By Albert Samaha
By Darwin BondGraham
By Keegan Hamilton
By Anna Merlan
By Anna Merlan
By Tessa Stuart
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
5.The commission's findings are politically selective. Its toughest report on a high-ranking Pataki officialan administration that even the Times said was "for sale"resulted in a $2,000 payment in lieu of a fine, made the same month the official was given a $5,000 raise. Paul Shechtman, the commission's chairman, one of its three Pataki appointees, and the prime mover on the Hevesi report, has long provided a handy judicious veneer for the cynicism of the Pataki era, lending his prosecutorial credentials to an administration requiring constant ethical cover. When Shechtman left his staff position as Pataki's criminal-justice coordinator in 1997, the governor simultaneously named him to chair the commission and the panel that screens Court of Claims judges, an almost schizophrenic combination. The nine-year "country club" $136,700-a-year judgeships are an irresistible patronage plum, and Pataki obviously knew he could count on the elastic Shechtman to find a way to stretch the credentials of any hack he wanted approved by the 10-member committee.
Shechtman has not disappointed. His panel has anointed the wife of Monroe County and state GOP chair Steve Minarik, the daughter of the Pataki-endorsing Brooklyn Democratic powerhouse Vito Lopez, and the leader of the Schenectady County Republican Committee. Queens GOP boss and state senator Serph Maltese openly boasted in the Times that he and the county's Pataki-friendly Democratic chair "cooperated" on the 2005 selection of two Court of Claims judges. Amid the controversial slew of recent last-minute Pataki appointments were three lawyers who worked in the governor's office and won Shechtman vacancies, as well as a top deputy who handled patronage hires in the wantonly political office of secretary of state. A former GOP state senator dubbed "Senator Road Rage" by Newsdaywhich said his legendary outbursts had made him "unelectable"was praised by Shechtman's committee for his "temperament" and found "highly qualified" for the bench.
The Post just reported that Shechtman, who also chairs the New York State Lobbying Commission for Pataki, is trying to force out the executive director, who has been a thorn in the side of the legislative leaders and the lobbyists around them. The Voice reported that Shechtman was summoned himself before a federal grand jury investigating Pataki and that another witness, grilled for two days about Shechtman's role in the fixing of state parole board decisions, testified that Shechtman had apparently violated the same ethics provisions he's now applying to Hevesi.
With this sort of résumé, is it any wonder that Shechtman was the driving force behind the most rushed, detailed, and damning report in commission history, issued on the eve of Hevesi's re-election? Unleashed by the unprotected status of the target, Shechtman's snail-like and toothless commission produced its most far-reaching report virtually overnight.
6.The two other Pataki-appointed commissioners are as ethically challenged as Shechtman. That compounds the paradoxical rigidity with which they viewed every misstep the comptroller made.
Robert Giuffra represented Armand D'Amato, who used his brother Alfonse's U.S. Senate letterhead to help a lobbying client get millions in defense contracts. The Senate Ethics Committee found that Armand's lobbying was a "systematic misuse" of the senator's office for "personal gain"perhaps even worse than the assignment of a state driver to a wife with an embedded pain pump who'd repeatedly tried to kill herself.
Of course, the misdeeds of a client are hardly a fair measure of the character of an attorney. But Giuffra's ties to the D'Amatos go way beyond a lawyer-client relationship. Giuffra became chief counsel to the Senate Banking Committee when D'Amato chaired it, and led the discredited Whitewater investigation that attempted to convert Vince Foster's suicide into murder and tie Hillary and Bill Clinton to the death of their dearest friend. He recently negotiated a deferred prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors on behalf of Computer Associates, a company that includes D'Amato as a director. Giuffra also represented longtime D'Amato sidekick Al Pirro in his tax fraud case and Shechtman, who was endorsed by D'Amato for a federal judgeship but never appointed, represents Jeanine Pirro in the ongoing case.
A third commissioner, also appointed by Pataki, Lynn Millane, was the supervisor of Amherst, the largest suburban town outside Buffalo. While she ran the town in 1996, it decided to launch a farmland preservation program, which would use local and state funds to pay property owners not to develop their land. Jason Engel, the Amherst planner in charge of the preservation project, says that the "agricultural district" included a 47-acre parcel owned by Millane when the town designated it under Millane's leadership. "I don't remember a recusal," said Engel.
Susan Grelick, who succeeded Millane as supervisor, agreed that the deal for Millane's property "was in the works" before she stepped down. Since Millane's land hadn't been used for farming in over a decade and was overgrown, it took years for her to collect her $163,000 awardone of several that went to leading Republicans like her. "It has the appearance of impropriety unless there is a policy in place that treats everybody equally," Grelick said, arguing that using the funds to buy greenspace made better sense.
Ironically, Millane, who held top town positions for 15 years, had a bit of a car problem herself. When she was deputy supervisor and did not have a town car, she told a reporter that "as a taxpayer, I'd be unhappy if we did." Soon enough, she became supervisor, got a town car and town gas, and by her own account, never reimbursed the town for any personal use of it. "I only drove it for town business," she told the Voice, conceding she maintained no records of its use. Grelick filed forms for her car, with regular deductions made from her pay. The current supervisor has refused to take the town car altogether, and Millane concedes that when car abuses came to her attention as supervisor, she took no action herself. Amherst comptroller Frank Belliotti says now: "The problem is there's no town policy on it. So there were times where there were two vehicles in the same family, and you had to ask, is that the son or daughter, or husband or wife?"