Court Date for Bernie's Pals

But this is one case America's mayor doesn't want going to trial

It was an overwhelming voter turnout on conservative Staten Island back in 1993 that first propelled Rudy Giuliani into City Hall—thence on to fame and fortune. But the political ambitions of the man they call America's Mayor could now be at risk, thanks to the criminal indictment last week of two of the island's favorite sons.

Giuliani has made it clear that he would very much like to be president, or if that seems like a stretch for a pro-abortion, pro-gay-rights Republican, he would certainly appreciate the national spotlight such a campaign would be accorded. The spotlight is clearly his for the asking: A Gallup poll last week put the ex-mayor as the top choice of three out of four Republicans.

But an even bigger potential obstacle to Giuliani's presidential hopes than his liberal New York baggage appeared on July 19 in a Bronx courtroom in the form of a pair of broad-shouldered former football stars for Monsignor Farrell High School on Staten Island's east shore.

Frank and Peter DiTommaso, who built their Interstate Industrial Corporation into a regional construction powerhouse in the 1990s, stood before Supreme Court Judge Steven Barrett and pled not guilty to first-degree- perjury charges lodged against them by Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson, setting the stage for a trial that is bound to raise troubling questions for the would-be presidential candidate.

The charges against the contractors came just two weeks after Giuliani appeared to have dodged that particular bullet, when his friend and former police commissioner Bernard Kerik admitted in the same courthouse that he had allowed the DiTommaso brothers to secretly pump $165,000 into the renovation of the former top cop's palatial Riverdale apartment.

While the sumptuous remake of his home was under way, Kerik acknowledged, he had gone to bat for the DiTommasos—who were then fighting allegations of mob ties—with other city officials. He did so, as the ex–police commissioner told the judge, "thinking they were clean."

Kerik's admission spared Giuliani what would have been a major embarrassment—the prospect of a criminal trial for the man he had named to head the city's police force. Kerik, after more than a year of denying all wrongdoing, accepted a no-jail plea, a $221,000 fine, and the burden of a criminal rap sheet for the rest of his life.

But for the DiTommaso brothers, it was nothing doing. The contractors adamantly denied lying to the Bronx grand jury when asked if they had paid for the renovations to Kerik's home. "Under no circumstances did me, my brother, anyone from my company have a conversation and/or authorize payments for work done on that apartment," was what Frank DiTommaso, 47, told the grand jury on March 30, the indictment states. Three months later, his younger brother Peter, 45, gave the same response to the same jurors.

Those statements were blatantly untrue, said D.A. Johnson and city investigations chief Rose Gill Hearn, whose office helped conduct the probe. "Those who would subvert the grand jury's truth-seeking function and the integrity of city government will be held accountable," said Hearn.

Standing in dark suits before the judge last week, the brothers let their attorney, an influential New Jersey practitioner named Thomas Durkin Jr., enter their pleas of not guilty. The men face up to seven years in prison if convicted at trial.

Even though Giuliani may never have to put in an appearance at such a trial, it is bound to shed an unflattering light on one of his administration's murkiest episodes.

"It's not as heavy as a Kerik trial would have been," said George Arzt, a lobbyist and City Hall veteran who served as press spokesman for Mayor Ed Koch, "but any negative gets picked up. It snowballs. It erodes his strength, which is integrity. He is supposed to be Mr. Clean, the tough guy with a law enforcement background for treacherous times. When you are eating away at that it hurts. It raises the aura of hypocrisy."

In the Bronx courtroom, the preliminary back-and-forth about production of documents for the defense was already under way. Bronx rackets bureau chief Dennis Consumano, who will handle the case, said the government's records in the matter were "substantial."

Included in those records will be the grand jury testimony of Giuliani, who was reported to have become testy and annoyed under questioning by prosecutors. But key questions about the events remain unanswered, at least for the public.

What, for instance, was then mayor Giuliani told about the startling testimony that Frank DiTommaso gave to the city's department of investigation in June 2000, when the DiTommasos were trying to persuade city officials that their numerous dealings with mobsters in the construction and supply business were no fault of their own.

They had good cause to want their names cleared. Records show that their companies won more than $100 million worth of contracts for work, including a new concrete foundation at Kings County Hospital, the building of storm sewers, and—the project that kicked off the controversy because of the many gangsters on the scene—providing dirt covering at the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island.

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