No one outside George Pataki’s family is closer to the three-term governor than Dan Wiese. On election night in 1994, Pataki was unsure he’d beaten Mario Cuomo until Wiese and a coterie of state troopers arrived at his Hilton Hotel suite to begin guarding him. A Pataki neighbor and Peekskill trooper when Pataki was the town’s mayor and assemblyman in the ’80s, Wiese was promoted to major and put in charge of Pataki’s detail even before the new governor took office, eventually assuming an unparalleled role in the management of the first family’s life. Wiese achieved national notoriety when he visited the Oval Office in February 2002 and gave George W. Bush the bullhorn he used at ground zero, which Wiese had taken home with him that day and was then presenting as a gift from the governor.
But, as this shocking story recounts for the first time, Wiese was also in charge of protecting George Pataki’s campaign and administration from a federal criminal inquiry, a job he did so well that government prosecutors investigated him on obstruction-of-justice allegations. The Voice has learned that Wiese even took the Fifth Amendment before that grand jury, which was sitting in Brooklyn in the late ’90s and was investigating the sale of state paroles for Pataki campaign contributions. Despite the assertion of his self-incrimination privilege in a probe involving possible abuse of his state police powers, Wiese was subsequently promoted twice—first to lieutenant colonel in 2000, and finally to full colonel last year.
Retiring from the police in April at 48 years old, Wiese was named a day later to the new, $160,000 position of director of security for the State Power Authority, putting him in charge of protecting 21 terrorist-vulnerable power facilities across New York. Asked if Wiese informed the authority that he had been the subject of a federal probe and had taken the Fifth Amendment, Peter Barden, the authority’s spokesman, denied by e-mail that Wiese had ever been a subject, but did not comment about Wiese’s assertion of his Fifth Amendment privileges. Voice interviews with five law enforcement sources confirmed the probe of Wiese. Prosecutors even tried surreptitiously to tape a conversation with him, an indication that he was under investigation, as was Wiese’s retention of two of the city’s top criminal lawyers, Steve Kaufman and Dominic Amorosa. Wiese refused to talk to the Voice through months of inquiries, and Amorosa declined in a Voice interview to answer any questions.
With Wiese’s $73,238 annual pension, $24,470 in accrual payments, and this lucrative new position that was neither advertised nor posted, Wiese embodies the rewards of loyalty in the Pataki universe, rising to the top state police position though he helped frustrate a probe that convicted four state or campaign officials.
The Voice recently obtained mountains of long-secret grand jury documents that detail Wiese’s role in the 1997-98 parole board investigation, as well as that of Tom Curitore, an ex-city cop also once assigned to guard Pataki, now a $110,000-a-year deputy commissioner in the Bloomberg administration. While the evidence against both did not in the end rise to the level of a criminal charge, their conduct in the annals that follow, drawn from sworn grand jury testimony, paints a disturbing picture of the abuse of law-enforcement power. With Curitore and Wiese now taking home two and three times respectively what they earned when these events occurred, this saga also illuminates the pathway to prosperity in the ethically compromised world of a governor whose administration is a spawning ground for scandal.
A Chronology of Cover-Up
It was late afternoon on September 17, 1997, and George Slater, a city detective assigned to the Asian major-case squad at One Police Plaza, was sitting at his desk when “two gentlemen in suits came in” and asked for his captain. Slater noticed that one of them was wearing an earpiece “like the Secret Service and the FBI wear to communicate with one another.” He said to his partner, Bobby Sassok: “We’re in trouble.” Slater sensed that whoever these guys were, they were there to complain about what he and Sassok had done the day before, namely, visit Friends of Pataki, the Lexington Avenue office of the governor’s campaign committee.
They’d gone to the committee to investigate a complaint filed by John Jhang, a Korean businessman who said he’d made $23,000 in Pataki contributions after a campaign official promised to facilitate the release of his son, who was doing seven to 21 years on 1993 armed robbery charges. Jhang was outraged—his son was still in jail, he couldn’t get his money back, and his son’s sidekick in the holdups, John Kim, had been paroled early with the help of the same Pataki fundraiser (after his family and friends donated $7,000 to Pataki). Slater took the allegation even more seriously when he learned that the fundraiser named by Jhang, another Korean named Yung Soo Yoo, had already been convicted on a federal fraud charge.
When Slater also interviewed Jhang’s other son, Michael, he got details about the family’s conversations with a variety of Pataki aides, so he put the son on the phone with one of those aides, Julie Pyun, in a secretly taped conversation. Pyun, who was the campaign’s staff liaison to the Korean community, handpicked by Yoo, generally confirmed the outlines of the Jhang allegations in the taped conversation. That’s when Slater decided to go see Pyun to get as much direct and detailed confirmation as he could. His September 16 interview with her in a committee conference room went well, with Pyun acknowledging that she was “aware of a number of complaints” about Yoo from people who’d been “promised things in return for donations,” citing the Jhangs and another family, the Chungs.
But Pyun got “a little nervous” midway through the interview and suddenly announced that she’d better consult with her supervisor. Soon an “agitated” Cathy Blaney, a finance director in the Pataki campaign, appeared, declaring: “You can’t come in here asking questions.” Blaney insisted on written questions submitted 48 hours ahead of any future interview, and Slater departed. A chronology Slater later submitted to the grand jury noted that after he left, Pyun and Blaney called Danny Wiese, telling him about the Slater visit. The chronology was based on phone records, subsequent testimony, and other subpoenaed evidence gathered by Slater and federal investigators.
Since Wiese was an inspector in the state police (promoted from major in 1996), he obviously had no duty to the Pataki campaign, making Blaney’s decision to turn to him peculiar. But Blaney apparently understood what several Pataki insiders have told the Voice: Wiese was already a key partner in the Pataki political family, and he responded to Blaney’s call as if he’d received a mandate from the governor himself. The next day he went to police headquarters to demand an explanation from NYPD brass, accompanied by Tom Curitore, the cop from the city’s intelligence squad assigned to Pataki whenever he was in New York City. Wiese wound up meeting with the NYPD’s chief of detectives, Bill Allee, introduced by Curitore. After hearing Wiese’s complaint, Allee called Slater’s captain, and the captain ordered Slater to go see Allee “immediately.”
“I heard you were over on Lexington Avenue conducting an investigation,” Allee said. “I would like to know what the case is about, could you tell us?” Slater proceeded to recount to the state police official and city cop closest to the governor everything he knew about a grand-larceny investigation involving the governor’s campaign. He later testified that he had no idea Wiese worked directly for the governor and ran his detail. Slater even told Wiese about the wired conversation with Pyun, noting that Yoo was “using the governor’s name, throwing that name around.” Wiese was off to the side, silent during Slater’s account. Then he exploded.
“Do you know who you are dealing with?” Wiese boomed. Slater later testified that from “the way Wiese said it”—in a “loud, power-type voice”—he understood Wiese to be telling him “that I should back off, but I didn’t.”
Allee, who has since retired and was seen by investigators as trying to cozy up to this high state official, declared: “You are going into state office buildings interviewing people in regards to this state, the state police should have notified.” In truth, Slater had questioned campaign officials at a campaign office about campaign contributions. “I would like you to keep Inspector Wiese updated on this investigation,” ordered Allee, a bizarre proposition since Allee knew it was the targeted Pataki committee that had told Wiese about the inquiry in the first place. When Slater agreed, Wiese handed him his card. “I just threw the card in the brown manila case folder,” said Slater. “I didn’t even look at it.”
The Fox in the Henhouse
Slater “let things cool down” for a week or two, and finally called Wiese. The voice who answered the number on Wiese’s card said, “Governor’s Mansion, Trooper So-and-So.” Slater left a message for Wiese, but was instead called back by Michael Prunty, who identified himself as an investigator working in the Manhattan criminal division of the state police. Prunty said Wiese had assigned him to assist in the Yoo investigation. What Prunty did not say, but Slater subsequently learned, was that Prunty was a Pataki bodyguard.
Prunty and Curitore soon came to see Slater at headquarters, going over the entire case, including listening to the Pyun tape. Prunty asked Slater to bring in Michael Jhang so he could interview him, and on October 22, Prunty and Curitore took the son over the same trail that Slater had, with one surprising new development. Jhang’s parents were vacationing in Korea at the time, and out of the blue, Yoo had suddenly called them. Slater was shocked because Yoo had been evasive, abrupt, and unhelpful in a conversation with the senior Jhang shortly before Prunty and Curitore joined the case. But now, with the joint investigation under way, Yoo was reaching out for the Jhangs.
Later that same day, Slater, Prunty, and Curitore went to Brooklyn to attempt to do the initial interview with the Chungs, the second family that had complained to the campaign that Yoo had promised parole for donations. The walls of the apartment were covered with photos of the Chungs with Pataki, former senator Al D’Amato, and Patrick Donahue, who ran the Pataki finance committee with Blaney. The Chungs were unwilling to tell their story until Slater got a Korean friend of his to speak to them on the phone.
They finally laid the facts out in a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot near their house, recounting how they’d donated $9,500 after Yoo promised the early release of their son, a convicted murderer. Mrs. Chung described conversations about the release not just with Yoo but with Donahue. Prunty was so upset about the Chung account of Donahue’s role that he told Slater: “If Patrick did that, he has to go.” Mrs. Chung even confronted the governor face-to-face as he was leaving a Queens fundraiser, discovering that he didn’t know what she was talking about when she asked about her imprisoned son.
Little did the Chungs realize that two of the three investigators questioning them were, ironically, bodyguards for the governor. Slater got his own first inkling of Prunty’s ties to Pataki on the ride back to Manhattan, when the trooper volunteered that he remembered the incident with Mrs. Chung. Prunty told Slater that Mrs. Chung “was yelling something about her son being held in jail, crumpled up a piece of paper and threw it at the governor.” Prunty said he got Pataki into the car, picked up the piece of paper and ran a check on the name she’d scribbled on it, determining that the son was in jail for a long time. Suddenly, Slater testified later in the grand jury, “it dawned on me how close he was.”
Slater had just begun working with Brooklyn federal prosecutors on the case. When he now told them about the involvement of Wiese and Prunty, they instructed him to no longer contact the state police, “for obvious reasons.” They told Slater, “It wouldn’t be proper to have someone that close to the investigation who might leak information back to the governor’s office.” Slater, who by then had met with Prunty three or four times and had talked to him on the phone repeatedly, said he “was starting to feel the same way.” After clearing this exclusion with his captain, Slater dodged Prunty’s next call, telling him that a kidnapping had forced the Yoo case onto a back burner.
In truth, Slater was closing in on Yoo, putting John Jhang on the phone with him as soon as the Jhangs got back from their Korea trip. Yoo asked Jhang to come to his house. So on November 10, Slater wired up Jhang and brought him and his son Michael to Yoo’s house, monitoring the conversation from a short distance away. Yoo was wary of Jhang, tipped off about the probe, but still hoping to change the part of his deal with Jhang that was clearly illegal. Yoo had forced Jhang to write him a check for $10,000 when the contributions to Pataki were made in 1994, and Yoo had then donated $10,000 to the campaign in his own name—a proxy contribution in violation of the law.
Now Yoo had prepared phony documents to try to create a paper trail suggesting that the $10,000 was a loan he’d been slowly repaying over time. He was so uneasy he asked Jhang’s son to leave, said five times that he was “under investigation,” and even denied that he’d ever explicitly promised Jhang parole in exchange for contributions. He warned Jhang to keep his mouth shut because if anything came out publicly, it would destroy his son’s chances of getting out of prison. At Yoo’s trial in 2000, the prosecutor sized up Yoo’s mixed message, saying that “by November” Yoo was “well on his way to trying to cover his tracks.”
The Government Gets Stung
Then Slater, working for the first time with federal agents, set up a sting of Donahue, who both the Jhangs and the Chungs had said was fully aware of the parole scam. On December 17, Slater and Sassok followed the co-director of the governor’s finance committee from his Park Avenue apartment to 355 Lexington, where the committee’s headquarters were located. Slater radioed ahead to federal investigators what Donahue was wearing and the book bag he was carrying. A wired Asian agent and Michael Jhang were waiting outside the Lexington Avenue building at 9:30 a.m. when Donahue arrived; another agent was parked on the street monitoring the recorded conversation that ensued. Jhang and the agent confronted Donahue about the donations outside the building momentarily, and in the lobby for almost 45 minutes.
Donahue, who would ultimately be formally identified by prosecutors as a target in the probe and take the Fifth Amendment himself, made a series of exculpatory, self-serving, almost rehearsed declarations. When it was over, he went upstairs to the campaign office and told Blaney and Pyun he’d just been taped. He told his new attorney, Paul Shechtman, the same thing. An ex-prosecutor who’d stepped down as Pataki’s Criminal Justice Coordinator a year earlier, Shechtman had been instantly brought in to represent Donahue. Slater’s grand jury chronology reports that as soon as the taping was over, “Patrick calls Wiese, Wiese calls Tommy Curitore.”
The next afternoon Slater went to a training session in Brooklyn, where he was paged by his captain, who explained that Curitore had just been up to see him. Curitore claimed that he’d just happened to be out on Lexington Avenue and saw the undercover operation “set up on Patrick.” Curitore wanted to know who the other Asian guy with Michael Jhang was. The captain wanted to know why the state police hadn’t been informed of the sting. Slater reminded the captain about the feds insisting the state cops not be involved. He knew that the undercover and Jhang had stopped very briefly outside the building, making “the chances of Curitore spotting them in the street slim.” Slater later determined that Curitore had in fact learned of the sting from Wiese and Donahue, noting it in his chronology.
On December 19, Slater got another call from Chief Allee. Curitore was with the chief, walking around the office, talking on a cell phone. “I told you to keep the state police advised of what you were doing in this investigation,” Allee said.
“Chief,” Slater replied, “can I talk to you a minute in private, alone?”
“No,” insisted Allee, in what Slater recalled as a “loud, clear voice.”
“Chief, I’ve got to let you know that I have a Federal Grand Jury 6E letter, which means I can’t discuss the case with anybody.” Slater was determined not to say one more word to Curitore about the case.
Allee railed about why Slater had taken the case to Brooklyn federal prosecutors. He ordered Slater to leave, insisting that he wanted to talk to the feds himself—a conversation Slater went to Brooklyn and arranged right away. Then Allee summoned him back from Brooklyn only to tell him one more time: “I don’t want to see you, get out of here.” That afternoon Slater was pulled out of the Major Case Squad and reassigned to Internal Affairs. Behind the scenes, U.S. Attorney Zachary Carter had spoken to Police Commissioner Howard Safir, and Safir decided that a reassignment might insulate Slater from any further interference. But it was too late; Allee’s September insistence that Slater include the state police in the investigation clearly had already set enough wheels in motion.
Secrets From the Governor’s Basement
Around December 29, Brion Travis, the Pataki-appointed chair of the state parole board, called Tom Grant, one of his special assistants. He gave Grant, whose duties include acting as the parole division’s spokesman, the names of three Korean inmates and asked him to check out their computerized records. Travis was out of the office and did not say where he was or explain the reason for his interest in the then obscure cases. Within weeks, the division would be inundated with press inquiries and government subpoenas about these cases. But, according to their grand jury testimony, this was the first Grant, or the division’s executive director, Joe Gawloski, whom Grant consulted, had ever heard of them.
Grant punched the names into the computer and immediately told Travis that two of the three were still in jail, which quieted Grant’s fears that the three had been involved in some horrid post-release crime, the usual “bad news” story that hits parole officials. When Grant told Travis, however, that the third, John Kim, had been released, Travis told him to “pull the file” to see if there was anything that might be—”he didn’t use the word embarrassing, but something to that effect,” Grant testified. Travis offered no return number, but said he’d call back.
Phone records subsequently obtained by the feds established that Travis was calling, incredibly, from the basement security office at the governor’s personal residence in Garrison in upstate Putnam County, an office set up at a cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars by Wiese. The prosecutors even asked Grant if Travis had mentioned Wiese when he called. They also asked him, as they did Gawloski, if Travis was “with the governor” when he called. In fact Travis, who, like Wiese, also lives in the tiny village of Garrison (pop. 2,500), had long helped babysit the Pataki children, as had Wiese’s wife.
Travis’s intense interest in the Korean cases was extraordinary—as Michael Cohen, parole’s director of operations, put it to the grand jury: Travis did not “get involved in the day-to-day runnings of parole.” Instead, testified Cohen, he spent his time “at the governor’s house” babysitting for the Patakis and watching the Weather Channel in his own office. Cohen also testified that “around Christmas,” Travis “told me that Danny Wiese had mentioned to him that there was an investigation going on concerning Koreans.” Grant, who says Travis did not mention Wiese to him, was so impressed by the urgency of Travis’s concern about the Kim case that he immediately sent his secretary to the interstate bureau two or three miles away to pick up the file. He then took it home, reading it meticulously. Travis called about 7 p.m. and Grant assured him that Kim “looked like a good release.”
Slater and the feds were now turning up the heat on the probe, visiting Pyun in her home. The prosecutors also interviewed Allee, launching what would prove to be an extended inquiry into the Wiese efforts to penetrate their probe. Allee told them he was still getting calls from Wiese, but that he had deliberately not returned them because of the instructions from the U.S. Attorney’s office. The prosecutors told Slater to call Wiese back and tape him. On January 9, Slater called Wiese from a number in the U.S. Attorney’s office. Wiese got back a few minutes later and Slater said to him: “I understand you are looking for some information, can I help you?”
“Let me be perfectly clear,” said Wiese, who Slater believed was taping the conversation. “I am not looking for information on this case. I know what a gag order is.” Like Donahue at the sting, Wiese began making a series of unsolicited, self-serving statements, suggesting that Prunty and Curitore had been assigned “to help you out with what you needed,” and bitterly complaining about his unreturned messages. He said all he wanted was the name and number of the prosecutor handling the case. Slater gave it to him and, “within minutes,” the prosecutor got a call from Shechtman, who was already representing Donahue. Slater’s chronology, which is partially based on phone records, indicates that Blaney, Wiese, and Shechtman had a three-way conversation later that day.
No Bad Deed Goes Unrewarded
But Wiese’s inside track on the probe—with Yoo, Donahue, and Travis behaving as if they’d been tipped off—had finally come to an end. Incredibly, on September 18, 1997, the day after Wiese first visited Allee and penetrated the parole probe, he was given a $7,136 salary hike retroactive to April. That February, New York Post reporter Fred Dicker exposed a $7,793 raise that Wiese had received in November 1996, when “Pataki was insisting that neither he nor his aides deserved a pay hike” because of the state’s fiscal crisis. Dicker depicted Wiese as “the real power” in the state police, describing the superintendent as “a figurehead” forced to grant the raise.
Wiese’s attorneys tried to keep him out of the grand jury by offering to write a letter saying he would take the Fifth, but the prosecutors insisted he appear. He did, taking the Fifth on key questions. The government refused to immunize him, but eventually decided not to indict him. Documents obtained by the Voice reveal that numerous state police officials close to Wiese were put in the grand jury and one state police source said everyone there “knew about Wiese’s problem.” Neither Wiese, the Power Authority, nor the state police would answer questions about how he gained promotions and his new position despite asserting his self-incrimination rights, which, under state law, can cost law enforcement officials their jobs.
Other high state officials, such as Cohen, who took the Fifth and was immunized, were demoted, though a parole spokesman declined to say why. Instead, Wiese was even granted a special retiree waiver by Pataki officials to take his current Power Authority post, though legally mandated advertising requirements were evaded. His controversial appointment became the subject of a September hearing chaired by the authorities-committee head, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky.
NYPD officials say Allee behaved “like a bull in a china shop” but did nothing wrong, and Curitore was, according to the mayor’s office, cleared of any wrongdoing by an internal NYPD probe. Curitore was hired at City Hall by Community Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Greenspun, the highest ranking former Pataki aide in the Bloomberg administration and onetime deputy to Jeff Weisenfeld, the contact man for Donahue inside Pataki’s office who repeatedly tried to aid the Korean paroles. A minor figure in the parole probe, Greenspun briefly appeared before the grand jury, but insists now that he never knew of Curitore’s involvement with the probe. Curitore refused, through Bloomberg’s press office, to answer a single question about Wiese.
Yoo wound up convicted in this and another case involving illegal contributions to the man who brought him into the Pataki circle, Al D’Amato. Donahue, formally named an unindicted co-conspirator by the judge at Yoo’s trial and a defense witness for Yoo, is still running the Pataki finance committee with Blaney, and the two also recently ran a multimillion-dollar, Pataki-sponsored fundraiser for the Bush campaign.
Pataki stuck with Travis even when one of his 2002 opponents, Tom Golisano, aired high-priced television commercials assailing the governor for retaining in such an important law enforcement post someone who, like Donahue, was also fingered as an unindicted co-conspirator. Finally, a month ago, Pataki announced that Travis was stepping down at Parole to take a $10,000 raise and a new position as the $130,000-a-year deputy superintendent of the State Insurance Department, where, like Wiese, he has a terrorism- and preparedness-related responsibility. Pataki himself is of course preparing, at least in his own mind, for a 2008 national run, having cajoled the Bush White House into installing his choice as the new U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn.
George Slater retired from the police department in 2002 as a third-grade detective, without receiving a single promotion after spearheading an explosive probe of what the Post has branded the state’s most corrupt administration ever. Incredibly, Allee saw to it that Curitore was promoted to first-grade detective in 2000, when he collected a near $10,000 raise.
The circle-the-wagons defense that started with Donahue eventually involved an army of lawyers, who were paid $784,759 by Friends of Pataki, the state GOP, and the state itself, which can pick up the tab for state employees who are subpoenaed by prosecutors but not indicted. While three lawyers were paid $257,378 to represent Donahue, Wiese’s lawyers were not reimbursed by either the state or the committee, in an apparent attempt to conceal his involvement. Detailed bills have to be submitted for state reimbursement, and they are public records. Indeed, the bills for other state officials indicate that their lawyers were talking to Wiese’s attorneys “re: Wiese” from June 1998 to February 1999.
A federal prosecutor at the Yoo trial branded the parole case “the biggest fundraising scandal that this state has seen in a very long time,” with almost $40,000 in contributions sparking a paper-trail frenzy of Pataki-tied attempts to get three violent felons out of jail early. Had Wiese and Curitore not penetrated it from the outset, there is no telling how high it might have reached.
Additional research: Andrew Burtless, Adam Hutton, Christine Lagorio, and Brian O’Connor
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 20, 2004