Court Date for Bernie's Pals

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

Frank DiTommaso came to that deposition well armed with City Hall connections: His lead attorney was from the law firm of Fischbein Badillo Wagner & Harding, whose partners included Giuliani's friend and political mentor, former Liberal Party boss Ray Harding. But that wasn't the builder's only hook with the administration, the deposition revealed.

DiTommaso told officials that he had not only become good enough friends to do drop-in visits to Kerik's city office, he had also hired one of Kerik's closest buddies as a top adviser to his company and put Kerik's brother on the payroll as an $85,000-a-year manager at the same Staten Island waste transfer station that was then under scrutiny for mob contacts. DiTommaso told his questioners that he had hired Kerik's pal, a man named Larry Ray, after Kerik (then the corrections commissioner) told him Ray was "a top-shelf guy."

Within the administration, Kerik's assistance for the contractor wasn't much of a secret. The commissioner went so far as to allow his friend Ray to use his corrections office for a meeting with investigators from the city's Trade Waste Commission, which was then examining the DiTommasos' application. Kerik made sure to be there at the start of the meeting so Ray could introduce the investigators to the high-ranking city aide.

In an even more open gesture of support, Kerik spoke to the head of enforcement at the Trade Waste Commission, a man named Raymond Casey, to tell him that his friend Larry Ray was going to be assisting the DiTommasos. Casey, who happens to be one of several Giuliani cousins who worked in the administration, has said Kerik never tried to influence him, but that really wasn't the issue. More to the point, what was the city's corrections commissioner doing with this crowd in the first place?

That question became even more urgent after Kerik's pal Ray was indicted in a mob stock-fraud case, together with a high-level Gambino soldier who happened to be one of the characters with whom the DiTommasos were alleged to be doing business.

Less than three months after Frank DiTommaso's deposition, Giuliani named Kerik as his new police commissioner. Under a standing mayoral executive order, any significant promotion—and Kerik's bump up from corrections to One Police Plaza certainly qualified—required a new background check by the Department of Investigation. But agency officials have said that while the information about Kerik's ties to the DiTommasos and Ray was relayed to City Hall by DOI, it was done so orally, and that no written report was ever prepared or delivered to Giuliani. "He got a 'soft vet,' " said one source, referring to the normally rigorous vetting process applied to high-level city appointees.

Durkin, the DiTommasos' attorney, refused to talk about his defense strategy. After his clients were released without bail, the silver-haired lawyer guided them past reporters on 161st Street as it filled with fans gathering for an afternoon game at Yankee Stadium a block away. But the Bronx D.A. isn't the contractors' only problem. In New Jersey, the head of the state's division of gaming enforcement, Thomas Auriemma, whose industrious probe rekindled the questions about Kerik's ties to the DiTommasos, said last week that he will seek again to have Interstate banned from doing work at Atlantic City casinos.

"From our perspective, we have consistently believed that Interstate and the DiTommasos are unqualified to be associated with our casino industry," said Auriemma. "This indictment is further evidence of that."

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