How the Mob Hoodwinked D.A. Candidate Leslie Crocker Snyder

Leslie Crocker Snyder was such a convincing tough-as-nails judge in her years on the bench that no less an authority than the producers of Law & Order had her serve as the show's advisor. Snyder was such a natural that they even had her don black robes and bang a gavel in a few episodes.

But the role Snyder really hankered after was that Adam Schiff character. This is the fictional D.A. modeled on Snyder's bête noir, the now retiring Robert Morgenthau, whom Snyder castigated as too old and stale when she ran against him four years ago and whose record she regularly slams in her current campaign to succeed him.

There's no doubt that the judge nicknamed "25-to-Life" could play the part—on or off TV. In the round-robin appearances she's made at political clubs in recent weeks alongside fellow candidates Richard Aborn and Cy Vance Jr., Snyder comes across as a believably hard-nosed prosecutor-type, full of grit and energy. The tougher question is how she stacks up in some other qualities you'd like to see in your 21st-century crime fighter: judgment and fairness.

Snyder: Straying from the prosecutor's script
Richard B. Levine
Snyder: Straying from the prosecutor's script

One measure might be Snyder's most recent real-life prosecutorial performance, which, while she hasn't been touting it on the campaign trail, could have come right out of the Law & Order script book:

A mob moll who was the key witness in the murder trial of a former FBI agent is suspected of perjury after tapes of old interviews surface showing that she'd told a very different version of events 10 years earlier. The D.A. drops the charges and asks that a special prosecutor be named. Legal experts opine that perjury is a heavy lift since the witness wasn't under oath when she gave the interviews. Other D.A.s duck the assignment. Leslie Crocker Snyder alone rises to the occasion. Couldn't you see that squeezed into an hour of gavel-pounding drama on weeknight air time?

I stipulate here that some of this ruckus was caused when I reported in the Voice what witness Linda Schiro had told me and my former Daily News colleague Jerry Capeci back in 1997, when we spoke to her for a never-published book about her late boyfriend, Greg Scarpa Sr., a notorious Colombo crime family capo and highly prized secret informant for FBI agent R. Lindley DeVecchio. The story upended DeVecchio's murder trial and prompted suspicions that Schiro had lied under oath.

I stipulate further that when Snyder announced a year later, on October 22, 2008, that there was (as the experts predicted) "insufficient proof of falsity" to file perjury charges, she seized the opportunity to hammer me and Capeci:

"Their timing," she wrote in her report, "maximized the burden on all parties (especially the accused); led to a regrettable waste of judicial and law enforcement resources; disrupted the trial in a manner that was most likely to bring disrepute on the entire criminal justice system; and instead of protecting their source, disgraced her and exposed her to criminal investigation for perjury."

These tough words surprised me since Snyder had repeatedly promised to formulate "specific questions" she wanted me to answer for her investigation, but somehow never got around to doing so. Capeci reports that she made the same pledge to him, but was heard from no more. This lapse was puzzling since Snyder stated that the biggest unanswered question relevant to her investigation was "why Schiro's statements were not revealed until the eleventh hour, as a 'surprise' to both parties after two weeks of trial."

Had she asked, I would have tried to explain: I never imagined until I heard the prosecutor's opening statement that an entire case charging four murders against a decorated FBI agent might rest solely on the testimony of Scarpa's lovely but scatterbrained mistress. I also didn't want to assume that Schiro's testimony would go so astray from the facts as she'd told them years earlier until I heard it from her own mouth on the witness stand. We thought as well that coming forward was the right thing to do.

I admit to also being miffed by Snyder's comments because I thought that she brought a wee conflict to her task. During her 2005 campaign, I wrote an article reporting how she had been recruited to her current law firm by a partner to whom she had awarded a lucrative, seven-figure appointment while on the bench—a story she hadn't appreciated. Upon learning she was likely to be the special prosecutor, I relayed this concern via a mutual friend. I was told I had nothing to worry about: "Leslie said that was politics; this is professional."

But those are my own quibbles. Of wider public concern is how Snyder opted to meander away from her "specific mandate" regarding perjury into darkest conspiracy country.

In a three-page addendum, Snyder ominously writes that, just as she was concluding her report, "I suddenly was contacted by a number of people claiming to have pertinent information who were now willing to talk to me as long as their identity was not revealed publicly."

Snyder says she put her report on hold and spent "hours and hours" in conversation with these witnesses, some of them admitted criminals, who detailed Scarpa's role and the deadly civil war waged between Colombo crime family factions during the early 1990s.

Next Page »