A Hevesi Heresy

Daring to doubt the governor's wisdom

The work by Stubbs and Robinson for the governor's wife didn't cost the taxpayers anything, but it raised a different ethics question, one that the governor and his ethics commission managed to sidestep. Since public officials are required under state law to report gifts of more than $1,000, reporters questioned why Pataki had never disclosed the substantial free help he and his wife received on his personal financial disclosure forms.

The governor responded that there was no need to do so, maintaining that the work was primarily "political" in nature. But the state ethics commission, which could have interviewed Stubbs and Robinson under oath to get to the bottom of the affair—just as it did with Hevesi and his aides last month—was never heard from on the matter. Officials of the commission refused to say last week whether any inquiry had been undertaken, but acknowledged that the panel made no finding of possible violations.

It wasn't the first time the commission showed little interest in taking a hard look at the Pataki family's finances. Since Pataki became governor, his wife has become a highly paid business consultant. Over the past decade, she's received more than $650,000 from cosmetics fortune heir Ronald Lauder, a key GOP contributor. Last year, Libby Pataki earned $222,600 in overall consulting fees, including $55,000 from a real estate trust owned by Cendant, a mega-corporation that regularly lobbies state government over regulations and other matters. In 2000, the first lady was paid $30,000 by another entity controlled by Cendant.

Hevesi meets the press.
photo: Keith Bedford
Hevesi meets the press.

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Editor's note:
George Pataki has run a scandal-ridden administration for 12 years, without the slightest punishment—and yet he and his party are calling Alan Hevesi to task about ethics. This week, Tom Robbins and Wayne Barrett unravel the governor's own misdeeds.

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The potential ethics questions concerning the overlap between her consultant services and her husband's powerful role became painfully evident when Pataki appointed Cendant CEO Henry Silverman in 2002 as a commissioner of the powerful Port Authority. But there's no indication that the ethics panel has ever examined the matter.


THE SHECHTMAN CONNECTION

Joe Gawloski was talking this weekend about his old boss Paul Shechtman, the chairman of the state ethics commission and the man behind the report that has turned state politics upside down. Gawloski is uniquely positioned to describe the glass house from which the 57-year-old Shechtman threw stones last week at State Comptroller Alan Hevesi.

Gawloski retired as executive director of the state's division of parole years ago and shuttles now between his upstate and South Carolina homes. So he was barely aware that Shechtman's commission recently concluded that Hevesi had used his state position "to secure unwarranted privileges for himself and his wife," provoking Governor Pataki to launch what has to be the first-ever impeachment process anywhere to revolve around a driver and state-subsidized trips to the hospital.

In September 1998, Gawloski spent two days before a federal grand jury testifying about Shechtman's role in the fixing of parole board decisions. Prosecutors at the time branded it "the biggest fundraising scandal that this state has seen in a very long time." Shechtman, who refused to comment for this story, was the governor's director of criminal justice, overseeing the parole board and other agencies until he left in 1997 to enter private practice. Pataki immediately named him to take over the ethics commission, a panel he was leading when he appeared before the same grand jury about troubling calls he made to Gawloski and others.

Four Pataki-tied campaign and state officials were convicted in the parole-for-contributions case, but neither Shechtman nor two state officials under his jurisdiction who were targeted by prosecutors were indicted. One of the officials, state parole board chairman Brion Travis, was named an unindicted co-conspirator by U.S. District Judge Frederic Block. The other, state police colonel Daniel Wiese, took the Fifth Amendment in the grand jury.

According to Gawloski's testimony, which was obtained by the Voice, he twice upbraided Shechtman about the ethical propriety of his interventions at the agency, once while Shechtman was his boss and the other when Shechtman was a private attorney and still calling him about possible parole in individual cases. Gawloski testified that attorney Shechtman called him to speak on behalf of two convicts up for parole, one of them a murderer who "blew someone's brains out on 14th Street in a van."

"I asked Mr. Shechtman if his having left state service—probably less than a year before at that point—would be cause for a conflict of interest with his calling me or anyone else in the division about a particular case," Gawloski told the grand jury. He was referring to state laws that bar, for two years, former state officials from doing business with the state agencies they oversaw.


"He said it was not a conflict," adding that he would "run it by the ethics commission," Gawloski continued. Gawloski says now that he did not know that Shechtman had already been installed by Pataki as the unsalaried head of the commission, which might well have examined the question of whether his calls to Gawloski constituted an attempt to secure an "unwarranted privilege" with the state officials he'd supervised. "Subsequent to my question about conflict of interest, Mr. Shechtman did not call back," Gawloski testified. Two sources at the commission say he never sought an opinion on the matter either.

Even more disturbing to Gawloski was that he'd already been importuned about the same murderer by Leon Perlmutter, a leader in the Orthodox Jewish community and major fundraiser for the governor. This was not the first time Perlmutter and Shecht-man had double-teamed him. In fact, it was Shechtman's relationship with Perlmutter, who Gawloski said represented a group of "heavy contributors" to Pataki, that had prompted their first tough exchange, when Shechtman was still Gawloski's boss.

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