source said, "they were not aware that Gonzalez was making promises of help in exchange for contributions. "This tape gives the lie to that claim since Carr's job was to orchestrate the People for Ferrer fundraising activities and he was offering to assist a donor in pressuring Ithier.
Gonzalez has known Ithier since Ithier was five years old, yet he obviously believed he needed a campaign call to get Ithier to act. Carr wouldn't answer Voice questions, but Ithier said he didn't talk to Gonzalez or Carr about the loan, which had to make it through several independent reviews, according to Ithier. Contrary to Carr's statement on the tape, Ithier said that Ferrer told him that "he didn't know Cintron."
An affidavit from one of the Manhattan District Attorney's investigators alleged that "as a quid pro quo" for contributions, "Gonzalez has worked with Ferrer and Ithier to obtain for Cintron a construction loan without the ordinary collateral requirements usually involved in such loans." Cintron got the loan, but the Times reported that "investigators concluded that it had received no special treatment." Regardless of whether or not favored loan terms were involved, it is illegal to connect contributions with a government act, as the Carr conversation suggests.
As damaging as this conversation was, others depicted Ferrer as an obstacle to Gonzalez deals. A consultant to Ramon Velez's Hunts Point Multi-Service Center in the Bronx, Gonzalez was deeply involved in the agency's attempt to launch a $3.5 million asthma diagnostic and treatment center, aided by Senator Velella, who was on retainer as a lawyer for Hunts Point. Velella was funneling state and city funding to the project, but the seed money for it was a $1 million grant from Waste Management Inc., the garbage giant that was trying to obtain a state operating permit for a waste transfer station. Waste Management's donation to the asthma facility was a community benefits requirement to get the permit. Gonzalez was also working with the landlord for the new transfer station, Harlem River Yard Ventures Inc., whose principals had maxed out in contributions to Ferrer and were strongly lobbying for the waste station.