Court Date for Bernie's Pals
It was an overwhelming voter turnout on conservative Staten Island back in 1993 that first propelled Rudy Giuliani into City Hallthence on to fame and fortune. But the political ambitions of the man they call America's Mayor could now be at risk, thanks to the criminal indictment last week of two of the island's favorite sons.
Giuliani has made it clear that he would very much like to be president, or if that seems like a stretch for a pro-abortion, pro-gay-rights Republican, he would certainly appreciate the national spotlight such a campaign would be accorded. The spotlight is clearly his for the asking: A Gallup poll last week put the ex-mayor as the top choice of three out of four Republicans.
But an even bigger potential obstacle to Giuliani's presidential hopes than his liberal New York baggage appeared on July 19 in a Bronx courtroom in the form of a pair of broad-shouldered former football stars for Monsignor Farrell High School on Staten Island's east shore.
Frank and Peter DiTommaso, who built their Interstate Industrial Corporation into a regional construction powerhouse in the 1990s, stood before Supreme Court Judge Steven Barrett and pled not guilty to first-degree- perjury charges lodged against them by Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson, setting the stage for a trial that is bound to raise troubling questions for the would-be presidential candidate.
The charges against the contractors came just two weeks after Giuliani appeared to have dodged that particular bullet, when his friend and former police commissioner Bernard Kerik admitted in the same courthouse that he had allowed the DiTommaso brothers to secretly pump $165,000 into the renovation of the former top cop's palatial Riverdale apartment.
While the sumptuous remake of his home was under way, Kerik acknowledged, he had gone to bat for the DiTommasoswho were then fighting allegations of mob tieswith other city officials. He did so, as the expolice commissioner told the judge, "thinking they were clean."
Kerik's admission spared Giuliani what would have been a major embarrassmentthe prospect of a criminal trial for the man he had named to head the city's police force. Kerik, after more than a year of denying all wrongdoing, accepted a no-jail plea, a $221,000 fine, and the burden of a criminal rap sheet for the rest of his life.
But for the DiTommaso brothers, it was nothing doing. The contractors adamantly denied lying to the Bronx grand jury when asked if they had paid for the renovations to Kerik's home. "Under no circumstances did me, my brother, anyone from my company have a conversation and/or authorize payments for work done on that apartment," was what Frank DiTommaso, 47, told the grand jury on March 30, the indictment states. Three months later, his younger brother Peter, 45, gave the same response to the same jurors.
Those statements were blatantly untrue, said D.A. Johnson and city investigations chief Rose Gill Hearn, whose office helped conduct the probe. "Those who would subvert the grand jury's truth-seeking function and the integrity of city government will be held accountable," said Hearn.
Standing in dark suits before the judge last week, the brothers let their attorney, an influential New Jersey practitioner named Thomas Durkin Jr., enter their pleas of not guilty. The men face up to seven years in prison if convicted at trial.
Even though Giuliani may never have to put in an appearance at such a trial, it is bound to shed an unflattering light on one of his administration's murkiest episodes.
"It's not as heavy as a Kerik trial would have been," said George Arzt, a lobbyist and City Hall veteran who served as press spokesman for Mayor Ed Koch, "but any negative gets picked up. It snowballs. It erodes his strength, which is integrity. He is supposed to be Mr. Clean, the tough guy with a law enforcement background for treacherous times. When you are eating away at that it hurts. It raises the aura of hypocrisy."
In the Bronx courtroom, the preliminary back-and-forth about production of documents for the defense was already under way. Bronx rackets bureau chief Dennis Consumano, who will handle the case, said the government's records in the matter were "substantial."
Included in those records will be the grand jury testimony of Giuliani, who was reported to have become testy and annoyed under questioning by prosecutors. But key questions about the events remain unanswered, at least for the public.
What, for instance, was then mayor Giuliani told about the startling testimony that Frank DiTommaso gave to the city's department of investigation in June 2000, when the DiTommasos were trying to persuade city officials that their numerous dealings with mobsters in the construction and supply business were no fault of their own.
They had good cause to want their names cleared. Records show that their companies won more than $100 million worth of contracts for work, including a new concrete foundation at Kings County Hospital, the building of storm sewers, andthe project that kicked off the controversy because of the many gangsters on the sceneproviding dirt covering at the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island.
Frank DiTommaso came to that deposition well armed with City Hall connections: His lead attorney was from the law firm of Fischbein Badillo Wagner & Harding, whose partners included Giuliani's friend and political mentor, former Liberal Party boss Ray Harding. But that wasn't the builder's only hook with the administration, the deposition revealed.
DiTommaso told officials that he had not only become good enough friends to do drop-in visits to Kerik's city office, he had also hired one of Kerik's closest buddies as a top adviser to his company and put Kerik's brother on the payroll as an $85,000-a-year manager at the same Staten Island waste transfer station that was then under scrutiny for mob contacts. DiTommaso told his questioners that he had hired Kerik's pal, a man named Larry Ray, after Kerik (then the corrections commissioner) told him Ray was "a top-shelf guy."
Within the administration, Kerik's assistance for the contractor wasn't much of a secret. The commissioner went so far as to allow his friend Ray to use his corrections office for a meeting with investigators from the city's Trade Waste Commission, which was then examining the DiTommasos' application. Kerik made sure to be there at the start of the meeting so Ray could introduce the investigators to the high-ranking city aide.
In an even more open gesture of support, Kerik spoke to the head of enforcement at the Trade Waste Commission, a man named Raymond Casey, to tell him that his friend Larry Ray was going to be assisting the DiTommasos. Casey, who happens to be one of several Giuliani cousins who worked in the administration, has said Kerik never tried to influence him, but that really wasn't the issue. More to the point, what was the city's corrections commissioner doing with this crowd in the first place?
That question became even more urgent after Kerik's pal Ray was indicted in a mob stock-fraud case, together with a high-level Gambino soldier who happened to be one of the characters with whom the DiTommasos were alleged to be doing business.
Less than three months after Frank DiTommaso's deposition, Giuliani named Kerik as his new police commissioner. Under a standing mayoral executive order, any significant promotionand Kerik's bump up from corrections to One Police Plaza certainly qualifiedrequired a new background check by the Department of Investigation. But agency officials have said that while the information about Kerik's ties to the DiTommasos and Ray was relayed to City Hall by DOI, it was done so orally, and that no written report was ever prepared or delivered to Giuliani. "He got a 'soft vet,' " said one source, referring to the normally rigorous vetting process applied to high-level city appointees.
Durkin, the DiTommasos' attorney, refused to talk about his defense strategy. After his clients were released without bail, the silver-haired lawyer guided them past reporters on 161st Street as it filled with fans gathering for an afternoon game at Yankee Stadium a block away. But the Bronx D.A. isn't the contractors' only problem. In New Jersey, the head of the state's division of gaming enforcement, Thomas Auriemma, whose industrious probe rekindled the questions about Kerik's ties to the DiTommasos, said last week that he will seek again to have Interstate banned from doing work at Atlantic City casinos.
"From our perspective, we have consistently believed that Interstate and the DiTommasos are unqualified to be associated with our casino industry," said Auriemma. "This indictment is further evidence of that."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.