A Hevesi Heresy

Daring to doubt the governor's wisdom

Perlmutter and Shechtman had pestered parole officials about three other cases, leading to early releases of a rabbi convicted of kidnapping a minor, and two Israeli nationals jailed in major drug cases. The two drug dealers were released—over law enforcement objections—under a new Pataki deportation program designed by Shechtman, who personally urged parole board members to increase the number of felons they let go under the program, leading to get-out-of-jail-early tickets for 1,277 convicts. Though a top parole executive determined that the kidnapping of a young boy required that the rabbi, Shlomo Helbrans, be placed on the sex offender registry, Shechtman, according to the testimony, intervened to make sure he wasn't.

Gawloski testified that he believed "the parole board was influenced" in all three of these cases by Perlmutter, who he said was "in regular contact" with Shechtman. "I expressed concern to Mr. Shechtman that his discussions with Perlmutter, perhaps even if there was nothing involved, would convey a poor impression," Gawloski told the jurors. "What did Mr. Shechtman say to you?" asked the prosecutors. "Basically, not a problem," he responded. Gawloski added that Perlmutter had visited Shechtman at his house, delivering hot challah. "I did not feel that this type of access should be available to any group," testified Gawloski. He also said he knew that parole officials had even attended fundraisers for Pataki hosted by Orthodox leaders.

The experience left Gawloski shaken years later. He said Shechtman, in view of his various positions at ethics and criminal justice, "should know what's right and what's wrong more so than I would." Asked if he did, Gawloski replied: "I don't know. I really can't say whether he should be there at the ethics commission or shouldn't be."

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

Details

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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Shechtman also came under grand jury scrutiny for his own role in the parole investigation. When the feds targeted Patrick Donohue, the finance director for Pataki's campaign committee, and focused on $40,000 in contributions alleged to be quid pro quos for early release for three Asian convicts, Donohue retained Shechtman as his criminal attorney. Wiese, a top state police official personally close to the governor, who oversaw protection for the family, tried to penetrate the probe, barging in on city police officials who were initially spearheading it. His efforts earned him the enmity of federal prosecutors, who investigated him for obstruction of justice.

Incredibly, Wiese, posing as a law enforcement official aiding the parole probe, called the U.S. Attorney's office and got the phone number of the federal prosecutor handling the case. "Within minutes" of that call, according to the testimony, Shechtman phoned the prosecutor on behalf of Donohue. Donohue's boss, Shechtman, and Wiese then had a three-way conversation, according to grand jury evidence. These events suggest that the attorney for the target of a federal investigation was freely interacting with a top state police official who had troopers assigned ostensibly to aid the probe.

Grand jury records also reveal that parole chair Travis was so close to his neighbor and friend Libby Pataki that he regularly babysat for the kids and even "took them to movies." He and Wiese, another Peekskill neighbor and close friend of the family, prospered despite the taint of their status in the parole case. Travis stayed on as chair for three years after he was declared a criminal co-conspirator by a federal judge. When Travis finally left he was promoted to deputy superintendent of insurance, retiring recently at a salary $40,000 higher than his parole board pay. Wiese left the state police around the same time, getting a waiver to collect his $73,000 pension and new $160,000 salary as inspector general for the New York Power Authority simultaneously.

The state ethics commission has never so much as raised a question about the conduct of either, even though it is the commission's job to examine misconduct that falls short of indictment—and Paul Shechtman had a bird's-eye view of all the wrongdoing. Shechtman could have asked for an inquiry and then—just as Eliot Spitzer did last week with Hevesi—recused himself. State law enforcement officials like Wiese, for example, can be removed if they take the Fifth Amendment.

But the indifference of the commission about the biggest scandal of the Pataki era is par for the course. Asked what the commission's strongest action against the highest-ranking Pataki official has been, officials cited a proceeding against Jim Natoli, the governor's director of operations. Natoli paid $2,000 in March 2000 to settle a probe of meals he took from a lobbyist that exceeded the state's gift limit. He got a $5,000 raise the same month. He technically wasn't even fined—his payment was "in lieu of an assessment" of a fine. Natoli is the biggest fish Shechtman and company could catch in an administration that New York Times and Post editorials have agreed is a "government for sale."


Research assistance: Keach Hagey, Damien Weaver, Luke Jerod Kummer, and Marty Rosenblatt

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