News & Politics

Tammany North: The Cuomo Sleaze Team, Part II

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The following is a reprint of the second half of Wayne Barrett’s August, 1988 Village Voice investigative report on then governor Mario Cuomo’s aides. Read part I of the series, “The Cuomo Sleaze Team,” here. Mario Cuomo died on January 1, 2015 at age 82.

When Mike Dukakis came to town last Thursday, Mario Cuomo was at NYU to welcome him. A story in Newsday that morning charged Matilda Cuomo with pushing state health officials to deliver a $113,000 consultant contract to her brother, and one television reporter, David Browde of Channel 5, worked him way through the press corps to ask the governor if his administration had “acted improperly.” Declaring angrily that his brother-in-law was “the best guy I know,” Mario Cuomo, who’d refused to discuss the charges with Newsday, was momentarily forced to do what he rarely does: publicly defend the ethics of a stained administration.

“I’m the only government I know of,” the governor announced, “that in six years, we’ve never had anybody indicted, anybody tried in six years. I brought in an inspector general. I got ya the first ethics law in 200 years. If you want to talk to me about ethics, you’d be better be an expert.”

The governor overstates his administration’s arrest record, forgetting, for example, the conviction of his militia commander, Vito Castellano. But if indictment or conviction are the only measures of a government’s ethical conduct — a standard enshrined by both the Koch and Regan administrations — the governor can rightfully claim a comparatively clean record at the highest levels of his government. In campaign stops all across America, however, Mike Dukakis is rebutting just the sort of standard Cuomo invoked.

“A chief executive cannot know everything that’s going on his administration,” Dukakis says. “But such a leader needs to select the best people, set high standards for them, and move quickly to discipline those who violate those standards. Then this kind of problem is less likely to fester and grow and become almost an epidemic in your administration,” which, Dukakis charges, “is what happened” in the Reagan White House.

In last week’s Voice, I examined the governor’s “expert” handling of ethical misconduct in a half-dozen cases that fell short of indictment but tarnished top state officials. The review revealed a disturbing degree of Cuomo tolerance for the tawdry.

When an appointee to high public office is indicted, resignation almost invariably follows. It is when indictments haven’t occurred, but misconduct has, that a chief executive is tested. And that is when the posturing ethicist in Albany has again and again stood quietly by his man, or, at times, even taken on a surly defensiveness. Cuomo’s stubborn loyalty to those who have betrayed his own public trust was the common denominator underlying each of last week’s episodes.

Cuomo is right, for example, that his Thruway chief, Hank Bersani, wasn’t indicted, but this immunized federal witness was called a bagman in the indictment of the Syracuse mayor. The governor’s longtime close aide Al Levine wasn’t nailed either, but an independent state investigator formally concluded that he’d committed extortion and referred it to a prosecutor. And Cuomo’s general services commissioner, John Egan, has also never been charged with anything, but a State Investigation Commission appointed in part by the governor declared years ago that he ran his department without ethical standards of any kind. The conduct of these and other high state officials named in last week’s story has not provoked any disciplinary action or word of rebuke from the governor. Some are still in office, and those who left did so under various guises, designed to sidestep the admission of wrongdoing or acknowledgment of scandal.

This is a story of two similar episodes. One features the head of Cuomo’s Power Authority, Richard Flynn, still unaffected by his year-old admission that he had a sidewalk conversation about a bribe and, for almost five years, abided by the street code of silence. The other is a classic tale from Buffalo of the historic link between an extraordinarily structured and open system of patronage and apparently concerned campaign contributions, with both operations run by top aides of the governor.

In a moving Newsday column about the mayor’s panning of panhandlers, Murray Kempton recently acknowledged that he had stopped writing about Ed Koch because he could let anger guide him to a typewriter only so long as it arose “from hope for something better” and in Koch’s case, he has abandoned all hope.” There is every reason to hope that Mario Cuomo, an honest man himself, never damaged by a serious charge of personal misconduct, will clean house, and become as tough with those who prey on his government as he is with the reporters who write about them. It’s also time he and Andrew Cuomo ended the family entanglement with Blutrich, Falcone, and Miller, the son’s Manhattan law firm, whose real estate deals and clients have intersected with state government in disturbing ways, some of which were detailed here last week. It’s time for Cuomo to become as good as the promise.

The Well-Oiled Machine

Buffalo is the Chicago of New York State. Its politics have the old-line flavor of the Daley days, when public jobs were a party trust. The Democratic boss of Buffalo, Joe Crangle, has reigned for 23 years, cagily managing a county party that runs on the grease of patronage. But Crangle is about to step down. His replacement is a Cuomo man, Vincent Sorrentino, who has just been appointed by the governor to the board of the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority.

Like all but a couple of other county leaders in the state, Crangle supported Ed Koch against Cuomo in the 1982 primary. But unlike elsewhere, Cuomo and Crangle did not mend postprimary fences, principally because the anti-Crangle forces, allied with Cuomo, made an armistice impossible. Sorrentino, one of the Cuomo’s area coordinators in 1982 and 1986, was part of the opposition to Crangle, as was the recently elected county executive Dennis Gorski, Assemblyman Arthur Eve, and attorney Leo Fallon.

Beginning sometime in 1984, this group of Crangle opponents came together to form something called the Western New York Patronage Committee, and extraordinarily candid title for a Cuomo outpost actually authorized to fill state jobs in Buffalo an Niagara, bypassing former assemblyman who was elected last year as the first Democratic Erie County executive, told the Voice that the 10 members of the committee “were all designated by the governor,” adding that he believed he was chosen because his work in the 1982 gubernatorial campaign convinced Cuomo that he would “look out for the governor’s best interests.”

Voice interviews with Gorski, Sorrentino, Fallon, a deputy commissioner of Motor Vehicle, and other members of the patronage committee confirm that it was created because of “the impasse with Crangle” and that the committee was regularly given a list of available state jobs in agencies ranging from the Thruway Authority to Transportation, General Services, and Corrections. The members collected local resumes and the committee forwarded its nominees to the agencies, or to the executive chamber in Albany. The rate of success was remarkable.

This naked and rather old-fashioned patronage operation was at its best at the state’s Niagara Frontier Transit Authority, the area’s version of the MTA, which employs over 1500 people. The committee included two members of the NFTA board, including its chairman Ray Gallagher, a former Crangle ally who was apparently converted to the opposition by the political vulnerability of his state position. Indeed the committee frequently held its monthly meetings in the offices of one of its members — the president of a security firm with a lucrative no-bid contract at NFTA.

When the bipartisan State Investigation Commission got wind of this peculiar arrangement and held a largely unnoticed public hearing in Buffalo in 1986 about it, Gallagher testified that he got a phone call from Tony Burgos, the governor’s appointments officer at the time, saying that patronage committee chairman Fallon would soon be calling him and asking him to join the group. Thereafter, as letters from Gallagher to Fallon demonstrated, NFTA submitted all job vacancies to the group, even informing it when NFTA contracts expired. Gallagher, who ran unsuccessfully against Ned Regan for state comptroller in 1982, also reported back to the committee after hirings occurred, pointing out in a March 1985 letter that five mechanic positions had been filled with applicants “on the Committee’s mechanic list.”

Gallagher admitted that the patronage committee tried to go beyond filling vacancies and actually suggested firing people to produce vacancies. Obtaining lists of all NFTA employees and contractors, committee members pressed Callagher to dump “particular individuals” whom “they probably didn’t agree with politically” to “create openings” to then be filled by committee preferences. Gallagher, who says he rebuffed these attempts at “retribution,” concedes nonetheless that

75 to 80 per cent” of all the NFTA hires during the first three or four Cuomo years, ranging from tinsmiths to executive positions, “had political sponsors.”

In testimony unnoticed downstate, and yet to find its way into a SIC report, Gallagher went on to describe how this governor’s committee “sent people down to be bus drivers that don’t even have licenses.” Finally, after a couple of years of operation, the committee dissolved in 1986. Gorski told the Voice that the dissolution occurred “at the request of the governor’s office.” Fallon, who was Cuomo’s prime operative in the Buffalo area for a decade, said the committee broke up when “the regular party organization healed its wounds with the governor’s office.”

Fallon, who became a supreme court judge in 1987, assumes more responsibility for the formation and disbanding of the committee than his fellow members give him credit for, insisting that both were his idea, not the governor’s. He does concede that he “had some contacts with the governor’s appointments office from time to time,” adding, “that was the only way the committee could function.” Fallon, who was questioned by the SIC, also said in a Voice interview that applicants who’d supported Cuomo “got an extra hard look” and that the committee would have been a little “goofy” if it hadn’t done that.

As a footnote to his SIC testimony, Gallagher said that once the patronage committee folded, job recommendations came “right from Albany.” On at least one occasion, in response to a request from the governor’s new appointments chief, Ellen Conovitz, he supplied her office with a list of openings, applicants, and their “political sponsors.”

A Coercive Campaign

While the committee was still functioning its key leaders, including Fallon and Gallagher, became the nucleus of the Cuomo reelection campaign, putting together in September 1985 two cocktail parties on the same day. One event, held in the Buffalo Convention Center, turned out to be among the most successful political fundraisers in the area’s history. Records indicate that 103 NFTA employees contributed $33,095 at the two affairs, ranging from a $25 donation by cleaning man to $1000 tickets purchased by 20 top-level officials.

Gallagher personally organized the effort to sell tickets to NFTA workers, and one close associate of his on the NFTA payroll may have broken the law by soliciting contributions on NFTA property. The NFTA purchasing director called staffers at their homes, asking them to buy tickets and telling them that he’d gotten their names from a list compiled by “the chairman” — presumably Gallagher. NFTA officials were quoted by name in the Buffalo News as far back as two years ago saying that they’d been hounded by solicitations and that the ticket sales pitch was the “strongest” they’d ever seen at NFTA, which has a long history of that kind of fundraising.

At one organizing meeting for the affairs, John Marino, a longtime top Cuomo political operative who is now executive director of the state Democratic Party, expressed concern about how ticket sales were going with NFTA employees. “I was the subject of criticism,” Gallagher testified,’ “and they were looking for a way to trace back or to generate an effort to encourage people to support” the campaign. “I made the comment that you would have to go back and find out who their godfathers were.” Gallagher explained that he meant that the Cuomo campaign would have to find out who recommended the jobholders, and get the “sponsors” to push them, if they wanted to accelerate sales.

In addition to Gallagher, seven other NFTA employees testified at the July 1987 SIC hearing, and five others took the Fifth Amendment. A pattern of patronage and possible shakedowns was detailed by witness after witness, leading SIC chairman David Trager to conclude that NFTA workers were submerged in an “atmosphere of coercion.” The immediate reaction — coming from the NFTA treasurer, George Wessel, president of the Buffalo AFL-CIO — was that the allegations against NFTA had been “blown way out of proportion.”

“Patronage is part of the business,” Wessel told the Buffalo News. “Coercion is part of life for politicians. It’s always going to be there. They’d die without it. They call it ‘friendly persuasion.’ People were not coerced that badly. You take that kind of job to a certain extent you expect that kind of treatment.”

When the SIC wrote NFTA last December to find out what had been done about the five high-ranking officials who’d taken the Fifth, NFTA’s executive director, Alfred H. Savage, who’d been installed by Cuomo in what was claimed to be a reform maneuver, “took umbrage” at the question and praised the work of five in the press. Two of the five were given pay raises, and a third, the NFTA comptroller, Robert M. Dracup, retired and was given what a Buffalo News editorial described as a “generous retirement buyout” that included a $60,000 lump sum payment and other funds on top of his state pension. In fact, the comptroller was retained as a consultant to the Authority. No disciplinary action was taken against any of the NFTA officials named at the hearings, although a whistleblower who testified, a vice-president of the bus division, was asked to retire.

The NFTA board adopted a resolution urging the SIC and the federal Merit Protection Board to finish their dual investigations but took the position that NFTA could not act until the investigations were over. The resolution acknowledged no wrongdoing and did not indicate that NFTA was doing anything on its own to explore the issues that had publicly emerged at the hearing months earlier. Criticized in local editorials for “dragging their feet,” NFTA’s only other response was to give Gallagher a hefty raise and triple its public-relations budget.

Mario Cuomo told the local newspaper that any coercion is “wrong” and “illegal” but left action to the prosecutors: “Find the people and prosecute them,” he said. The SIC has never asked him to explain his role in setting up the patronage committee or the NFTA fundraising campaign, and he won’t answer Voice [queries]. Neither will Marino, Conovitz, or Burgos, who recently announced his resignation and was lavishly praised by the governor. In Buffalo, the old patronage committee has in fact become the new establishment — a judge, a county executive, a county leader.

In the aftermath of all this hubbub, only one prominent NFTA official, Ray Anthony, lost his position. Anthony was the sole NFTA commissioner to attend and praise the SIC hearings. He was the only commissioner to vote against the no-bid contracts, later canceled by the state comptroller, that were given by NFTA to patronage committee members. Also the solitary voice against the retirement bonus for Dracup, Anthony was credited in the Buffalo News with instigating the probes. Yet in May the governor announced that he was not reappointing Anthony. A Cuomo spokesman said: “I’m not going to give you a checklist of reasons.”

The rejection of Anthony and the forced retirement of the vice-president of the bus division were both opposed in letters by the SIC. Cuomo and NFTA ignored the commission’s pleas. Its report is imminent. The Merit Protection Board, according to law enforcement sources, will soon file a court complaint against NFTA, threatening to reduce federal funding unless Gallagher and other top managers are fired.

The Code of Silence

Dick Flynn, who was first named a trustee of the state Power Authority by Hugh Carey in 1975, became its chairman 10 years later, anointed by Mario Cuomo. The Authority is the largest nonfederal public power agency in the nation, with annual operating expenses of over a billion dollars, and additional billions in bonded construction projects. Until Cuomo made him chairman, the tall, slim 57-year-old Flynn, with reddish gray hair and freckled Irish paleness, was one of the Authority’s four part-time trustees and an attorney with a corporate and real estate practice at a white-shoe Manhattan firm.

In 1987, Mario Cuomo and the rest of this state discovered during Flynn’s testimony in the much-publicized criminal trial of a friend, John Zaccaro, that his conduct as a lawyer clashed with his important public role. But that performance took place almost a year ago, and Flynn remains untouched by it. The record of that bribery trial is a bill of particulars against Flynn — unexamined, however, by the chief executive he reports to, Mario Cuomo. It also tells a shocking story of corruption and calculated indifference. Flynn wound up in the middle of the city’s cable scandal because of retainer that began 25 years ago when, as a young lawyer working in the firm his dad founded, he was hired to secure the franchise to wire Manhattan. What Cablevision appeared to be buying when it retained Flynn was his lineage and the connections that came with it. Flynn’s father, Ed, the Bronx Democratic boss from 1922 until his death in 1953, has also been the party’s national chairman during the Roosevelt years, running Roosevelt’s 1940 and 1944 campaigns and traveling with him to Yalta in 1945.

While the Flynn name was still magic in the early years of the perpetually politicized city franchise process, it aged. And by the time the city was at last ready to award new contracts for the four unwired boroughs in 1980, Cablevision’s Flynn found himself in competition with young lions infinitely better connected to the new decisionmakers. For example, in Queens, Flynn was no match for Warner Amex’s Sid Davidoff, who was so close to Borough President Donald Manes that Manes openly talked about joining Davidoff’s firm when he left government.

This is not to say that Flynn was without influence — he was still quite comfortable with the men who’d taken over his father’s Bronx machine. But Flynn’s reach did not extend to Manes, and he had already struck out in one 1979 meeting with the borough president. He recognized, however, that Queens, the most lucrative potential market, would be split into sections for several cable bidders and that Cablevision had to find a way to get a piece of it.

So Flynn tried the old network. Early in 1980, he went to John Roe, a Queens district leader whose father had once been the county boss and a contemporary of Ed Flynn’s. Though Manes seemed to reject Roe’s overtures on behalf of Cablevision, Frank Smith, a close Manes friend and supreme court judge then administering Queens Civil Court, called Cablevision after the Roe meeting and volunteered his help. The judge got together with Cablevision brass in June and kept in touch for months, indicating he would speak to Manes; but nothing seemed to be happening.

That November, Cablevision president John Tatta, a dumpy, gravel-voiced contrast to the confident, gravel-voiced contrast to the confident, patrician Flynn, got frustrated and decided to try another tack. He and Flynn had already been dealing with Stanley Friedman about the Bronx franchise, so he asked the Bronx boss to meet with Manes on Cablevision’s behalf. Friedman soon summoned Tatta to a Queens diner, said he’d talked to Manes, and told him: “Forget Queens.”

Once again acting shortly after a Manes rejection, Judge Smith contacted Cablevision to suggest that it needed another “intermediary” to deal directly with Manes. He urged a dinner to discuss it.

When Dick Flynn, who was asked to set up the February 1981 dinner, began calling Cablevision executives with the particulars, he mentioned for the first time that Geraldine Ferraro, a second-term Queens congresswoman, would be a guest. But when Tatta and the others arrived at the Columbus Club in Manhattan, Flynn instead introduced them to Ferraro’s husband, John Zaccaro. Backed by Smith, Flynn urged the Cablevision brass to use Zaccaro as the intermediary to Manes, adding that he’d known Zaccaro “was on very good terms with all the important people in Queens.” Flynn and the rest of the Cablevision crew spent the evening educating Zaccaro about the franchise process and the cable business.

The Manes Shakedown

After months of contacts between Flynn and Zaccaro about the Queens effort, Zaccaro about the Queens effort, Zaccaro finally succeeded in arranging an August meeting with Manes, at which Cablevision could make a full presentation of its case. Tatta thought Manes was fidgety and distracted throughout the meeting, and as they left, he told his Cablevision colleagues, including Flynn, that it had not gone well. A couple of weeks after the meeting, Tatta says he got a call from Flynn, who suggested that Cablevision retain a local counsel close to Manes, mentioning as one possibility the since-convicted secretary of the Queens Democratic Party, Richard Rubin. Tatta balked.

By October, with a final city decision near, Flynn was talking frantically with Smith and Zaccaro about getting Manes’s support, and Zaccaro was calling Manes repeatedly. On October 14, the day the city consultant’s rankings of the cable bids were released, a happy Tatta, whose company had received the second highest overall rating, had dinner with his old friend, Brooklyn boss Meade Esposito, and Donald Manes. For the first time, Manes was optimistic that Cablevision “could get something in Queens.” Tatta was astonished by his inexplicably sudden success. In the following days, Zaccaro became a virtual switchboard for messages from Flynn to Manes and vice versa.

Then on October 27 Dick Flynn got the phone call of his life.

He returned to his law firm in mid-afternoon from a meeting of the Power Authority, and Zaccaro called. “The contract can be obtained,” Flynn would later recall Zaccaro saying. “I know somebody who can take care of it. But it will take a substantial sum of money.” The two then agreed on the phone to meet on the sidewalk four blocks from Flynn’s Park Avenue office, located between 54thand 55thstreets. Flynn walked down Park to 51st, then turned on 51st toward Lexington. Zaccaro took a train from his downtown office.

The two walked down a flight of steps off 51stStreet and into a small passageway, pacing together while they talked. A fall wind rattled a flagpole nearby as the two sunk into whispers. Zaccaro made it clear that a bribe or payoff for “that guy” was necessary to get the franchise. Flynn’s later recollection was that Zaccaro, who did not name Manes, may have talked in terms of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Flynn says he told Zaccaro that Cablevision “would never pay any money for a franchise,” and Zaccaro said “okay.”

Flynn called Tatta the next morning and said he had to meet with him right away. Tatta was on his way to Washington and said he didn’t think it was possible. Flynn suggested they meet at the airport, and when Tatta and two other Cablevision executives got there, Flynn was waiting for them. He asked to talk to Tatta alone, and as they meandered around the shuttle building, Flynn told him of the Zaccaro conversation. Tatta, apparently upset at the mention of a bribe, got violently angry at Flynn, asking him how, “after all these years,” he could come to him “with something like this.” Tatta, who subsequently would say that Flynn mentioned a million-dollar figure, was suddenly convulsed with fear — afraid that they’d blown the key contract, frightened that they’d gotten involved in “a corrupt situation.”

As soon as Tatta arrived in Washington, he called the chairman of the Cablevision board and scheduled a meeting. When he returned to New York, he rode out to the chairman’s suburban home. They decided to consult the company’s other outside counsel, and Tatta called the lawyer at 6:30 the next morning, picking him up at his door a half hour later. The two rode in Tatta’s car talking feverishly. That night Tatta, the board chairman, and the lawyer met again — excluding Flynn from their painful discussions — and decided that they would continue to seek the franchise but cut all contacts with Zaccaro and Smith. Flynn was then told to sever ties with Zaccaro, and says he met Zaccaro and asked him to stop his franchise pursuit. A month later, Manes announced his selections, and Cablevision was not among them.

It would still be four months before the full Board of Estimate voted on Manes’s three recommendations, so Tatta raised a fuss at the board, threatening to pull out of the Bronx (a borough no one else bid for) unless he got a piece of Queens. City officials indicated there was still a chance that Queens could be divided into four parts, as its consultants had recommended.

Finally, at the end of March 1982, Tatta got a mysterious phone call from Donald Manes. “John, can you come in to see me?” asked Manes. Tatta asked who Manes wanted him to bring, naming the board chairman and another top executive. “No, just come by yourself,” manes said. Tatta went to Borough Hall in Queens and was ushered into an empty conference room. He and Manes sat close to one another. Although Manes had greeted him loudly when he arrived, the borough president suddenly began communicating with Tatta silently, moving his lips to mouth words and gesticulating with his hands. Tatta could not decipher the exact mime, but the message was clearly one last shakedown attempt. He left. His contract was dead.

The Trial Collapse

In the aftermath of Donald Manes’s suicide in 1986, federal and state prosecutors began looking at every major deal that carried a Manes mark. Queens D.A. John Santucci brought in a corruption prosecutor, Paul Pickelle, a savvy former chief in the state’s special prosecutor’s office. Pickelle would issue three cable indictments, and two would feature Cablevision. After convicting Judge Smith of perjury in the first Cablevision case, Pickelle and cocounsel Debbie Stevens went to trial in the fall of 1987 on the attempted extortion charges against John Zaccaro.

Pickelle had managed to convict Smith without using Dick Flynn as a witness; he was saving Flynn, none more revealing than that of the forewoman of the grand jury that had voted both indictments. Pickelle used the forewoman to establish a crucial element of a perjury case, namely that Smith’s false testimony had frustrated the grand jury’s efforts to determine culpability for a crime.

Asked if the grand jury had “any evidence of criminal activity in connection with the investigation” before Smith testified, the forewoman gave the only clear statement of Flynn’s secret grand jury testimony to appear in a public record: “We had evidence that there was a bride solicited by John Zaccaro from Richard Flynn. He said that if they paid him a certain amount of money, he would see that they got the franchise in Queens County.”

But when John Zaccaro went on trial, Flynn did not repeat the testimony summarized by the forewoman. On direct examination, Flynn began a series of subtle evasions, openly glancing at Zaccaro’s attorney Bob Morvillo before answering many of Pickelle’s questions, as if he were waiting for Morvillo’s objections. And then, almost as soon as Morvillo took over his cross-examination. Flynn gutted the prosecution case. Asked if he though Zaccaro was requesting a payoff or warning him that the company would lose its bid, Flynn replied flatly to both questions that he did not. Instead, Flynn said he believed Zaccaro was merely informing him “about a process that was corrupt.”

In an attempt to portray this extraordinary breakthrough with the prosecution’s key witness as if it had not been orchestrated, Morvillo emphasized during cross-examination that Flynn had repeatedly refused to talk to him before trial. But a seething Pickelle quickly established on redirect that Morvillo had been in frequent oral and written communication with Flynn’s lawyer. Later, in his summation, Pickelle would ask the jury: “Do you think for one moment that any lawyer would ever asked those two questions unless he knew for certain the answers in advance?”

Pickelle told the trial judge that Flynn had retreated from his grand jury testimony, materially contradicting the state’s position in the case, and the judge declared Flynn a hostile witness. Pickelle then went after Flynn with a sledgehammer, grilling him about his failure to report the supposed Zaccaro warning to any law-enforcement agency, or to the Board of Estimate, or, as a state official himself, to the state’s cable commission. The prosecutor ridiculed Flynn’s position, first expressed during Morvillo’s cross-examination, that he and Zaccaro had chosen to meet on a sidewalk merely as a convenience, so that Zaccaro wouldn’t have to walk all the way over to Flynn’s office.

Pickelle also explored the myriad ties between Flynn and Zaccaro, ranging from their joint real estate deals to the fact that Flynn’s brother Pat shared an office with Zaccaro. He questioned Flynn about the pressures Ferraro had mounted on him, even intimating that she had gone to Cardinal John O’Connor about him.

The summation posed a host of questions. If Zaccaro was just tipster, as Flynn suggested, why did Cablevision cease contact with him? Why did Tatta throw a fit and convene panic meetings with the other brass if Zaccaro were merely playing Paul Revere? If Zaccaro never asked for anything, why did Flynn and Tatta say they “turned it down”?

The jury acquitted Zaccaro after six hours of deliberations, and, in newspaper interviews, jurors attributed their verdict to Flynn’s confusing testimony. Flynn told reporters that his trial testimony was “absolutely consistent” with what he had “told the truth from day one.”

Stand By Your Man

Dick Flynn was quick to tell reporters after the verdict that no one in the Cuomo administration had expressed displeasure with his testimony or suggested he resign. A spokesman for the governor just as quickly commented that “in our view nobody has indicated he was involved in any wrongdoing.” The spokesman said the governor was satisfied with Flynn’s performance as head of the Power Authority. With these final-paragraph comments in one-day stories, the media and the administration closed the book on Dick Flynn’s involvement in the case. The governor’s office even declined an offer by an aide to Santucci to make Flynn’s testimony available for review.

Evan Davis, the governor’s counsel, confirmed that Cuomo had never attempted to determine if there was a difference between Flynn’s trial and grand jury testimony, or if the trial transcript disclosed conduct unbecoming to his public office. Asked by the Voice if the governor’s office had made any attempt to find out if Flynn conducts sidewalk meetings with Power Authority contractors or brokers, Davis said that no state official had questioned Flynn in any respect about the Zaccaro matter.

Davis excused Flynn’s failure to report the Zaccaro conversation to law-enforcement officials, or anyone else, by citing ethical standards for lawyers in New York that bar them from “revealing anything learned” in the course of their representation of a client that might be “embarrassing” to the client. He said Flynn acted “within the zone of reasonable professional conduct” because he might have perceived that his client’s interests could have been hurt by reporting this conversation to anyone in government. “I don’t think it would be appropriate to examine this further,” said Davis. “His conduct as a lawyer is unrelated to his state work.”

Flynn insisted at trial, and in an abbreviated Voice interview, that immediately after the Zaccaro conversation, he researched the legal question of whether or not he was required to report it, and decided that he had “no obligation as a private attorney” to do so. Asked if his research included inquiries of Cablevision officials about whether they had any objection to his going to prosecutors, he said he had “no recollection” of doing that. “I am not a D.A.,” he told the Voice. He cut off Voice questions about specific sections of the canons of ethics that might apply to this situation, refusing to reply. In fact, the Code of Professional Responsibility requires that all lawyers “reveal voluntarily to proper officials all unprivileged knowledge of the conduct of lawyers which he believes clearly to be in violation of the Disciplinary Rules.” While Zaccaro is not a lawyer, Manes was, and the criminal conduct ascribed to Manes may have obliged Flynn to report it. His only defense for failing to do so is that the information, though it did not come from his client, might have somehow been privileged. Many believe he had an obligation to at least determine if his client objected to its disclosure.

In any event, Flynn is still the seemingly unsullied, day-to-day manager of a multibillion-dollar state corporation. Though technically elected Authority chairman by vote of the trustees, he was actually designated by the governor. Though Flynn’s term does not end until next spring, Davis conceded that “anyone can be removed at any time.” But far from removing him, the governor has yet to make a comment — or even ask a question — about the ethical conduct of one his most important appointees.

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