By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
Much of last week was spent getting all hot and bothered about some Russian spies. Even the government admits this crew couldn't find its way to an after-hours club, let alone a secret nuclear code.
That is why this is the first spy case in history with no espionage charges. The worst crime appears to be a bad henna job by the ring's would-be femme fatale whose big intelligence score was dating an aging overweight businessman from New Jersey.
What we really should be worried about is protecting our own Russians down in South Brooklyn from our own politicians. This threat comes in the fireplug shape of State Senator Carl Kruger, who has been relentlessly soaking them for hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign booty for years.
Brooklyn's Russian belt runs from Brighton Beach east to Mill Basin and Bergen Beach. For those who haven't been down that way recently, it is worth a look. The new mansions along the water here are a cross between Scarlett O'Hara's Tara and the Hermitage Museum. Where all the money comes from is a mystery. But as their senior state legislative representative, Kruger makes sure that a nice chunk makes its way directly into his campaign coffers, which he gleefully calls "Friends of Carl."
Recently, one of the Friends of Carl was picked up on a secret FBI bug, instructing a Russian nightclub owner about how to get on the senator's sweet side in order to get his help with the state's liquor authority. The conversation was conducted in Russian, but the Bureau cut loose some of the talent from its non-espionage probe to translate.
"You'll have to do a fundraiser for him. At your place," advised attorney Michael Levitis, whose family owns the marvelous Rasputin nightclub on Coney Island Avenue. "Oh, money, right?" responds the person wearing the secret FBI bug with a chuckle. This, according to informed sources, was a man named George Abdula, who presides over Heaven Nights, a popular club located a few blocks away, and who apparently got himself in the kind of jam that requires wiring up for the FBI in order to win leniency.
Levitis threw his own grand fundraiser at Rasputin for Kruger in 2008, donating $4,000 in cash and another $2,200 in food in order to stay friends with Carl. He spoke with some authority on the subject: "To start off, you'll have to throw in a few thousand," he said. "And then, if he solves your problem . . . depends on whether the problem is big or small . . . how much work he has to put in . . . "
Levitis was arrested last month, charged with lying about his efforts to fix up his favor-seeking fellow nightclub owner with the senator's office. The arrest was accompanied by a lengthy complaint explaining that agents have been investigating an unnamed public official in Brooklyn for two years for "performing official acts in exchange for campaign contributions." No one pretended that the official is anyone other than Kruger, although the senator hired one of New York's premier defense lawyers to insist that he's been cleared.
"That's accurate," lawyer Benjamin Brafman told the Voice. "He is not a target." Brafman, whose clients have ranged from Sean "P. Diddy" Combs to rabbis and mobsters, refused to give up his source, but insisted he's right. "I am a pretty responsible guy in this area," he says. "I don't make those statements if they are not accurate."
On the flip side, there are equally unattributed comments from other informed sources who say that the notion that Kruger is off the hook is "news to us." There's also evidence that the feds are fairly deeply invested in the investigation. For instance, the author of the complaint is Special Agent Kenneth Hosey, who wrote the best-read criminal affidavit in recent history, the one that detailed the goings-on between former governor Eliot Spitzer and "Kristen" in a Washington, D.C., hotel room.
Levitis's lawyer says his client is an innocent victim who's been caught in a squeeze play between prosecutors looking to make a corruption case, and a politician who routinely puts the arm on everyone. Except he says it with greater eloquence:
"The only time anybody sees Carl Kruger's hands are when they are inside your pockets, or filled with campaign funds," says attorney Jeffrey Lichtman. "He is just another pig at the Albany trough."
This is a tough charge, but there is ample evidence in the public record to back it up. For starters, there is the astonishing $2.1 million that Kruger has on hand. This is the most of any sitting senator, even though he never has to campaign. A Democrat, Kruger raises money as if he were facing imminent invasion by GOP storm troops. In fact, he has not had a seriously contested election in 15 years. He gets no primary challenge from within his own party. Republicans not only fail to run against him, they often give him their ballot line as well.
A few years back, Kruger cut a deal with former Republican Senate leader Joe Bruno. In exchange for Kruger's support for neighboring Republican senator Marty Golden, Bruno had district lines drawn so favorably that Kruger's steady re-election is all but assured. We know about this because Bruno made the same offer to former Brooklyn State Senator Seymour Lachman, who turned him down and then wrote a book about it, Three Men in a Room, with ex–Newsday reporter Rob Polner.
Within those safe district lines is the growing gold coast of Southwest Brooklyn, where the palatial villas of the new Russian entrepreneurs have sprung up. Kruger makes the most of it. His campaign filings are stuffed with $5,000 and $9,500 checks from these local residents. Making it easier for constituents to understand the connection between giving and getting, Kruger has his chief of staff, Jason Koppel, also serve as his campaign treasurer.
As the FBI tapes show, the nightclub owners along Coney Island Avenue understand this connection well. A couple of years ago, yet another club, the Heaven Resto Bar/VIP Lounge (not to be confused with Heaven Nights down the street) happily hosted a birthday party for the senator. The club operator here is a famous Russian singer named Avraam Russo who donated $8,000 to be one of Carl's friends, plus $3,500 worth of food. The party included a floor show by the fabulous acrobat Leonid the Magnificent, who, when he is not doing stunts, is fond of dressing in sequins, feather boas, and a small leather thong. At the senator's birthday party, Leonid performed in a skin-tight white Lycra outfit.
Photos show Kruger in a front-row seat hugely enjoying the show. These pictures were later circulated by gay activists who claimed that Kruger, who voted against the gay marriage bill in the Senate, is a closeted homosexual, happy to frolic at gay clubs while denying his own true self. Kruger complained about this unfair inference and rightly so. Those who know him well insist that he is more neutral than partisan in the sex wars, although he is single and cohabits with a female friend in one of those expensive waterside villas in his district.
The senator's strongest passion appears to be playing with his campaign war chest. He spends his surplus donations on a steady stream of indulgences, ranging from expensive steakhouses to Chinese restaurants and trinkets at Home Depot. Recently, he plunked down $512 for something supremely useful in his effort to get even closer to his wealthy constituents: a computer program to help him learn Russian, the easy way.