Law and Disorder: Special Victims Unit

Investigators say the city's independent schools watchdog has often failed to bark

But it still wasn't over. The former principal, concerned at possible civil liabilities, offered to purchase a $250,000 house for the victim in exchange for a promise not to pursue further legal action. When Loughran learned of the offer, she allegedly said that the victim might be arrested for extortion, a suggestion that appalled the investigators. (As it happened, the deal fell through.)

"He had been a principal for 20 years, he had such power," said one of the investigators recently. "All he had to do was find another weak kid. We felt there had to be other victims. It was so egregious to shut it down. Pedophiles don't do it once and then go home. You don't have to be Columbo to figure that out."


illustration: Glynis Sweeny

The two letters detailing the complaints about the bungled past cases landed on the desk of city department of investigations commissioner Rose Gill Hearn in early 2003.

Hearn technically oversees the schools investigation unit (its offices are located in the same Maiden Lane building as DOI), but because of its sensitive mission it operates largely independently. Still, Hearn took the complaints seriously, assigning a pair of senior attorneys to look into them. Over the course of several months, the attorneys interviewed 10 current and former employees of Stancik's old special commissioner's office, including Loughran. During the interviews, the attorneys turned up another instance, in which a complaint about a Bronx teacher accused of sodomizing several young male students had been confirmed by the Stancik office but had somehow never been referred to prosecutors.

Those findings were in turn forwarded to Stancik's successor, Richard J. Condon, a former police commissioner who in the past headed investigative squads for the Manhattan and Queens district attorneys. When Condon took over in June 2002, he retained Loughran, bumping her up a notch to first deputy commissioner. A DOI spokesperson, Emily Gest, said the office hadn't ordered any changes or discipline for Loughran, but had "shared the facts and findings of its investigation, for Commissioner Condon to take any necessary remedial actions."

Condon said that he too took the complaints seriously, spending hours wading through old investigative files. "I was not a witness to this history," he said. "Most of these things happened years before I got here."

The standard he used in examining the cases, Condon said, was whether Loughran had had a "rational basis" for her decisions. In two instances—that of the art instructor who had shown the nude photos, and the teacher who had posed the obscene remarks to the student—Condon said he disagreed with Loughran's actions, but cautioned that even this conclusion was "probably unfair."

As for the failure to make a criminal referral in the Bronx sodomy case, Condon said the explanation was simple. "She screwed up. It happens." He noted that the office had handled a total of 1,800 cases during the period under review. Loughran also later told DOI's inquiry that she was "baffled" how she had failed to make the referral, but said if she was to blame so were her former bosses, Stancik and Robert Brenner, who served as Stancik's first deputy commissioner. (Brenner, now with the investigations firm Kroll Inc., did not return calls.)

At the end of the day, however, Condon said he chalked up the complaints to honest disagreements. "I am used to investigators and prosecutors arguing over whether cases should be prosecuted," he said.

Condon told the Daily News' Kathleen Lucadamo, who asked about the probe last month, that he considered Loughran "one of the straightest, most hardworking prosecutors I have ever worked with."

He told the Voice that he'd encountered none of the erratic behavior by Loughran described by the investigators. "I have been here three and a half years working next door to this woman and I have never seen the behavior these people describe," he said.

In a letter to DOI, however, Condon said he had changed office procedures to make sure he personally reads all complaints that come into the office and examines "every substantiated and unsubstantiated case."

Loughran, who declined to speak to the Voice, wrote Condon a lengthy defense of her actions, insisting that her decisions at the office had been "common-sense based and not capricious by any rational standard."

The investigators, past and current, remain unconvinced. "This isn't just disagreeing over cases," said one. "Yeah, there's always tension [in other investigative offices] between the investigators and the prosecutors. But it's always motivated by respect, and everyone understands they're a team. Here, you don't get that. And they're supposed to be about helping the kids."

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