The Sales of Justice

In the dark corridors of Brooklyn politics, a State Supreme Court judgeship sells for $50,000 stuffed in an envelope, and $6,000 in postage stamps

Vaisman was accused of submitting "fraudulent no-fault claims to insurance carriers for psychological services which either were never provided to patients or were not medically necessary." Many of the false claims occurred in the spring and summer of 2001, when Chesler was hustling for Ruditzky. Vaisman pled guilty in Brooklyn and Queens cases, and his felony conviction cost him his medical license. Vaisman told the Voice that Chesler convinced him to sign the incorporation papers for Boro and dragged him to fundraisers to meet politicians like Norman. "He would present me as the medical director of his whole business because I looked good and spoke in an intelligent way," said Vaisman, "but actually I knew nothing that was going on." He claims that Chesler ran the companies out of a basement apartment, sent a car service to take him to clinics to see patients, and sublet space in these clinics to snare referrals.

In the Queens indictment, Vaisman was named as a participant in a 36-member ring that defrauded millions from insurance companies by staging sham auto accidents. Prosecutors alleged that this "fraud factory" was run "under the protection of the Bonanno crime family" and was managed in part by Joe Fratta, a Bonanno associate whom Vaisman says he never met.

illustration: Viktor Koen


See also:
  • How He Got That Story
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    by Keach Hagey and Luke Jerod Kummer
  • Justice for Sale in Brooklyn
    Open thread in Power Plays
  • The Voice was the first to report on the oddity of Ruditzky's elevation ("This Clarence Is No Clown," March 27, 2002). "Court Street insiders could not think of another occasion," we wrote then, "when a losing Civil Court nominee was rewarded with the top plum."

    The story also pointed out that Ruditzky's record was "so spotty" that he was one of the few Brooklyn Civil Court judges temporarily assigned to sit in Supreme and yanked out after spending as little as six months there. Because of the heavy Supreme Court case-load, it's common that Civil Court judges are moved up to acting Supreme Court positions by state judicial officials. But it's very uncommon that they are quickly rotated out of Supreme, as Ruditzky was in 1999, reportedly due to his perceived shortcomings.

    But neither Ruditzky's electoral loss nor his unusually sudden reassignment diminished Norman's enthusiasm for him in 2001, upsetting even party stalwarts like Steve Cohn. The party's executive committee—which consists of the leaders elected in each assembly district—met before the judicial convention, as it always does, to vote on the slate selected by Norman. Cohn, who was the leader in Williamsburg and had just unsuccessfully run for a City Council seat, raised questions at the committee meeting, which is rarely done. Others were miffed as well.

    What made Norman's determination to go ahead with Ruditzky doubly strange was that no district leaders were actually championing him. All five of the other nominees on the approved slate were put on the table by district leaders, as was the party's custom. The Carroll Gardens leaders pushed for Joe Bruno, Al Vann and the black leaders for Bert Bunyan, Joe Bova and the Italian leaders for Patricia DiMango, Angel Rodriguez for Allen Hurkin-Torres, and Staten Island county leader John Lavelle for Tom Aliotta. But the leaders who put Ruditzky in play for Civil Court in 1991 were no longer leaders. All he had going for him 10 years later were a couple of Orthodox rabbis.

    The controversy quickly evaporated, only to return three years later. On November 15, 2004, Jack Newfield, a former Voice senior editor who had gone to work at The New York Sun, learned that Hynes had startling new information about the Ruditzky elevation. A source in the Brooklyn courts well known to Newfield told him, according to notes Newfield took that day, that Hynes had "broken the code on how judgeships are sold in Brooklyn." Newfield died a month later, but his notes indicated that Judge Michael Garson "flipped after he was indicted" but before his indictment was actually filed and told Hynes's office about thousands in payments that Norman had taken on behalf of Ruditzky. The source, who is named in the notes, said that after Garson "was told to surrender at 6 a.m." on charges involving his alleged theft from the trust fund of an ailing aunt, he told Hynes's assistants "what he really knew."

    The source was so upbeat about Garson's cooperation he told Newfield that the D.A. "was sitting" there with "four aces." Since Feldman, Chesler, and Ruditzky had yet to come forward, the source's "four aces" comment, referring then only to the case-making value of Garson's information, would prove to be a prophetic count.

    News reports in 2005 revealed that Hynes decided not to file the indictment against Garson for six months and that the judge wore a wire for prosecutors and engaged Ruditzky, and possibly others, in taped conversations about the payments. In early 2003, Hynes had arrested Garson's cousin Gerald, who was also a Norman-anointed Supreme Court judge, on charges that he'd taken boxes of expensive cigars, airline tickets, high-priced meals, and cash from attorneys practicing before him, some of it documented on videotape shot in his robing room. Gerald Garson was the first to blow the whistle on judgeship-buying in talks with Hynes's office, and he also agreed to wire up. But his arrest had attracted so much publicity, he got nothing out of taped conversations with a Norman associate. Unable to cut a deal with prosecutors, he is scheduled to go on trial in March, having lost a hotly contested appeal.

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