By Anna Merlan
By Keegan Hamilton
By Albert Samaha
By Darwin BondGraham
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Also working out of Golden's Bay Ridge Senate office is Owen Johnson Jr., a $65,000-a-year "research assistant," whose father happens to be another prominent Senate Republican, Owen Johnson Sr., of Suffolk County. Golden—a law-and-order zealot—didn't even blink, as the Voice reported last summer, when Johnson Jr. was busted for assault on his Bay Ridge roommate. Golden left him undisturbed at his desk.
Then there's the embarrassing indictment last November of Golden's former general counsel, a Brooklyn lawyer named John D'Emic, in a real estate fraud scheme. D'Emic was charged by Queens District Attorney Richard Brown in one of those scams that prospered in the easy-money days when banks were pushing loans out the door. D'Emic is alleged to have been part of a ring using stolen identities to steal properties worth $1.4 million from three unsuspecting homeowners, including an elderly Queens widow.
D'Emic was one of Golden's first hires after he joined the Senate in early 2003. Golden kept him on the payroll until 2007, when D'Emic was bumped up to a choicer patronage slot as chief deputy clerk of the Brooklyn courts, with a $96,000 salary. Court officials insist that D'Emic, whose brother is a state Supreme Court judge, was selected as deputy after a rigorous and independent interview process.
If so, having the backing of Brooklyn's most powerful Republican probably didn't hurt his chances. Candidates for such jobs have been plucked out of political ranks for decades. D'Emic's predecessor was a veteran Democratic Party district leader, who held the job for almost 40 years. That's one of the position's key attractions: It's basically a lifetime appointment. It also oversees more than 70 courthouse employees who are "discretionary" hires—i.e., non–civil service slots that translate into more patronage.
"It's a very nice job," said a veteran Brooklyn political player, "one that controls a pretty impressive payroll."
D'Emic has pleaded not guilty in the criminal case, and his attorney insists that his client was himself a dupe of other schemers. "He is a lawyer who does a lot of closings," said Steve Brounstein. "That's all he did here. He is not charged with larceny or the other substantive counts. He is so on the periphery of this case."
D'Emic is a Conservative Party member who has loyally carried his party's banner as past candidate for judge and city comptroller. As such, he gets a big character plug from Conservative Party leader Mike Long, who has also been instrumental in advancing Golden's career. "Jack D'Emic is a victim of circumstances," said Long. "He is one of the most honorable, decent, and outstanding people I know."
Others disagree. In addition to the criminal case, D'Emic was sued three times by angry clients while serving as Golden's legal counsel. In one case, D'Emic and a law partner agreed to pay $280,000 to settle a claim brought by an elderly woman who said they'd caused her to lose a valuable property. In another, members of a Baptist church in Bedford-Stuyvesant accused him of swindling them by not disclosing that he represented both sides of a real estate deal they hired him to handle. "He had a flat-out conflict of interest that he never made known," said Roger Archibald, who represented the church members.
"That's not what happened," countered Brounstein. "He made all proper disclosures and the case against him is dormant."
Either way, D'Emic's murky legal history doesn't exactly burnish Golden's reputation as a manager or a judge of talent, particularly one who may well be recommending appointments to the mayor.
No one suggests that HeartShare Human Services of New York doesn't do good work: It helps the mentally disabled and their families, offers HIV and AIDS assistance, and runs foster-care programs. But as the Times's Danny Hakim reported in 2007, the group has also benefited from its close ties to Golden. HeartShare executive director William Guarinello, whose salary is $464,000 a year, is married to Golden's former longtime community liaison, Donna Guarinello, who worked for Golden in both his City Council and Senate offices.
The charity has served as a virtual family employment agency: William Guarinello's brother, daughter, son-in-law, and brother-in-law have all been employed there at top positions. Meanwhile, since 2002, the Guarinellos have contributed $20,000 to Golden's campaign committee. They've donated another $28,800 to the Conservative Party.
When the Times story ran, Golden's chief of staff, John Quaglione, brushed the relationship aside, telling Hakim that HeartShare "existed before Marty Golden was elected, and it will exist after his retirement." The story didn't appear to bother Golden in the least: The senator sent HeartShare another $170,000 in state member item funds in the current budget. Likewise, the Guarinellos donated another $2,000 to Golden after the piece appeared.