By Michael Musto
By Capt. James Van Thach told to Jonathan Wei
By Kera Bolonik
By Michael Musto
By Nick Pinto
By Steve Weinstein
By Michael Musto
By Michael Musto
The genius of the CompStat anti-crime system launched by the Rudy Giuliani administration here in the 1990s was that it didn't believe in coincidence. You would take all those apparently random crimes, put them in a computer mapping program, and—poof!—instant and brilliant results: crime trends to be snuffed out; hot spots to be monitored; repeat offenders otherwise invisible to the naked police eye.
This dazzling program has inspired many imitators and is key to the great fortune Giuliani and his team have since reaped in the private sector as they apply the CompStat method to everything from faulty pharmaceuticals to the sheikhs of Qatar.
The bad news is that I have now applied CompStat to a program listing of the cast of Giuliani's last skit for the annual Inner Circle political roast in March 2001, and the results are not good. This is regrettable because Giuliani loved performing in these events. Once, he famously appeared in a platinum wig, pink gown, and balloon-like breasts, squealing all the while in delight.
The title of his 2001 skit was "The Godfather: The Musical." For this performance, Giuliani happily shaved his legs and pulled on dark nylon stockings so that his character, "Don Giuliani," could high-kick with the Rockettes.
Unfortunately, CompStat, which never lies, reveals that this little satire was a hub of felonry. Already, three of the cast of 27 who appeared onstage with the mayor have been indicted for serious crimes. This is an 11 percent incidence of criminal activity, a rate of wrongdoing higher than the city's roughest neighborhoods. In other words, exactly the kind of non-coincidence that gave precinct commanders sweaty chills when confronted in the war room at police headquarters.
Most notorious of these is Bernie Kerik, who was then the police commissioner. Kerik played a role listed in the program as "The Enforcer." He already stands convicted by his own plea of guilty to lying about a mobbed-up contractor who renovated his apartment. He awaits trial on federal charges for taking other undisclosed gifts.
Then there is Anthony Seminerio, the rascally, roly-poly Queens assemblyman who played himself in Giuliani's "Godfather" send-up. Even though he is a Democrat, Seminerio gave and received enormous love from the Republican Giuliani. Unfortunately, another federal indictment, filed in September, holds that Seminerio engaged in his own serious felonies, exacting bribes totaling $500,000 from those seeking his legislative assistance.
A third cast member from the spoof is now on trial in the Bronx, accused of being the police department's single worst nightmare: a cop killer. At the time of his Inner Circle performance, Lillo Brancato, 32, had the perfect pedigree. He had just finished a short stint on The Sopranos TV show, playing a drug-addled mob wannabe. In the Giuliani skit, he portrayed Rick Lazio, the hapless Long Island politician recruited to fill Giuliani's shoes after the mayor bowed out of the Senate race, citing severe health and divorce problems.
By all recollections, Brancato performed well. Unfortunately, he really was a drug-addled mob wannabe. He lived his life as though he were the character in his biggest role—the confused but earnest son of bus driver Robert DeNiro in the movie A Bronx Tale—gone wrong. His earnings went for cocaine, heroin, and nights in the company of beautiful women at fashionable clubs.
Back then, he impressed with his winning smile, if not his brains. Anthony Marini, a former nightclub manager, remembers the young actor insisting that he came from Avellino, Italy, the southern Italian locale cited as Tony Soprano's ancestral homeland in the fictional series. "He'd say, 'I'm from the same town as Tony Soprano.' I don't think he realized this wasn't a real person," says Marini.
Another brain shortage led directly to Brancato's current troubles. In the pre-dawn hours of December 10, 2005, after a night of drinking and drugs at a strip club, Brancato and his girlfriend's father, an ex-con named Steven Armento, went looking for more narcotics. Brancato drove his silver Dodge Durango to a two-family brick home at Arnow Place and Westchester Avenue in the Pelham Bay section where he thought they'd be able to score from another drugged-up buddy who had been generous with his prescription meds in the past. When the friend didn't answer, Brancato kicked in a window, waking a 28-year-old off-duty cop next door. Daniel Enchautegui calmly called 911, put on his police shield, and went outside to investigate.
In one of those ugly and stupid incidents that The Sopranos captured so well, when Enchautegui encountered the duo, Armento pulled a .357 Magnum revolver and shot the cop just below his heart. Before he collapsed, the officer squeezed off several rounds, wounding the two intruders.
In the Bronx Supreme Court last week, Detective Paul Maldonado, one of the first on the scene, described arriving at a snow-lined residential street lit by Christmas lights. He said he found Enchautegui lying face-up with his head hanging over a small ledge, beside a large snowbank. "His shield was around his neck. His hands were out. A 9mm was near his right hand; a gray cell phone by his left. His eyes were open. I was telling him to hang in there. He just gave a deep breath." Enchautegui was declared dead a half-hour later at Jacobi Hospital.
Armento, 51, was convicted in October of first-degree murder while committing a felony and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Brancato's defense is that he never knew Armento had a gun. He makes this claim even though the murder weapon, introduced as evidence last week, appeared to have the size and velocity of a small cannon. He also insists that he never broke into anyone's home.
"He didn't commit burglary. He didn't commit murder," Joseph Tacopina, Brancato's lawyer, told the jury last week. Instructing the eight men and eight women on the panel as though they were in a high school physics class, Tacopina told them: "Just follow the bouncing ball on the evidence in this case. It will all come together. Trust me."
Tacopina is as nice-looking as his actor-client and has been on television even more than Brancato. But he has had some trouble with the trust part. In one of those great Giuliani coincidences, he also represented Kerik for a while. That ended badly when the lawyer told the feds that he had given prosecutors what turned out to be inaccurate information at his client's behest. Tacopina may now be a witness against Kerik if the federal charges go to trial.
That is another indication of how tangled and messy the world of Rudy Giuliani has become. The ex-mayor's presidential bid didn't do as well as he had wished, but his supporters now hope he runs for governor. If so, his problems as a casting director may become an issue.
No one faults Giuliani for including Brancato in the cast of his skit since the actor's brainless and abominable crime occurred almost five years later. But you still have to wonder how it is that this top lawman comes to be surrounded by so many dumb crooks, enough of them to light up the scoreboard at one of his own CompStat sessions. For someone who boasts of having smashed the Mafia as a prosecutor, and of having reduced city crime to nothing as mayor, Giuliani seems to have a strange proclivity for those with a criminal bent. It is almost as strong as his penchant for donning tights and makeup in front of large audiences.
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