Pataki’s Political Pick


Al D’Amato, who spent 18 years in the Senate dodging federal prosecutors, is trying—albeit indirectly—to influence the appointment of the next United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which covers Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Long Island.

While U.S. senators like D’Amato used to make the recommendations for New York’s presidential appointments, the Bush White House is reportedly ignoring the state’s two Democrats and listening instead to Governor Pataki and the leaders of the House Republican delegation, led by senior congressman Ben Gilman. A Pataki aide floated the name of a candidate in the Times a week and a half ago, right around the time that the governor announced he’d appointed a screening panel of top lawyers to review possible nominees. Both the candidate and the panel have a decidedly D’Amato aura about them.

The candidate, State Inspector General Roslynn Mauskopf, is the best friend of the legendary Zenia Mucha, who now lives in Los Angeles and is the six-figure communications director for Disney. Until recently, Mucha held the same title for Pataki. Before that, she was D’Amato’s eyes, ears, and mouth. Several sources knowledgeable about the appointment process say that Mucha has been pushing hard for the 44-year-old, Albany-based Mauskopf, who for years has stayed in Mucha’s Manhattan apartment whenever she’s in the city. Mucha declined to talk to the Voice when informed of the specific nature of this story, as did Mauskopf.

In the nearly six years that Mauskopf has been charged with investigating improper conduct by state officials, she has not pressed a single case against a top Pataki appointee, though her predecessors did force the resignations of high-level Cuomo aides. Charles Gargano, the longtime D’Amato fundraiser and state economic czar under Pataki, was the target of Mauskopf’s most widely publicized case. But that investigation—which she conducted jointly with Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau—was recently closed without any charges being brought.

Even the seedy D’Amato—whose brother was convicted in one of the many federal probes that targeted him (a conviction overturned on appeal)—had a full panel of prestigious lawyers review the qualifications of prospective federal judges and prosecutors. But Pataki has named only one person to his screening committee—John O’Mara, an Elmira attorney. O’Mara has been joined at the hip to D’Amato since he played a major role in the ex-senator’s first campaign in 1980. He served on D’Amato’s screening panel for years. D’Amato brought O’Mara into Pataki’s first gubernatorial campaign in 1994, and he eventually became Pataki’s chairman of the Public Service Commission.

If it is a hot summer, all New Yorkers may well become unhappily familiar with the obscure O’Mara. He personally negotiated the backroom deregulation deals with the state’s six big power companies that the Daily News blasted last August for “electrocuting the state’s economy.” Though the News’ editorial page has been notoriously pro-Pataki, it called O’Mara’s PSC “the real culprit,” responsible for a “dopey” deregulation plan, even before the threatened blackouts of 2001. The PSC “blithely ignored the fact that no new power plants have been built in New York in 20 years,” said the News, and “forced the deregulated utilities to sell their generating facilities while doing nothing to encourage new energy sources.”

A lobbyist since his 1998 defeat, D’Amato has already been embroiled in one federal probe in Connecticut, which resulted in the conviction of the ex-state treasurer who was employed by D’Amato’s small lobbying firm. Not only is D’Amato the registered lobbyist for Energy East, an upstate conglomerate that owns two of the big six utilities deregulated by O’Mara, he has also reportedly represented a gaming company with an interest in the state’s plan for a new Catskills casino run by the Mohawk Indians. O’Mara, the governor’s point man on all Indian issues, is negotiating the casino deal.

In addition, D’Amato represents Telergy, a Syracuse-based communications company that has included O’Mara on its board since 1998. The company requires PSC approvals to use Con Ed rights-of-way to build a high-speed, broadband communications network in the city. It originally was a partner of Con Ed’s, another of O’Mara’s big six utilities, but now plans to build its own communication lines alongside Con Ed’s lines.

Mauskopf has already demonstrated just how politically pliable a prober she is. In January 1999, Pataki named her to chair a three-member special state investigation—called the Moreland Act Commission—to look at the city’s School Construction Authority. The announcement came at a time when Pataki was particularly peeved at Rudy Giuliani and the SCA was chaired by the mayor’s longtime confidant Howard Wilson.

Giuliani’s Department of Investigations had just issued a report blasting Pataki’s appointee to the SCA, and the Moreland commission inquiry was widely perceived as payback. But when Giuliani subsequently stepped forward as the GOP alternative to Hillary Clinton, and Pataki endorsed him, Mauskopf’s commission reversed course. Almost two and a half years later, the commission has yet to make a single public finding about the SCA.

Instead, in December 1999, Mauskopf engineered a slam at then schools chancellor Rudy Crew, releasing a report that accused the Board of Education of fixing school attendance figures to inflate state aid. An already wounded target of both Giuliani and Pataki, Crew was forced out shortly thereafter. While the attendance issue was a secondary mandate of the commission from its inception, the Mauskopf report did not contain any specifics—identifying no schools where misconduct had occurred and relying on statistical simulations to make a broad and damning case.

The rationale offered for this unusual ambiguity added to the report’s incendiary tone—namely that the commission was at such a “particularly significant and sensitive stage,” uncovering “criminal or potentially criminal acts,” that it was “extremely limited in what it can reveal publicly at this time.” A year and a half later, neither the commission nor any prosecutor has returned to the attendance issue, though Mauskopf is reportedly continuing her investigation.

Harry Spence, a former Crew deputy who has relocated to Massachusetts, told the Voice that Mauskopf’s “irresponsible assertions” in the attendance report “so outraged several members of the commission staff that they resigned within a few weeks.” Other sources identified two top staffers—executive director Barbara Billet and research director Ruth Henehan—among those who quit. Reached at home by the Voice, Billet, who is now deputy commissioner of the state tax department, declined to answer questions about her departure. Henehan, who is also with another state agency, did not respond to specific messages.

Stanley Grayson, a former deputy mayor under Ed Koch and one of the three members of the commission, told the Voice that he did not know why Billet left. “She called and told me she was resigning,” he said. “It was rather abrupt.”

While the only other commission report featured the name of Billet’s successor on the title page and listed 37 staff members on the back page, neither Billet nor any other staffer is identified in the attendance report. Ironically, the second report—issued in May 2000—faulted the Board of Education’s construction planning and recommended that the SCA—the original commission target—be given greater authority in determining what schools should be renovated or built.

State comptroller Carl McCall, whose office had long been studying attendance reporting, assailed the Mauskopf findings as “speculative.” A McCall analysis charged that the Moreland estimate of the amount of additional state aid connected to the inflated attendance figures was “based only on the hypothetical impact over a five-year period of a hypothetical overstatement of attendance of 2-3 percent.” But McCall said the incidents of overreporting “do not add up” to the assumed percent, nor did the data in the report “support such an estimate.”

McCall also pointed out that attendance has little to do with determining state aid. “It is well known,” concluded the comptroller, “that the education formulas are annually ‘worked backwards’ until the politically negotiated ‘share’ for the city schools is hit in the calculations. In this context, the data feeding into the school aid formulas for New York City is really of no practical consequence whatsoever.”

Even Grayson, who was appointed to the commission by Pataki and views Mauskopf as “a good, thoughtful lawyer,” told the Voice that he believed the commission had gotten sidetracked on “what I would call minor issues.” He described the attendance report as “a dangling participle” with “no finality,” expressing the hope that a conclusive version of it and an SCA study would eventually appear. Grayson said the commission only met four times in the last year and participated in another four conference calls.

McCall’s office has also issued an audit sharply critical of Mauskopf’s other office—the inspector general. In a 24-page report issued last July, McCall found that half of Mauskopf’s investigations were not completed within the time limits set by her office, and that she had abandoned the long-standing practice of issuing annual reports documenting the work of the office. In addition, while prior IGs had included a representative from the comptroller’s office in monthly executive meetings and shared information on cases and audits, Mauskopf “delayed and hampered” McCall’s two-year review, denying access to most files.

”It makes one wonder exactly what they are afraid of,” said McCall. While McCall is a Democrat overseeing a Republican administration, the previous comptroller, Ned Regan, was a Republican overseeing a Democratic administration. Yet the IG and comptroller freely exchanged information in the Cuomo years. A McCall spokesman told the Voice last week that Mauskopf has not been “as cooperative as the previous IG,” adding that McCall was also “disappointed” by the “sometimes inflammatory claims” of the Moreland commission.

New York Post Albany bureau chief Fred Dicker has written that Mauskopf so often “socialized with high-ranking Pataki aides”—particularly Mucha, a friend “for a decade”—that she compromised the independence of her agency. In a 1999 profile of her, The New York Law Journal cited two unnamed sources who criticized Mauskopf as being “too close to the officials she is charged with investigating and failing to bring broad-ranging probes aimed at the top levels of government.” The U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn has convicted three people in a probe of the Pataki parole board and is reportedly still investigating others.

Research assistance: Dasun Blanks, Robbie Chaplick, Douglas Gillison, Jesse Goldstein, Anna Lemond, Marc Rendeiro, Theodore Ross