On a November day in 1955, 21-year-old Donald Manes went to the offices of his father’s dairy company in Brooklyn and discovered that his father had borrowed the payroll clerk’s gun and disappeared. Donald instantly sensed where his dad had gone.
It was one of the best times in Donald’s life; he was scheduled to marry Marlene Warshofsky in three weeks. He’d just started at Brooklyn Law School. But Donald knew that his dad was haunted by fears and memories.
The family dairy business, built around control of neighborhood routes, was threatened by the emergence of conglomerates like Kraft and Breakstone. Ed Manes was already suing Kraft. And the senior Manes had never been the same since his wife, Belle, died of cancer almost two years earlier. A month after her death he’d written a will giving everything he owned-including a 60-unit bungalow colony near Ellenville, an upstate farm, the Flushing home, and other real estate in the city-to Donald; his twin brother, Morty; and their older sister, Edith Robbins. Since then he’d gradually given away the few valued personal items he’d listed in the will — rings to Donald and Morty, sterling silver to Edith.
A couple of months earlier he’d sold most of the furniture at the family home, married one of his wife’s lifelong friends, and moved into her house on Long Island. But Donald understood that his dad, an intense family man, was still in love with his memories. And this day was the anniversary of his marriage to Belle, 32 years ago. Donald immediately headed for the family home in Queens, alone and in panic.
When he got there, the house was dark and silent. He went down the basement steps to the den. His dad — a large, lovable bear of a man — was on the floor covered in blood. The gun he’d shoved up his mouth was still clutched in his hand. For the rest of his life, Donald Manes would not go down darkened basement steps alone, anywhere.
On a November day in 1985, Donald Manes, the borough president and Democratic county leader of Queens, sponsored what he said was the city’s first seminar on suicide. He led off the seminar, which focused on teenage suicide and was held at his Boro Hall office, with a warning that “burying our heads in the sand” would “not eliminate the problem.” Manes told the mental health professionals, educators, and others who gathered that people were not adequately informed about suicide because “the issue itself is still taboo — people don’t like to talk about death.” Manes did not mention his father. Indeed his staff and many of his closest political allies and friends had never heard him discuss Ed Manes’s death.
The same week, Donald Manes’s friend Geoffrey Lindenauer sat in a Manhattan restaurant with Michael Burnett for the first time. Lindenauer took a $5000 bribe that day in the restaurant’s bathroom. Half of the payoff was for Donald Manes. Burnett, a/k/a Michael Raymond, a convicted con man turned government informant, was taping the conversation for the FBI. Four months later, Lindenauer, whose own father, in a bizarre twist, had hung himself years earlier rather than face bribery charges, also became a government witness, after rejecting Donald Manes’s suggestion that he kill himself. When Lindenauer declined Manes’s invitation, Manes tried it himself, slashing his wrist and ankle in a city car one January night. Following that attempt, he shuttled between hospitals, psychiatrists, and criminal lawyers. Most of the time he sat in his home in a bathrobe, gliding in and out of lucidity, besieged by television and print reporters who surrounded his house.
At times, he would stare straight ahead for hours, muttering “bad, bad, bad” and implicitly conceding wrongdoing, saying “I shouldn’t have let them talk me into it.” Sometimes he would get nostalgic, talking excitedly about anything, so long as it hadn’t happened in the last few months. He acknowledged in a conversation with one visitor that Shelly Chevlowe, his bagman at the PVB before Lindenauer, had talked him into taking payoffs. Another friend says he told him: “I should’ve stopped Lindenauer.” His wife, Marlene, and his children tried to protect him from his new public image, shutting off the television, even during commercial interruptions of football games, for fear that he’d see a newsbreak item about himself. But he did hear snatches and see headlines, and the mayor’s branding of him as a crook, hours after Koch had kissed him on the head, left Manes shaken and depressed, as did the mayor’s charge that he was faking illness to avoid prosecutors.
No one from Manes’s office came to see him for two tortured months. When he reached out for one staffer, Alan Gershuny, who’d managed his first political campaign in 1965 and was his executive assistant, Gershuny was curt and unfriendly. He would not return the call until he recruited a witness to listen to the brief conversation. He did not offer to visit. Manes began asking family members what would happen if he had to “go away for a couple of years.” The family, as close as Ed Manes —— him they would circle the wagons and protect each other.
Three days after Lindenauer became a witness against him, Donald Manes went to his lawyer’s office — a hollow, haunted hulk, so visibly desperate that his lawyer moved him from a conference room with windows to one without. By that night, even Marlene had decided that he had to be institutionalized. Manes and Lindenauer had once promised each other that they would never commit suicide — to protect their children from the nightmare that had haunted their own lives. But now, all Donald could feel was fear and shame. With his 25-year-old daughter, Lauren, only feet from him in the kitchen, and his wife upstairs on another phoneline while he talked to a psychiatrist, Manes sank a steak knife into his heart. It was Marlene’s turn to run down the dark steps to a body suddenly draped in blood.
RULES OF THE GAME
It is now a year and a half since Donald Manes turned the politics of this city upside down. And it was almost exactly two years ago that Manes, acting as a spokesman for all five borough presidents, read an endorsement statement at City Hall, “enthusiastically” urging the reelection of Ed Koch, who he said at the time had the capacity to “compromise in the best interests of the city.” Manes is still the central character in the scandal that has enveloped the mayor, yet little is known about him. His death ended the press and prosecutorial examination of his life — except for the deals that became cases — perhaps precisely as he had hoped.
The detectives who came to the Manes home last March asked Marlene Manes a couple of questions about the suicide. Her brief description was the only family comment about Donald Manes to become public since this scandal exploded. When the city executed an agreement with Marlene Manes early this year, accepting a $150,000 payment from the family in exchange for the city’s promise not to sue to recover Donald Manes’s alleged bribery gains, the Manes attorney pointedly wrote the city’s corporation counsel: “It should be understood that nothing said or done in the course of our dealings with you should be construed as implying that Marlene concedes the truth of the charges against her husband.” Marlene Manes, and Donald’s brother and sister, made a joint decision to maintain their silence when asked to be interviewed for this story. But other family members, as well as many close friends of Donald Manes, did talk.
What emerges is a double life. Manes was a brilliant bargainer who could invent solutions to complex development riddles, forcing large-scale Queens projects off the table and into the ground, but just as often he used his mastery of city government to deliver favors to fixer friends. He was proud of the Queens he’d helped create — a booming slice of the city — but, after 15 years of unchecked power there, he mistook it for a kingdom and exacted tribute.
Manes’s unexamined rise to public and party power is a series of seedy deals, rooted in the clubhouse culture that reared him. Long before his PVB crimes surfaced, he survived probes that either targeted him or narrowly missed him without law enforcement realizing how close they were. Eight years of his phone logs and appointment diaries, obtained by the Voice, are a portrait of the real political landscape underneath Ed Koch’s rhetoric. Manes’s scheduled appointments were often the commonplace, day-to-day stuff of a working government leader; but the phone calls he returned in the privacy of his office frequently came from a small circle of powerbrokers, many of whom had already or have since become felons.
The Manes story is, in many respects, a mirror of the politics of this city. The “uncle” who guided his public career was a once-indicted Brooklyn clubhouse judge. In his first campaign, he ran for a Queens council seat from a fake address. The gang of a half dozen pols who made him borough president were all carted off to jail, one at a time, long before PVB. He stole the Democratic county leadership from a close friend at a secret meeting in a Manhattan hotel. Once in power, he surrounded himself over the years with crooks, many of whom had their pre-PVB moments in the sun when their association with Manes drew at least some press notice.
But the media, the mayor, and the real estate establishment of this city placed each episode in solitary confinement, rather than on a continuum of sleaze, all attached to Manes. Instead of tainting him with guilt-by-association, those who had to deal with Manes’s unshakable power in Queens preferred a cunning stance of innocence-by-ignorance, treating each new scandal as if it were the first. The Manhattan establishment is practiced at this pretense. It knows even now that Manes was not an aberration, that his crimes were consistent with the tradition that invented and sustained him.
When Ed Koch, once close to Manes, went on the tube to say again and again that he couldn’t have known about Manes’s PVB criminality, the mayor was merely imitating the next-door neighbor of the psychopath — interviewed after the fatal flip-out. But Donald Manes’s final scandal was no surprise. It was business as usual. To Manes — and the other clubhouse kingpins of his generation (Bronx Democratic leaders Stanley Friedman and Pat Cunningham, ex-Queens boss Matty Troy, and former Brooklyn boss Meade Esposito) — a fix was a form of daily exercise. When Donald Manes decided to charge a fee for city collection contracts, he wasn’t doing anything that was counter to the rules of the game as his crowd played it. The contracts were his to sell.
Donald Manes’s career is now all prelude to his suicide. Heart attacks are not the culmination of a life, they are merely the way it ends. But Manes’s death — a kamikaze plunge in the chest — was a tormented rejection of his life.
NO WAY OUT
A biography of Manes has to start with the events that immediately preceded his death. Despite the extraordinary impact that Manes’s suicide had, shaping the scandal and turning it into human drama, it remains remarkably unexamined. Every conceivable aspect of his bungled attempt in January was investigated, but the March success seemed to suddenly close the curtain, concealing a life of mob intrigue, public plunder, and compulsive sex.
Prosecutors who were then involved in the PVB investigation and who ultimately named Manes as an unindicted coconspirator believe that he may have been hounded in his final months by a particular set of relationships with a deadly cutting edge: the mob. His wide variety of mob ties — snapshots of which appeared periodically throughout his public life — was symbolized by the two surreptitious visits to his home during the interregnum between suicides by a longtime mob associate.
The visitor, Michael Callahan, had a “father-son” relationship with a Genovese crime family soldier and was convicted in a 1982 Abscam-connected case that involved the planned torching of houses to collect insurance. Mel Weinberg, the con man whose undercover work for the FBI in Abscam led to numerous convictions, told the Voice that Callahan and his mob mentor brought Weinberg to Carlo Gambino’s house and introduced him to Gambino.
Callahan had sold Manes his Westhampton home years earlier — at a cut-rate price. Manes’s phone logs and diaries reveal a long-term close relationship with Callahan. Indeed a month before Manes’s first suicide attempt, he’d gone to Atlantic City to discuss a real estate deal with Callahan.
Voice interviews with family and friends reveal that the Callahan visits to Manes’s Jamaica Estates home were arranged by Manes himself, unlike most of the visits during this period, and that they occurred when Marlene was out of the house and without her knowledge. The day after Manes died, the New York Post reported that-its reporters had tailed Callahan leaving Manes’s house twice from a back entrance, rushing down side streets to his car parked blocks away, and reading from notes into a pay phone.
The morning of Manes’s death reporters pressed Chief of Detectives Richard Nicastro about the Callahan visit, pointing to his conviction in the mob money-laundering scheme and asking if the investigation would try to determine if Manes, or his illegal assets, had been threatened. Nicastro at first scornfully rejected the notion that the police should’ve questioned Marlene Manes about any possible threats, and eventually conceded that they still might. But no one ever did, nor did anyone examine the Callahan or other mob connections. Despite the strong hunch of federal prosecutors that a wavering Manes, considering cooperation, killed himself in part due to pressures from the underworld, many of Manes’s mob secrets did die with him.
The mob was only one of the walls closing in on Donald Manes. His initial suicide attempt in January, before U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani had any direct evidence of his involvement in the PVB shakedown racket, was as panicky as his father’s, who believed wrongly that his financial empire was in trouble and that he might have nothing to leave his children (Ed Manes left a gross estate conservatively valued at $158,000 in 1955). But one member of the Manes family, and a close friend who visited him constantly during the period between suicide attempts, told the Voice that Donald’s decision to try it a second time was at least in part “a rational choice” — executed in circumstances he could not have preferred (particularly Lauren’s presence), and pushed perhaps by the fear that once institutionalized, he would not have another opportunity.
Michael Armstrong, Manes’s attorney, had been told by prosecutors that they were prepared to indict Manes, and Armstrong had persuaded Giuliani that an indictment might kill his client. Clearly Giuliani withheld an indictment in part to induce Manes’s cooperation. Manes understood that if he cooperated, he would’ve been forced to testify against close friends. And he still would’ve had to plead guilty to at least a single racketeering, count, exposing himself to substantial jail time and an inevitable legal assault on the $1.2 million in assets that a dead Manes was able to convey to his family. (Federal and city authorities would’ve been compelled to seek restitution of Manes’s racketeering gains and it is unlikely that Manes would’ve done as well as his wife has.) In addition, if Callahan, a career laundromat for the mob, or other mob associates of Manes’s, were hiding his illegal profits, cooperation would have jeopardized his family’s possible future access to that money.
On the other hand, Manes clearly didn’t have the stomach to face the trial witnesses Giuliani was assembling against him. While much has been made of the impact on Manes of Lindenauer’s decision to cooperate, Manes’s longtime friend, PVB contractor and mob lawyer Mel Lebetkin, (who was finally arrested a few weeks ago-after more than a year of published allegations involving him) had also offered in January 1986 to cooperate in exchange for immunity. (According to a sealed government affidavit, Lebetkin offered to testify “that he made payoffs to Donald Manes and Geoffrey Lindenauer.”)
A source in Giuliani’s office observed that while “a lot of people think Lindenauer was weighing heavily on Manes, they forget about Lebetkin.” This source believes that Lebetkin “could’ve done more damage than Lindenauer” because Lebetkin was connected with the mob figures around Manes and, unlike Lindenauer, was also a participant in aspects of what numerous sources have described as Manes’s “secret fast-lane life.”
What had been an amorphous threat in January, when no one with firsthand information about him was cooperating, had become, by March 13, with the potential testimony of Lindenauer, Lebetkin and PVB contractor Michael Dowd, a steel trap. To save themselves, these witnesses, climbing up onto the stand from the dark side of Manes’s life, would not merely testify about his crimes. They would merge his worlds. And there were stories they, and others suddenly in legal jeopardy, could tell that might make even his home uninhabitable.
HIS SECRET LIFE
Manes’s family was the center of his life, but an insatiable sexual hunger drove him into a fast lane that included Quaaludes and marijuana, hooker parties, a house owned by an aide and used for midday trysts, and a perception among his criminal cohorts that arranging and participating in an orgy with Manes, or getting him a woman for a night, was almost a bonding ritual. Manes was so frenetic about hiding his second life from his family that he may have taken cash bribes to help cover the secret cost of it. At a minimum, creating one elaborate subterfuge may have made it easier for Donald to invent and conceal a second.
Surveillance photos viewed by the Voice, taken by law enforcement agents tailing him as part of a 1983 criminal probe unrelated to PVB, reveal that Manes was also not above using the public payroll to subsidize his secret life. One woman repeatedly observed entering a private house with him for two-hour stays in the middle of the afternoon was a Boro Hall aide who started working for Manes in 1979 as an entry level, $10,000 a year office aide and was making $50,000 by the time he killed himself. The aide, Geri Colosi, got a college degree during those years and was given upgraded responsibilities. But she got one raise that nearly doubled her salary at the very time that she and Manes were photographed at the covert meetings in 1983.
Another woman observed going to the same house with Manes was connected with a major Chinese underworld figure, according to law enforcement sources who questioned her. Manes phonelogs reveal that this woman, Cecilia Chang, called, dined, and met with him often even leaving messages from Taiwan, and on other occasions, giving Manes her flight number and travel itinerary. Though told what the specific questions would be, Colosi declined repeated Voice requests for an interview. A lawyer for Chang minimized her association with the underworld figure, and said she had a “business relationship with Manes.”
The house where the meetings took place was owned by Richard Rubin, the executive secretary of the Queens Democratic party and one of Manes’s closest confidants. Rubin, who was convicted in a recent federal mail fraud case, is now selectively cooperating with federal investigators, and has reportedly confirmed that he “pimped” for Manes. Voice interviews with several close Manes friends indicate that he was hardly the only procurer.
Some of Manes’s PVB sidekicks may have used his sexual hunger to compromise him. In tapes recorded by Chicago FBI agents and obtained by the Voice, New York collection company executive Bernie Sandow told federal undercover informant Michael Burnett that Manes and Shelly Chevlowe, the city marshal retained by Sandow, who acted as Manes’s bagman, had “fucked together.” Sandow said that he went to the fights with Lindenauer and Manes and that afterwards, “all Manes wanted to do was chase broads.” Sandow explained: “He’s a heavyset guy … nice personality. He’s sharp, but he wants to feel like the broads like him. It was Shelly who had all this. I’d get the girls. This deal … would have been a chance to fuck together and seal up the whole situation. Then Shelly died. So we would have to meet Manes alone.”
Manes’s four-year liason with a woman extensively interviewed by the Voice reveals the extraordinary range of his extramarital life. Still saying years later that she loves him, the ex-model, now in her early 30’s, said that Manes gave her cash to buy Quaaludes and grass, which he used only during sex. She recalls that though he had a “very low tolerance for drugs,” he used her for years to purchase far larger quantities of Quaaludes “than he could possibly be using himself.” When she pressed him about who the drugs were for, he would only say “you don’t want to know” and that they are “for someone very high up in City Hall.” The relationship, which began when she was in her early 20’s, was intensely sexual at first. But over the years, he began visiting her in her apartment for hours, just to talk.
Donald got two city jobs for her and two jobs with law firms that did business with the city, including one that represented a PVB contractor. He used a city commissioner to get a job for her dad. At one point he arranged jobs for her with two PVB collection companies — one was Sandow’s — but she declined. She now believes that Manes may have been trying to position her so that she could become his bagwoman.
She said that he was manic about keeping the relationship secret. Once, several years after it began, he dropped a glass antique picture and it slashed her leg badly. Manes refused to take her to the hospital and by the time she got a friend to get her there in the morning, it was infected. She spent a week in bed. He would not go out on the back porch of her apartment, because her neighbors might see him. He never ate in a restaurant with her unless there was someone else there. “Marlene was the stabilizing factor in his life,” she said. “Everything else was fun and games. He loved her. There was never any question that he’d leave her.”
When the dark side of Donald Manes — everything from the cash to the mob to the orgies — began to surface, he tried to kill it with a knife. It had turned him into an insomniac who roamed his house at night, calling friends in the early hours of the morning and destroying his diets in nocturnal raids on the refrigerator. The Donald Manes who was, year after year, the artful arbiter of the city’s multibillion dollar budget process was as real as the Manes who collected cash bribes in the urinal off his private office. The Donald Manes who dated Marlene while both were still in high school, remained married to her for 31 years, and raised three children with her was as real as the Manes whose phone logs are sprinkled with calls from sexual partners who got jobs or promotions because of their intimate ties to him.
When Manes realized that these two worlds were beginning to come together-in his own living room and on the television screens of this city-he could no longer live with either of them. He didn’t merely indict himself with that kitchen knife, he also immunized himself, erecting a barrier that would protect him forever from the painful truth of the charges that were emerging each day.
The King of Queens was actually very much a Brooklyn boy. Donald Manes was raised in a middle-class Crown Heights house not far from his dad’s milk delivery business. He went to Erasmus Hall High School and graduated from Brooklyn Law School. His political roots were also in Brooklyn and he was, in an unusual sense, a son of the borough’s long powerful Democratic organization, returning again and again through the course of his 20-year public life to the clubhouse connections he had since birth.
Donald’s grandfather, Isaac Cohen, had long been in the milk business and, in the depression days of the ’30s, had turned over routes to each of his three sons-in-law. Ed Manes built his into a successful business. The three families lived near each other and shared a car, buying a new Pontiac or Ford every two years. During the war, Donald’s father — a short, rotund man more willing to take risks than his in-law partners at Mansfield Dairies — began accumulating real estate investments, starting with the Homestead Bungalow Colony, adjacent to the Tamarack Lodge in upstate Greenfield Park. He also bought a farm with a natural swimming hole across Route 52, opposite the colony, and Donald spent summers there, working at the Tamarack as a busboy. It was not until the early ’50s that Ed Manes, his daughter, Edith, and her husband, Al Robbins, and one of his brothers-in-law also in the milk business, simultaneously bought three adjacent houses in Flushing and moved there. Belle Manes died of cancer a couple of years later.
Ed Manes’s closest friend throughout his life was a lawyer named David Malbin. Appointed a city magistrate by Mayor Jimmy Walker in the ’30s, Uncle Dave, as Donald grew up calling him, was a fixture in Brooklyn Democratic politics. The relationship between Malbin and Donald was so close that Malbin’s New York Times obit in 1980 inaccurately described Malbin as Donald’s uncle. Friends of Malbin describe him as a “rascal,” a “loudmouthed and lovable nonconformist” who left the bench in the ’30s to practice law, only to return in the ’50s. It was Malbin, not the apolitical Ed Manes, who introduced Donald to politics, encouraged him to go to his own alma mater, Brooklyn Law School, and carefully guided his political career.
Eventually appointed a supreme court judge, Malbin stepped down in 1966, and was appointed the first administrator of a panel that selects lawyers for indigent defendants. He finally retired in the early ’70s and moved to Hallandale, Florida, where he eventually bought a condo. Though for the last 10 years of his life, Malbin was a long distance campaign manager for his adopted nephew, the details of their relationship have never been reported.
Malbin’s retirement was interrupted in February 1973 by a seven count indictment. Along with a former state senator who’d become clerk of the Brooklyn Supreme Court, and 28 officers of a mob-tied union, Malbin was indicted in connection with a $50,000 raid on the union’s general welfare and pension fund. Malbin was charged with having taken a trip to Miami at union expense while still a Brooklyn judge, “aiding and abetting” the conspiracy to defraud the union. When Judge John Dooling threw out the charges in 1975, he pointed out that Malbin took the trip at a time when he was assigning lawyers and setting fees for cases that involved union personnel. Dooling said that Malbin exhibited “a kind of crass material insensitivity that follows from too much handling of other people’s money.”
By the time the Malbin case died, Donald Manes was the borough president and county leader of Queens, aided and abetted each step of the way by Uncle Dave. Donald had been raised amid the pillars of the Madison Club, once the most powerful Democratic club in the state, headquartered in Crown Heights. According to family members, he also grew up calling the legendary Bunny Lindenbaum “Uncle.” The behind-the-scenes kingpin of the Madison Club, Lindenbaum was City Planning Commission chairman under Mayor Robert Wagner until he was forced to resign because of a luncheon he arranged to solicit campaign contributions for Wagner from the developers and construction companies that had matters before his commission.
Malbin also became a bridge between Manes and Stanley Steingut, the assembly speaker who was another product of the Madison Club. State Senator Manny Gold, who worked with Manes as a young lawyer on the assembly payroll in the mid-’60s, recalls a conversation between Manes and Stanley Steingut at an Albany restaurant years ago. “Donald told a story about Stanley’s father, Irwin Steingut, who’d been the speaker years earlier, and how he’d made a particular decision in Brooklyn. Stanley was amazed; he was spellbound. ‘That’s right,’ he says, ‘but how did you know that?’ And Manes says, ‘When that decision was made, your father came to Dave Malbin’s house and two little boys were playing in the room. My brother Morty was playing with cars. I was listening to the men talk politics.’ ” (Morty Manes married into the biggest car franchise family in Queens; today he has several dealerships.)
The Malbin network started helping Manes during his first political race: a run for a Queens city council seat in 1965. Manes ran in the Democratic primary on a slate headed by City Comptroller Abe Beame, another Madison Club product tied to Malbin, who was then running to succeed Robert Wagner as mayor. Manes was running in a new council district, and was in and out of Beame’s Manhattan headquarters almost daily. “Donald was a young man looking for an opening in politics,” Beame recalls, “and I might have heard of him from Dave Malbin. Malbin was well regarded. If the party had legal problems, he would be one of those consulted. He was close to Irwin and Stanley Steingut.”
Manes’s campaign was closely connected with the effort of another frequent visitor to the Beame headquarters, Mike Lazar, who was running for Queens councilman-at-large. Inside the headquarters were Beame backers Roy Cohn, who had a small office there, and Richie Rubin, a leader of Beame’s youth committee.
THE CATSKILL CAPER
If the superstructure for Manes’s successful entry into politics was a legacy of his father’s relationships, the grassroots substructure came from his wife, Marlene. Businessman Ed Manes and Marlene’s father, Joe Warshofsky, a lifelong member of Local 3 of the Electrical Workers, had enjoyed some friendly political sparring in the years that Marlene and Donald dated. Warshofsky still has a picture of Harry Van Arsdale, the Local 3 leader, who dominated labor politics in New York for years, on the wall of his apartment in Electchester, the sprawling Queens complex built by the union. Donald and Marlene began their married life in an Electchester apartment. And when Donald ran for council, Local 3 and the Electchester vote were his two critical bases of support. In a Voice interview, the 84-year-old Warshofsky acknowledged that Van Arsdale “took an interest in Manes on account of me” and that his own activity in the Electchester co-op “helped with Donald’s political career.”
But in fact Manes had moved out of Electchester, to Long Island, years before the 1965 race. He bought a home in Jericho and his children were going to school there. Morty Povman, the lawyer who represented Manes’s primary opponent, Howard Stave, in a challenge to Manes’s residency (and is now a member of the city council himself), remembers that he went out to Jericho and interviewed neighbors who said that Manes slept there every night. But Manes and his father-in-law had been planning a political career for some time: Manes produced rent checks to Warshofsky for two years and claimed to have been a subtenant of his. When Povman tried to subpoena Warshofsky and his wife, they could not be found by process servers, who hunted them for days. Later even Manes’s friends would acknowledge that Donald had hidden them in the Catskills, near his father’s old bungalow colony. Stave says that it “became a great Queens Boulevard story about how Donny dodged a bullet.”
Manes and Lazar took office in January 1966, winning the primary as part of the Beame sweep (Beame lost in November to John LIndsay). Manes was still living in Nassau and commuting to City Hall with another Queens councilman who’d just gotten elected, Frank Smith. Also moving into City Hall that January was a young assistant staff attorney in the council majority leader’s office, handpicked from a Bronx clubhouse, Stanley Friedman. Later that year a new city councilman from the Village would be elected to fill a vacancy. His name was Ed Koch.
Six months after he took office, Manes bought a home in Jamaica Estates and moved his family back to Queens. He and some of his key campaign supporters put together the Adlai Stevenson Democratic Club, aligning themselves with the neighborhood’s oldline Democratic district leader, Sid Leviss. Leviss eventually gave way to Donald, who assumed the district leadership in addition to his council post. Since Manes’s home was not within the district, he used his father-in-law’s phoney address to qualify as district leader, and remained registered at it into the ’80s, when the legislature redrew the lines to create an oddly shaped peninsula reaching into Jamaica Estates and including his house. In 1969, when Donald was reelected to the council against nominal opposition, he consolidated his power in county and city politics by helping elect Leviss borough president and by breaking with Democratic candidate Mario Procaccino to back John Lindsay for reelection.
Queens politics was suddenly wide open. Longtime county leader Mo Weinstein was stepping down to become a supreme court judge. Frank Smith Sr., whose son had just lost as the Democratic council president candidate on the ticket with Procaccino, was named as an interim successor. Richie Rubin, the young hustling political operative who at first had attached himself to Lazar during the 1965 campaign, bumped into a friend from the Beame days in 1969 and said he was now with Manes. “He’s the comer,” explained Rubin.
THE BIG TIME
Mayors make county leaders and county leaders make mayors — the circle runs through the modern history of New York politics. By late 1970, it was time for the Queens leaders who’d attached themselves to Lindsay to take over the party organization. First, in May of 1971, Manes and a group of district leaders engineered the designation of Matty Troy, the gregarious chairman of the council’s finance committee, as the new county leader. Troy’s selection triggered a series of changes in the public life of the county — some were explicit parts of the deal; others, just natural consequences.
The outgoing boss’s son, Frank Jr., was made a supreme court judge, as was Troy backer Sy Thaler, who wanted to leave the state senate for the bench. A key district leader who’d backed Troy, Gene Mastropieri, was installed as councilman — at-large, replacing the just reelected Michael Lazar, who’d been named Lindsay’s first Taxi & Limousine commissioner. Two state senators who supported Troy, Jack Bronston and Nick Ferraro, were backed for new posts (Ferraro became D.A.)
To cal} the deal off, Troy and Manes paid a vi.sit to Manes’s old friend Sid Leviss at Boro Hall. Troy congratulated Leviss on his pending nomination to the supreme court. Leviss, who was not even midway through his elected term as beep, expressed concerns about giving up his chauffeured limo, especially during the three-month period between his resignation and his swearing in as a judge. Troy says that they promised he could keep one of the borough president’s cars and a driver. Leviss wondered what he’d do about medical coverage for the same period. Troy recalls that he said that was Donny’s responsibility and Manes volunteered to “double the premium.” Leviss, faced with the choice of getting a judgeship if he resigned or winding up with nothing in 1973, acceded and Manes became beep without even having to win a Democratic primary. Still a judge, Leviss is the only living partner to this multifaceted deal who isn’t a convicted felon.
Thaler was indicted days before he was scheduled to assume the bench in a federal stolen securities case. By the mid-’70s Troy, who was also an attorney, was convicted on federal and state charges that he looted the estates of clients whose cases were steered to him by the surrogate’s court. Though Manes stuck with Mastropieri and kept him in the City Council long after a host of charges against him had been established to the satisfaction of a council committee, he was eventually convicted in two separate federal cases, one involving the apparent laundering of narcotics profits. Bronston was nailed in the bus shelter scandal in the early ’80s. Smith and Lazar, of course, have both been convicted in the current scandal. Even Ferraro, Geraldine Ferraro’s cousin, who died in late 1984, was once a target of prosecutors because of his mob associations while D.A. These were the pillars of the Manes coalition.
Three years after Troy and Manes took over Queens together, Manes drove Troy out of the leadership and took both titles himself. Troy’s fate was sealed when he got the county organization to back Congressman Mario Biaggi for mayor in 1973, overcoming Manes’s predictable preference for Beame again. “When we decided on Biaggi,” Troy recalls, “we were in Donald’s office and I had to make the call to Beame. He walked out of the room because he didn’t want to be there. His uncle, Dave Malbin, was real close to Beame.” Shortly after Queens endorsed Biaggi, news stories reported that he had taken the Fifth Amendment repeatedly before a federal grand jury. Troy was forced to drop Biaggi and switch to Beame, who won and took office in 1974 with a clear memory of just who his real friend was in Queens.
In 1974 Troy and Manes agreed on a tactical gambit. Manes would run for governor. His candidacy would give them leverage and buy time in a crowded and difficult primary field. If the candidacy failed to take off — as Troy certainly expected would happen — they would then hedge their bets, Manes going with the Catholic candidate, Hugh Carey, and Troy going with the Jewish candidate, Howard Samuels, in an ethnic role reversal.. The problem was that Troy regarded it all as a game while Manes, who sunk hundreds of thousands into a TV buy, had begun to take his own candidacy very seriously. He even got Uncle Dave working the Florida phones to try to pull in key supporters. So Manes was wounded when Troy made statements to reporters that were favorable to Samuels as he walked out of a fund-raiser for Manes.
When Manes was finally persuaded that the race was hopeless, he used Troy’s snubs as a rationale to secretly reach out to Carey. Carey and Manes met in the old Americana hotel and struck a deal: Manes would drop out, endorsing Carey, and Carey, if elected, would pass all state patronage appointments through Manes, not Troy. Troy was told about the Manes endorsement by a reporter on his way to the press conference. The Carey victory, on top of Beame’s election a year earlier, doomed Troy.
Beame recalls that he asked Manes to challenge Troy for the leadership. Manes got on the phone to Florida to talk to his Uncle Dave. On the day of the vote by Queens district leaders, Troy was playing golf on a private course in Huntington, Long Island. “NBC sent out a crew with a helicopter to interview me,” said Troy. “They landed on the green. My ouster had to be.” A few months later, at the funeral of a Queens judge, Manes came up to Troy, wrapped his arm around Troy’s shoulder, and said that he couldn’t forgive himself for what he’d done. “I was pretty magnanimous about it,” says Troy.
By September 1974, only nine years after he’d entered politics, Donald Manes was one of the city’s most powerful pols, the first to be both Democratic boss and borough president. But since he had to be a district leader to become county leader, his party power was still rooted in a fraudulent Electchester address. Bank records reveal that a decade after the initial hoax with his father-in-law’s apartment, Manes was still making erratic rent payments a few months each year for the phantom sublet.
His early support of Carey and Beame wired Manes into City Hall and the governor’s mansion; but the debacle of his own gubernatorial campaign warned him that he might not have the marketable political personality to win higher office himself. While he fantasized for years about becoming mayor, he never made a move again for higher office. Instead, he became the consummate insider who never faced the voters in a primary, a potentate without pizzazz.
SIGNALS OF CORRUPTION
When Donald Manes ran for governor, be got a $200,000 campaign loan from a Queens branch of Bankers Trust. His guarantors included Geoffrey Lindenauer, who ultimately became his PVB bagman and was then still running his notorious sex therapy clinic on the West Side of Manhattan; Gene Mastropieri, who’d already begun laundering drug money; Joseph Chevlowe, the father of Manes’s other eventual bagman, Shelly Chevlowe; and Jerry Driesen, who pleaded guilty last year to paying off Manes for his own collection contract. (Driesen and Lindy wound up testifying in the PVB case.) The same four also contributed over $10,000 to the campaign. So Manes’s eventual demise was rooted in relationships that reached far back in his political career — to when he was a 40-year-old wonder taking his first clumsy shot at the big time.
Another loan guarantor, who also contributed $4000, was Manes’s deputy, Robert Groh, who’d become a partner with Manes in a speculative real estate venture in the Hamptons a year earlier. The campaign loan and Robert Groh’s fundraising role with Manes led to the first criminal investigation targeting Manes. Groh was indicted in November 1976 and charged with demanding a $10,000 campaign contribution for Manes’s 1973 borough president reelection campaign from ITT/Sheraton in exchange for a zoning change for a motel near La Guardia Airport.
By the time Groh was indicted, he had left Manes’s office, served as Beame’s sanitation commissioner (on Manes’s recommendation) for a year, and then been elected to Queens Civil Court. Manes ran Groh for a judgeship even though Groh was under investigation by a special state prosecutor, who indicted him on bribery and grand larceny charges two weeks after he was elected. Once he was ensconced on the bench, Groh voluntarily went on leave — with pay — and remained on full salary through three years of protracted litigation.
Since Special State Prosecutor John Keenan’s jurisdiction was limited to making cases against corrupt judges and cops, he had to apply for and did get permission from the governor to expand the case beyond Groh to include Manes, a public official not part of the criminal justice system. The Groh indictment was thrown out because Keenan, who personally questioned Manes in the grand jury for two days, and Judge Leonard Sandler used what the appellate division described as “coercive” methods to get a “runaway” grand Jury to indict Groh. Keenan, who is now a federal judge, brought Judge Sandler into the grand jury to reinforce his argument that the jury should indict Groh, not the man they wanted to indict: Donald Manes. Keenan believed that there was insufficent evidence to nail Manes without Groh’s cooperation, though he had formally taken steps to make Manes the ultimate target.
The indictment was eventually reinstated and in 1979, Groh finally went on trial. The trial judge, Ernest Rosenberger, wound up dismissing one of the counts against him and the jury acquitted him on the other. A year later, Groh, who had actually only served a year as a civil court judge, was elevated by Manes to the supreme court, where he still sits. Manes’s logs and diaries indicate that they continued a close relationship until 1986.
A 1977 memo from Keenan’s office obtained by the Voice examines in detail the acquisition of several New Jersey apartment buildings by Donald, his brother Morty, and others. “These New Jersey holdings represent a sinkhole in which thousands of dollars of Manes’s money could be placed,” concluded the investigators, “and no one would have an accurate picture of just what money Manes has taken in.” The mysterious Jersey investments “could provide the financial vehicle were he to decide to obtain illegal monies for his own personal use.” After months of investigation and the collection of hundreds of bank documents, the investigators wrote that his finances were so murky that they could not even calculate “what his net worth is.”
While some aspects of the Groh case, as well as the questionable character of his personal and campaign finances, have not previously been made public, there was enough published about both to cloud Manes’s reputation when Ed Koch became mayor in 1978. Indeed for Ed Koch, the Groh case, which wasn’t resolved until a year and a half after he became mayor, hit particularly close to home: the judge criticized for his extraordinary appearance in the grand jury, Sandler, was so close to the mayor that he swore him in at the 1978 and 1982 inaugurals; the prosecutor who targeted Manes, Keenan, left office in 1979 to become Koch’s director of the Off Track Betting Corporation and then his criminal justice coordinator; and the reporter who broke the story of the runaway grand jury that wanted to indict Manes was the Times‘s Tom Goldstein, who later became Koch’s press secretary. But the Groh case was hardly the only warning ignored by the mayor-who-didn’t-wantto-know. During the Koch years Manes would be publicly linked to a series of scandals. (See The Friends of Donald Manes, below.)
HIDING THE MONEY
Donald Manes’s public life started at the knee of an adopted uncle — a relationship of love that was his father’s most tangible legacy. But like so much of Manes’s life, even this relationship now appears to have had a criminal underside. Geoffrey Lindenauer told a federal grand jury last April how he and Manes planned to launder their PVB bribes. “We could get the money and Mr. Manes suggested that we buy antique jewelry, that we buy some art objects, that we buy some gold coins,” said Lindenauer. “Mr. Manes had an elderly aunt, and he said what he was going to do, because he was the executor of the will, is when his aunt passed away, then he would permit this jewelry, the gold, and art objects to surface as part of her estate.”
When Uncle Dave Malbin died in 1980, he left his estate to his wife, Bea, who at 84 is still living in their Hallandale, Florida, condo. Dave Malbin’s will, obtained by the Voice, specifically referred to “collections” and “works of art.” It provided that if Bea Malbin died before her husband, 35 per cent of the Malbin estate would be distributed to Donald or Marlene Manes or their children. While Malbin’s Florida lawyers would not discuss the specifics of Bea Malbin’s will (she is deaf and cannot be reached by phone), one did suggest that it “mirrored” Dave Malbin’s. Another recalled that Bea Malbin had recently contacted him to change her will.
Dave Malbin’s niece, Marian Trachtenberg of Kingston, Pennsylvania, who also got 35 per cent of his estate, recalled that when Malbin died, “Donald did go down to Florida to set up Aunt Bea’s bank accounts, take care of the insurance and everything.” Trachtenberg said that “whenever anything of a financial nature had to be done, Donald would go to help her take care of it.” She said, “He must have gone down every winter.” In fact Manes’s diaries indicate periodic trips to Florida. Trachtenberg said that a “devastated” Bea Malbin wrote her letters after the scandal erupted last year and that she was “happy that David hadn’t lived to see the horror of it.” Bea Malbin’s recent attempt to change her own will may have been connected with her disgust over the revelations about Manes.
Dave Malbin was the executor of Ed Manes’s will in 1955. The holdings that Donald Manes inherited fueled a lifetime of lucrative investments. Three decades later he hovered over Malbin’s estate as if it were another potential gold mine. He talked about turning his aunt into a laundromat. There was, it turned out, nothing in Donald› Manes’s life that he wasn’t willing to dirty. ■
The Best of Manes
Donald Manes was more than the sum of his tawdry relationships and seedy deals. His achievements and his engagingly effective political personality have become casualties of the scandal. He was proudest of his success in preserving Jamaica, which he described as potentially the South Bronx of Queens. He got the Social Security Administration’s massive regional headquarters — housing 4000 employees — to locate there. He engineered the opening of York College, work on the Archer Avenue subway line and the reconstruction of Jamaica Avenue — all, as he put it, “breathing new life into downtown Jamaica.”
With Manes at the helm, Queens got the City University Law School, the reopening of the Astoria Studios, the transformation of the College Point Industrial Park from a virtually vacant development project to one “entirely sold or rented,” the Port Authority redevelopment of Long Island City, and the International Design Center, a million-square-foot project that Manes said made Queens “the worldwide center of the interior furnishings industry.” Politically, Queens became one of the strongest Democratic counties in the nation, dominating the Democratic National Convention in 1984 with the emergence of Geraldine Ferraro and Mario Cuomo. And though Manes regularly used the courts to eliminate reform candidacies within Queens, his endorsements in statewide races were often not those of a machine hack — for example, he strongly backed Liz Holtzman in the 1980 Senate and the 1981 Brooklyn D.A. races.
“No one ever threw a tantrum or stormed out of a meeting when he was negotiating,”said one family member. “He was always able to find an avenue of compromise.” Sharp-witted and sure, he cuddled and kibbitzed with such charm that even the wary were conned. He turned his weight into a joke, vying with the mayor in a diet contest. When a reporter approached him with a question, he’d wrap his arm around the reporter’s shoulder and enlist the reporter in a joint composition of the answer, searching together for “the right word.” His street-tough talk and easy humor hid a man who, his closest aides said, loved to talk about feelings, especially his own. Geoffrey Lindenauer became such a force in Donald’s life because he was what one aide called “a compassionate listener who wouldn’t talk business with him and wouldn’t break a confidence.” That was what Manes needed.
The senior member of the Board of Estimate and senior county leader when he died, Manes was the master of the budget and the inventor of the borough presidency as a real force in city politics.
— W.B & R.H.
The Friends of Donald Manes: Warnings the City Ignored
Almost everyone in public life runs into a crook or two, but Donald Manes had a special knack for friendships that stunk. During the Koch years, long before the PVB explosion of 1986, a series of Manes associations — political and personal — blew up in his face. Councilman Gene Mastropieri was buried under an avalanche of charges, beginning with Arthur Browne’s relentless stories about him in the Daily News in 1979. When Manes finally orchestrated Mastropieri’s resignation — a day too late for the seat to be contested in a Democratic primary — he got the city council to install his own staff attorney as Mastropieri’s replacement.
At the same time that news stories of Mastropieri’s laundering activities for the mob appeared in 1979, Manes became a defense witness in the biggest public corruption case of the day: the trial of longshoreman boss Tony Scotto, an FBI-identified capo in the Gambino crime family who had so insinuated himself in city politics that Governor Carey and Mayor Lindsay testified as character witnesses at his trial. Unlike the other pols, Manes was a substantive witness who helped establish Scotto’s defense. Conceding that he had received thousands in cash payments from stevedoring executives who had labor contracts with his union, Scotto testified that the kickbacks were merely political contributions for Carey’s 1978 campaign and Mario Cuomo’s 1977 mayoral campaign.
Manes testified that as Queens party leader, he put Joe Colozza, a vice president of Scotto’s union, in charge of the Carey campaign in 1978 and that Colozza ran the street operations — including phone banks, posters, literature, cabs. For Scotto, the most important part of Manes’s testimony was that he claimed that he’d given Colozza no money to finance this operation. Colozza then testified that he’d worked right out of Manes’s party office for months and that the only significant financing he’d received was a couple of illegal cash donations funneled to him through Scotto, totaling $30,000. Colozza said that Scotto, who handed him the money in envelopes at the union headquarters in Brooklyn, told him that it had come from the stevedoring executives who’d testified as government witnesses about Scotto’s shakedowns. Though Manes testified that he checked with Colozza a couple of times a week to see how the campaign was going, he supposedly never asked Colozza how he was paying for everything.
When the jury convicted Scotto, they implicitly rejected the Scotto defense as a hoax. U.S. Attorney Robert Fiske referred Colozza’s testimony to the State Board of Elections, which says it sent a report with findings against Colozza to the Brooklyn, Queens, and Albany D.A.s for prosecution. But no cases were ever made.
Colozza remained a friend of Donald Manes’s for years after the Scotto trial. Manes named him as a cochairman of the Tricentennial Commission, which organized the 1983 celebration of the county’s 300th birthday. He went to Colozza’s mother’s wake and funeral mass. When Scotto went to jail to begin a five-year federal sentence, Manes went to the farewell party. The President’s Commission on Organized Crime described Scotto’s union in 1984 as “a synonym for organized crime in the labor movement” and cited Colozza as an example of the concentration of power within the union-noting that he held three union titles and was paid $146,000 in 1983.
A few months after Manes’s testimony in the Scotto case, the name of another Manes associate, Nick Sands, hit the papers. Sands had been appointed by Koch in 1978 to the board of the city’s powerful Public Development Corporation. Donald Manes had recommended him. Sands had worked with Colozza on the Carey campaign in Queens that year. In 1979 Manes’s Democratic county committee named him to fill a vacancy on the party’s state committee. In January 1980, Manes signed off on a Sands project to develop a facility for handicapped children in Queens. At the time, Sands was represented by Manes’s right arm, Richie Rubin, in a bid to buy the Parr Meadows Racetrack in Long Island.
On May 7, 1980, Sands was shot eight times by two gunmen who drove up to him as he left his Queens home and shouted out his name. The shocking hit became a page one story when it was revealed that Sands was a convicted embezzler who’d legally changed his name from Dominick Santiago. Sands survived the attack and tried to convince police that the murder attempt was connected with his membership on a local school board. “Sure we considered that possibility,” Lt. Remo Franceschini of the Queens D.A.’s special investigations unit said in an interview years later. “We considered it for about five minutes. It didn’t ring true then and it doesn’t ring true now.”
Sands/Santiago was described as “closely associated with several Colombo ‘family’ members” as far back as a 1967 Justice Department report, which attributed his rapid rise to the presidency of Local 3108 of the Carpenters Union to his sponsorship by a Genovese family member, Joseph Agone. Sands was indicted twice by federal organized crime prosecutors, acquitted once, and convicted in 1975 for misusing the union’s general fund.
According to friends, Manes was upset by the dramatic revelations about Sands. Nonetheless, as late as September 1984, Manes conceded in a Voice interview that he still had periodic breakfast with Sands. An FBI record obtained by the Voice lists Sands in 1986 as a “business associate” of Manes. Confronted by the Voice twice in recent years, Sands dodged questions about his background and relationships. His lawyer supplied the Voice with a finding by a Pennsylvania local police department (where Sands was trying recently to win a public development contract) that they were “unable to conclude at this time that Sands has any link to organized crime activities.”
On the heels of the Sands debacle, Manes and one of his closest advisers, publicist Michael Nussbaum (recently convicted in the cable cases) began pressing top City Hall officials for appointments and favors for a Chinatown businessman named Eddie Chan. They wanted Chan appointed to a prestigious board or commission and City Hall officials moved to appoint him to the city’s Youth Board, which allocates millions to community groups for recreation programs. Manes’s logs list him as attending an Eddie Chan- and Nussbaum-sponsored fund-raiser for Koch’s reelection on September 3, 1981. Manes was also able to set up a meeting for Chan in 1982 at City Hall — to discuss what Chan called police harassment tactics of Chinatown businessmen.
In the midst of the Manes contacts for Chan, the police department and D.A. Robert Morgenthau informed Koch that Chan had underworld ties. Though the police reports on Chan were conveyed to Manes by City Hall officials, the two continued to meet and talk often. Nussbaum continued to represent him. Chan even arranged an expenses-paid, 1982 trip to Taiwan for Manes and an entourage of ten Queens public officials and businessmen.
One of the Taiwan tourists, then City Council Finance Committee chairman Ed Sadowsky recalls that “one night, we were in a nightclub having drinks and out of the corner of my eye, I see Chan coming in the door with what appear to be several hookers. My wife is with us and I see this coming, so I tell them to get up and I steer them out of there.”
In late 1984, Chan also became front-page news, named by the President’s Commission on Organized Crime as the crimelord of Chinatown. FBI records identify him as a “murder contractor” and a “narcotics dealer.” When Chan was exposed during the commission’s hearings, thousands of Chinatown residents lined up to withdraw their savings from a bank he partly owned. Despite the revelations, Chan threw a fund-raiser for Manes’s reelection in 1985. When the Manes case exploded in early 1986, Chan left the country, reportedly fleeing to the Philippines.
At the same time that Chan’s criminal connections surfaced in 1982, Herb Ryan, a city taxi commissioner and president of Manes’s Stevenson Democratic Club, was indicted for taking bribes to fix a taxi experimental contract. A Post story at the time quoted Manes as acknowledging that he’d “known Ryan for a long time.” In fact a city investigations department memo identified Ryan, who had been with Manes since the first campaign in 1965, as Manes’s “chief fundraiser.” Ryan was busted after he took two cash bribes from an undercover detective posing as a vendor. Ryan began the shakedown the day he met the undercover, talking repeatedly about Donald Manes in his taped conversations with the detective and promising to take the fake contractor to meet Manes. An April 1982 New York Magazine article noted that Koch had killed the Ryan operation earlier than federal prosecutors wanted and that the feds saw it “as a way to open a wide-ranging probe of the Queens Democratic machine.”
After an attempt to turn Ryan into a witness against Manes failed, Ryan retained Manes’s former law partner, pleaded guilty, did a few months in Allenwood, and returned to the Stevenson Club, where he was eventually elected vice president again. Manes’a phone logs show that Ryan remained close to Manes long after his conviction, calling him right up to the day of the first suicide attempt.
A couple of years after the Ryan warning, another member of the Stevenson Club’s board of directors, attorney Helaine Brick, was nailed in a shocking city scandal. City leasing chief Alex Liberman, the principal fund-raiser for Brooklyn boss Meade Esposito’s home club in Canarsie, pleaded guilty in 1984 in the largest bribery case in federal history — soliciting $2.5 million in bribes. Brick was named in 1984 news stories as a conduit for the biggest single bribe Liberman received — $421,000. Brick and her law partner, Saul Radow, both of whom were on the staff of Assembly Speaker Stanley Fink, posed as real estate brokers on one Liberman lease, collected an astronomical fee and kept all but $130,000 of it, which they gave to Liberman in cash. When Brick became a government witness, she was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor.
Brick’s association with Manes was well-known in political circles. She was named as a defendant in a widely publicized 1983 civil suit brought by Queens reformers which charged that Manes’s party organization had used Brick and other attorneys on public payrolls to challenge the petitions of insurgents. With Manes’s support, Brick bad also been appointed in 1980 by Civil Court Administrative Judge Frank Smith to the Advisory Panel that recommends the appointment of Housing Court judges (other Queens appointees on this panel included Geraldine Ferraro, John Zacarro, and Marco Colosi, the husband of Manes’s special assistant, Geri Colosi). Brick resigned from the panel in 1984. Richard Kashinsky, a city electrical contractor, was so close to Manes that he was selected by both of the Queens cable franchise holders (subsidiaries of Warner’s and Time) to wire most of Queens (in a joint venture with two other firms). The owner of a private plane who flew Manes periodically to Westhampton, he had sought (with Manes support) a city concession to run Flushing Airport and was a regular on Manes’s logs.
Kashinsky’s name first surfaced in March 1983, when the State Investigation Commission released a report on four contractors who did $18 million in repair work under no-bid contracts at Co-op City. One was Kashinskyt who got $3.3 million in state payments. The report said that his company had over-billed by hundreds of thousands of dollars, and that all the allegations had been referred to the U.S. Attorney. Though the SIC findings were sent to the city, Kashinsky continued to handle city contracts.
In 1985, Kashinsky was indicted for making over $300,000 in cash payoffs to two Co-op City officials, stealing $2.5 million from his company and paying $15,000 in bribes to a Citibank official who was laundering money for him. He and the individuals he bribed all pleaded guilty. Despite this extraordinary crime wave, Kashinsky, under a new corporate name (QNCC), is still wiring Queens for both Warner’s and Time. Represented by James LaRossa, the politically connected lawyer who has a piece of the Staten Island cable contract, Kashinsky’s cooperation with the government has so far been limited to admissions about Co-op City.
All of these cases unfolded before Donald Manes cut his wrist and ankle. Indeed just a month before the first suicide attempt, Queens Supreme Court Judge William Brennan, whom Manes had backed for reelection in 1984 and had pushed vigorously for promotion to the appellate division, was convicted of taking bribes to fix mob cases. Brennan was one of a handful of Queens judges who regularly lunched with Manes. There were also other indicators of Manes’s ethical indifference — warning signals that hit the papers but never resulted in indictments. For example, the appearance of his own executive assistant, Dan Koren, as the head of a planned Grand Prix race in Flushing Meadow Park. That Manes gambit, rancid with conflict-of-interest, was probed by the Queens D.A., who referred the case to the federal Organized Crime Strike Force, who referred it to the U.S. Attorney’s office, which closed it without ever really probing it.
In addition to this parade of pre-1986 fellow travelers, Manes’s logs and diaries are also filled with messages from several post-suicide felons — Friedman, Shafran, Lazar, Lindenauer, Rubin, Smith, Michael Nussbaum, Andy Capasso, Tony Ameruso — as well as several currently under indictment — Zaccaro, Lebetkin, Meade Esposito, Stanley Simon. Manes’s phone was a magnet for the city’s criminal class. He was a switchboard for sleaze.
The tidal wave that began last January has already swept away many of the clubhouse clan that ruled this city for 20 years. Donald Manes is taking his network with him. It is clear now that when he killed himself, it was not just the threat of Lindenauer’s testimony that haunted him. Manes saw himself sitting under a hot light surrounded by a lifetime of co-conspirators, each of their mouths moving slowly through the details of his crimes.
— W.B. & R.H.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 17, 2020