The Magician's Nephew

The goods on Gargano: A seamy tale of nepotism on the Brooklyn waterfront

The loss of the Republican seat helped put the Suffolk legislature in Democratic control for the first time in 30 years. "It was incredible," said a Suffolk political leader. "He should have won without a problem. And he lost to a guy with zero name recognition."

None of these events were things that Frank Gargano was anxious to discuss. He ducked a month's worth of detailed phone messages at his Melville office saying, through an assistant, that he was traveling. He finally picked up the phone in late January. "Can you tell me what this is all about?" he asked. So informed, he insisted he had nothing to say—about the fallout from his ill-fated electoral campaign or about his work on behalf of American Stevedoring.

"They were recommended to me; I did legal work for them. That is the end of the story," he said before hanging up the phone.

Charles Gargano
photo: Richard B. Levine
Charles Gargano

There were hard times as well for Frank Gargano's friend, Rafael Flores, one of the "two clowns"—as Catucci had dubbed them—who accompanied the nephew on his first visit to the Red Hook piers. He was arrested in November 2004, and later pled guilty to a felony for having helped run a ring of schemers who sold confiden tial medical records from a Nassau County hospital to lawyers. Flores couldn't be reached, but his pal, Robert Cornicelli, said, in a brief phone conversation, that he'd gone along with Gargano at Flores's request. "I was interested in that entire area," said Cornicelli. "I knew Bloomberg at the time wanted to turn the area into condos."

In late 2006, during the waning days of Pataki's administration, Charles Gargano received a new six-year reappointment as a Port Authority commissioner, a move that keeps him at the center of the agency's decision-making, even in a Spitzer administration. But after questions were relayed to him through Port Authority officials, Gargano refused to discuss his dealings with Catucci.

Spokesmen at the Port Authority said they were unaware that the nephew of the agency's vice chairman had represented clients seeking help there, but noted that there were no set rules against it. Still, with two new governors in New York and New Jersey—both of whom have pledged ethics reforms—the agency is anxious to shed its image as a place where anything goes when it comes to influence-peddling. In response to the Voice's questions, the agency issued a statement from spokesman Steve Sigmund:

"The Port Authority demands the highest ethical standards, and we expect that anyone who represents the agency disclose any potential conflict of interest. We will continue to strengthen our policies going forward, including tightening disclosure requirements for commissioners and employees alike."

And although the agency hasn't officially altered its position on the future of the Red Hook container port, it has pointedly left the door open for further discussion.

"What's important to us is economic viability and growth of the waterfront," said spokesman Sigmund. "We are taking a close look at the issue before the lease runs out."

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