Fees and Thank You

Carl Andrews runs for Congress, trying to shed ties to King of Kings County Clarence Norman

State Senator Carl Andrews, who's running in the city's hottest congressional race, was the unidentified "individual" described in a 2001 report released by New York State Chief Judge Judith Kaye as a top recipient of patronage court appointments in Brooklyn in the '90s. Andrews confirmed in a Voice interview that he was questioned by investigators about the $137,242 in fees that he was paid between 1995 and 1999, when his mentor, Clarence Norman, was the county's Democratic party boss and Andrews collected 34 percent of all receiver fees paid in mortgage foreclosures.

The report, prepared by the Office of Court Administration's inspector general, Sherill Spatz, did not name Andrews but said "an official of the Brooklyn Democratic organization"—Andrews was its treasurer during these years—was awarded 46 of these appointments, more than anyone else listed. Spatz found that the party official "resigned his appointments" in early 1999 and "recommended an attorney with close ties to a top party official as his replacement in those cases that were still outstanding." Andrews explained that he resigned both his receiverships and his party post in January 1999, when he became the director of intergovernmental relations for newly elected attorney general Eliot Spitzer. A spokesman for Spitzer, Rich Baum, said the AG asked Andrews "to drop the receiverships" because of the office's "many interactions with the judiciary."

Andrews conceded that he recommended Ravi Batra, who was then associated with Norman in a three-person law firm, to succeed him as a receiver in several of the cases. The IG concluded that Andrews "asserted in motion papers"— which were reportedly sworn statements—that Batra "was already familiar with the cases" as a rationale for the referral. But in fact, according to the report, "the attorney was not familiar" with the cases. Batra e-mailed a statement to the Voice in response to phone inquiries, saying he became "aware of the improper motions" made by Andrews's attorneys when the IG questioned him in September 2000, confirming that Andrews made the referrals.

Whenever Andrews's long association with Norman has come up in the congressional campaign, he has said, "My name is Carl Andrews," in an attempt to distance himself from the deposed boss, who was convicted last year in two felony cases and forced to resign his party and state assembly posts. But Andrews's extraordinary percentage of receiver appointments, as well as his Batra referrals, are prime examples of just how intertwined they were. Andrews, who is not an attorney, acknowledged that he "assumes" that most receiverships are awarded to lawyers. Marty Connor, the former Democratic leader of the state senate, said Norman called him within days of Mario Cuomo's loss in the 1994 gubernatorial race and said that his "best friend Carl Andrews" would soon be out of his Cuomo-tied job and asked that Connor hire him. Connor did hire Andrews in 1995, at precisely the same time as Andrews began to receive the court appointments.

Andrews acknowledged that Norman had gotten him the senate job, but insisted it was "not necessarily true" that his connections to Norman, who handpicked many judges during his 13-year term as Democratic leader, brought him the court appointments. "I put my name in," Andrews said, and "a lot of people know me in the Democratic party. I've worked in a lot of judicial campaigns." He insisted that "people assume you make a lot of money" on receiverships but that taking over foreclosed properties is "like Russian roulette."

Admitting that he got "a lot of at bats as receiver," he said he'd never "hit a home run," claiming that the most he ever got from one appointment was $25,000. "Are you saying that in the years of Meade Esposito," asked Andrews, referring to another twice-convicted and legendary boss of the Brooklyn party, "no one got a large percent of receiver appointments?" He raised Esposito's name to dispute any notion that he'd garnered "an abnormal number" of assignments, adding that "the real issue" with court appointments was "racism" and that "the majority of people who make money on receiverships are white, not black."

Andrews's federal and state senate campaign committee filings reflect in-kind contributions and disbursements tallying almost $20,000 for office space and other expenses donated by affiliates of BPC Management, the company that Andrews says he frequently used while he was a receiver to manage the properties awarded him by the courts. He is currently renting BPC's Downtown Brooklyn office for the congressional race, which pits Andrews against City Council members David Yassky and Yvette Clarke, as well as Chris Owens, a former school board member who's the son of the retiring incumbent, Major Owens.

In addition to the receiverships awarded by State Supreme Court judges, Andrews also incorporated an auctioneer company in 1997, shortly after Michael Feinberg was elected Brooklyn surrogate. Feinberg, who was Norman's candidate for the powerful judicial post that oversees the probate of wills, immediately began selecting Andrews to handle the property auctions. Andrews had managed Feinberg's campaign. Within a year, however, after Andrews's auctioneer business drew press attention, he transferred the company to an associate. "I was the first black auctioneer in Kings County history," he explained. "I'm proud of that. I broke the color barrier." Feinberg was forced to step down in 2005 after court investigators found that he'd approved the payment of millions of dollars in excessive fees to an attorney who was his lifelong friend, draining the estates of many Brooklyn residents.

The same Brooklyn D.A. who convicted Norman, Joe Hynes, is investigating Feinberg now, and a source close to the office said Andrews's auctioneer business has been mentioned in that probe. But Andrews insisted that he hasn't been questioned in either the Feinberg investigation or any of the far-reaching Hynes inquiries about Norman. "They asked me one question through my attorney," said Andrews, adding that "when you look at what Clarence was convicted of, I had nothing to do with that."

Andrews said Feinberg was merely involved in "indiscretions"—though Jimmy Breslin more accurately wrote that Feinberg's office "takes everything but the bones from the dead." Andrews added that "Clarence's conviction was a disappointment to me personally" and "has stained the history of his Kings County leadership." But he said Norman had done a lot of "good things and bad things," then corrected himself and said "questionable things," adding that he would "leave it to historians" to weigh the record. While he said that Norman would "not wind up on my payroll" if he was elected to Congress, he would not answer questions about whether he would use his congressional office to benefit Norman less directly.

Spitzer endorsed Andrews at a press conference last month, citing his "effusive smile, his charm, his wit" and has raised an estimated $20,000 to $40,000 for him. Andrews ran Spitzer's field operation in his 1998 race and worked for him in the AG's office until a county committee controlled by Norman installed him as a state senator in 2002. A Daily News story in 1998 noted that Andrews was hired by the Spitzer campaign within a couple of days of Norman's endorsement. Norman recently married Vernice Williams, who was hired by Spitzer's office to work under Andrews while he headed the intergovernmental unit. Neither Spitzer's spokesman nor Andrews could spell out what Andrews's role might have been in hiring her, but Andrews said that she and Norman "had just met when she was hired by the AG" in 1999.

Though it has been repeatedly reported that Andrews wound up on the campaign payroll of candidates Norman endorsed, earning $138,000 over a few years, he has taken surprisingly little heat so far in the congressional campaign due to these connections. That's partly because of his recognized ability as a campaign operative—which may have justified some of these payments. But he has no prior experience as a court-appointed overseer of troubled properties, and the singling out of him by the IG focuses attention on the public booty that his primary political relationship brought him.

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