George Pataki was one of the few governors invited to spend Sunday night at the White House after fellow Yalie George Bush's dinner for all 50 governors, the New York Post tells us, adding that he is also a hot prospect for vice president on the 2004 ticket. That would seem to make all the more interesting the solitary patronage appointment Bush has sent to the Senate on Pataki's recommendation: the largely ignored and pivotal nomination of Roslynn Mauskopf as the next United States attorney for Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island.
The selection of Mauskopf for one of the top prosecutorial posts in the country is a window into the seedy side of Pataki's Albany, as well as a consequence of his continuing alliance with ex-senator and current big-time lobbyist Al D'Amato. It is also a measure of the will and judgment of the only man in Washington who can stop it, Senator Chuck Schumer, who defeated D'Amato in 1998 after airing a television commercial called "Decades" that documented D'Amato's long history of sleaze. If Judiciary Subcommittee chair Schumer rubber-stamps Mauskopf, he will be installing a candidate whose ties to D'Amato are so incestuous that he might well have picked her himself if he were still in the Senate.
Mauskopf, a former assistant in Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau's office, has been the state inspector general under Pataki since shortly after he took office in 1995. Her appointment was a product of her friendship with Barbara Jones, a top Morgenthau aide who'd been dating D'Amato for years and has since been named to the federal bench. Over the course of her years in Albany, Mauskopf became extremely close to Jones's best friend, Zenia Mucha, the legendary political operative who has been both D'Amato and Pataki's top aide. The Post and New York Law Journal have published stories faulting her social ties to those at the head of a government she is charged with independently investigating.
What's most disturbing is that if confirmed by the Senate, Mauskopf will be taking over an office that just launched an investigation involving D'Amato. Newsday and the Times revealed last week that the office is probing Computer Associates International (CA), the giant Long Island software company whose financial and accounting practices have been likened to Enron and Global Crossing. CA chair Charles Wang has long been so tied to D'Amato that he broke records orchestrating $128,000 in hard and soft money contributions to aid D'Amato's 1998 re-election, encouraging 14 CA employees or spouses, including a Wang secretary, to give the federal maximum. He and another CA executive have given Pataki $60,000 since March 1999. Six months after D'Amato left the Senate in 1999, Wang helped name him to CA's 10-member board of directors.
Last August D'Amato was one of four directors unsuccessfully targeted for dumping by disgruntled CA shareholders led by the California Public Employees' Retirement System and two nationally known proxy fight advisers. Institutional Shareholder Services, the influential Maryland-based adviser, slammed CA for "deplorable" corporate governance, citing in particular the "overcompensation" of executives. Wang and others were once given a $1.1 billion package, later reduced in the courts, though shareholders have experienced a negative 11 percent stock return over the last five years. Shareholders attributed their opposition to D'Amatowithout citing specificsto his role on the board's compensation committee.
Newsday reported last week that the preliminary inquiry, jointly run by the U.S. attorney, the FBI, and the Securities and Exchange Commission, "seeks to determine whether top CA officials profited from share sales in advance of disclosing to the public negative news about the company's financial results." Prosecutors are also examining allegations that CA fraudulently overstated financial results to inflate its share price.
While Mauskopf could recuse herself on the CA probeturning over its supervision to assistantsthis would hardly cure the problem. The Brooklyn office has spearheaded so many investigations connected to D'Amato and Pataki over the years that it should be run by a prosecutor with no significant ties to them. The office nailed D'Amato's political mentor, Nassau GOP boss Joe Margiotta, as well as his brother Armand (a conviction overturned on appeal), his securities broker Stratton Oakmont, and his mob-tied contractor Phil Basile. Brooklyn prosecutors also recently convicted Suffolk GOP boss John Powell, one of Pataki's top party backers, and four Pataki aides or backers in a probe of the state parole board.
The parole board probewhich focused on allegations that Pataki's campaign traded paroles for contributionsoffers another reason why Schumer should nix the Mauskopf choice. Mauskopf was the pick of a federal judicial screening panel set up early last year by Pataki and chaired by upstate attorney John O'Mara, a D'Amato partner in a lobbying firm called D&O Consultants. O'Mara, who was the only member of the panel at the time of Mauskopf's recommendation, was running a secret defense operation on Pataki's behalf to blunt the parole board and other federal investigations.
Four attorneys who represented subjects or witnesses in the inquiry have confirmed that O'Mara approved and paid the legal fees for state or campaign employees caught up in the probe. Filings for Friends of Pataki list $354,198 in fees paid since January 1999 to eight law firms identified by the Voice as having represented individuals involved in the investigation (the filings for 1998, when the probe was most active, are in state archives). Paul Windels, who represented Pataki campaign manager Patrick Donohue and was paid $45,818 by Friends of Pataki, says, "I was retained by O'Mara. He had the say on the payment of fees on behalf of the committee."
Among the other lawyers who were paid by the Pataki committee were Rod Lankler ($77,634), Elkan Abramowitz ($95,856), Austin Campriello ($46,716), Tom Puccio ($53,900), and Leo Kayser ($27,691), all of whom were involved in the parole probe. O'Mara, who ran D'Amato's Senate campaign upstate as far back as 1980 and was Pataki's Public Service Commission chair until recently, was simultaneously picking the U.S. attorney and orchestrating a legal campaign against the same office. Prior federal appointments have always been reviewed by a real panel of prestigious attorneys named by the state's two senators, but Pataki has allowed O'Mara alone, who used to be a member of D'Amato's panel, to make the recommendations.
In a Voice interview, Senator Schumer said he "was not choosing" the Brooklyn prosecutor, merely "setting a bar or standard" that nominees must meet. When he recently declared that he was "troubled" that Pataki's candidate for U.S. attorney in Manhattanthe governor's own counsel, Jim McGuirehad no federal prosecutorial experience, the White House declined to send the name to the Senate. "I'm also troubled by this one," he told the Voice, referring to Mauskopf's lack of federal credentials. But Schumer said he has not made up his mind on confirming or opposing her. She is scheduled to meet with him in the next two weeks.
There is little about her background to engender confidence. Over her 13 years in Morgenthau's office, she tried two major cases, convicting a lawyer (who represented himself) of stealing millions from his clients. In the other case, heavyweight boxer Ray Mercer was acquitted on all counts after she charged him with trying to fix a fight. The jury, who fell asleep during her summation, reached a unanimous verdict in less than five hours. She credits herself with playing a major role in the prosecution of a mob trucking cartel in the garment district, but it was State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer who led that probe when he was a young assistant in Morgenthau's office.
Similarly, Carl McCall, the state comptroller, has slammed the management of Mauskopf's inspector general's office in an audit, calling her "unqualified" to be U.S. attorney. Schumer will decide if she's good enough for him.
Research assistance: Jesse Goldstein, Martine Guerrier, Lauren Johnston, Peter G.H. Madsen, Jess Wisloski
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in New York, delivered to your inbox.