An Albany Whitewash


Nine hours after the ballyhooed 6 a.m. arrest of City Councilman Angel Rodriguez last Thursday, New York State Inspector General Roslynn Mauskopf released the most important report of her conspicuously invisible seven-year tenure as the chief ethics investigator of the Pataki administration.

Mauskopf, who wants the job of the federal prosecutor who indicted Rodriguez, issued a 57-page analysis of the award of $800,000 in state architectural contracts to the governor’s next-door neighbor and in-law James Copeland. Though the Copeland investigation began a year ago and was completed last summer, Mauskopf did not make her findings public until her nomination to become United States Attorney for Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island—sent to the Senate by the governor and President Bush in January—was in trouble. She is trying to replace acting U.S. Attorney Alan Vinegrad, who assumed the post last June and has been so busy lately he indicted Rodriguez, Nassau County strip-cop Frank Wright, and Abner Louima cop Charles Schwarz in a single week.

One of the reasons Mauskopf’s nomination has been held up for months is her look-the-other-way reputation, as well as her cozy friendships with high-level Pataki aides, which have raised questions with Senate Judiciary Subcommittee chair Chuck Schumer, who has veto power over the appointment. She has been campaigning for the post so aggressively that she stood beside her onetime boss, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, at two recent press conferences, taking joint credit for the announced indictments—as many appearances with him as she’s done in the past six years. If the Copeland report was supposed to show how tough she could be in a probe of Pataki administration high jinks, it’s had the opposite effect.

Mauskopf’s desperate and delayed conclusions are a model of investigative avoidance.

The report concludes that Copeland got the state contracts—and he was in line for millions more—not because of his lifelong ties to the governor, but because of his friendship with two obscure officials at a State University of New York college, Old Westbury. It reduces to footnote status the alleged intervention of two top aides to the governor who may have been involved in pushing contracts for Copeland but were never questioned under oath, as virtually everyone else was. It omits any reference to the governor by name, indicating that he was never asked a question about how a tiny, inexperienced firm run by a relative wound up winning contracts that even Mauskopf concedes were fixed.

The already famous footnote says that Michael Clemente, the Pataki-appointed $194,000-a-year head of the SUNY Construction Fund, told IG investigators that he got a phone call from SUNY chair Thomas Egan, and “possibly” a second from SUNY trustee Randy Daniels, on behalf of Copeland. Egan, who is a longtime close personal friend of Pataki’s, and Daniels, the current secretary of state and rumored candidate for lieutenant governor, deny making the calls.

But Clemente, who was the deputy director of operations and worked on the second floor with the governor before taking over the Fund, testified under oath. A spokesman for Egan told the Voice, however, that Mauskopf merely asked him informally over the phone about the Clemente charge, never questioning him under oath (Daniels did not return calls). Yet Mauskopf said her investigation “found no evidence that state officials or employees outside of the Fund or SUNY Old Westbury had any involvement in the award of these contracts,” effectively concluding that neither Egan nor Daniels made the calls. Clemente, who swore they did, was fired the day the report appeared.

The report even reserves for a second footnote the deepest unsolved mystery of the Copeland caper: namely, how he managed to get parks department contracts if his only significant hooks in state government were two minor officials at Old Westbury. All Mauskopf says is that Sandra Sloane, a deputy commissioner at the Empire State Development Corporation, contacted parks officials on Copeland’s behalf. Mauskopf does not point out that Sloane was an assembly staffer who worked with Pataki for eight years, volunteered in his gubernatorial campaign in 1994, and was fully familiar with Copeland’s legion of ties to Pataki (in addition to Copeland’s brother being married to Libby Pataki’s sister, Copeland’s wife played a role in organizing the first inaugural). Saying simply that the parks contracts “are outside the scope of this report,” Mauskopf, who is charged with investigating all state agencies, just dropped the ball.

Similarly, while blaming the contracts on two Old Westbury officials who didn’t take office until mid 1998, the report makes no effort to explain why Clemente and his two top aides traveled all the way to Cold Spring in Putnam County to visit Copeland’s office way back in October 1997. Or to explain why SUNY headquarters officials rigged two contracts for him at its Maritime College in the Bronx before they ever gave him one at Old Westbury. Or why William Howell, a Pataki fundraiser and insider named to three state boards, engineered the appointment of Copeland’s friends to the Old Westbury campus. Instead Mauskopf attributes Howell’s repeated efforts to help Copeland—some of which clearly appear improper—to a kind of turf-warfare desire to “maintain influence over the course of the campus’s future development” in competition with the then college president. This kindly description flies in the face of Howell’s longtime career as a bond peddler, lobbyist, and campaign donor who’s apparently been a friend of Pataki’s since both were assembly staffers in the ’70s. The report’s narrative makes a convincing case, for example, that it was Howell who forced a highly qualified architectural firm, Gruzen Samton, to agree to give 40 percent of a $215,000 contract to Copeland, though it never spells this out in any quotable, conclusory language.

In an article published six weeks ago questioning why Mauskopf never released her findings about these contracts (“Will Schumer Stand Up?”), Copeland told the Voice that he was sure she’d abandoned the probe. He said he was grilled extensively at the governor’s office in Manhattan sometime last summer and that after the deposition, he got a call from an investigator about “minutiae.” Saying that he got “the sense they were wrapping it up” in July or August, he decided they’d found no wrongdoing “because I haven’t heard from them in so long.”

Indeed, the report itself spells out that the most explosive and potentially criminal charge—the fabrication of a document by SUNY officials, ostensibly to try to cover up the fixed award of a contract to Copeland—was also fully probed by the summer. It notes that Ellen Biggane, the SUNY executive who admitted to creating a fake document, testified way back on July 12. Even though the IG has known about this admission for nine months, she is just now referring it to the D.A. and is finally making the findings public, compelling Biggane’s belated dismissal.

It is anyone’s guess whether Mauskopf would have ever released the report were it not for her troubled candidacy for U.S. Attorney. She only launched the probe last spring because of an extraordinary investigative series by Newsday (the Post and Daily News have yet to publish a word about this scandal, ostensibly because Newsday broke it, while the Times and upstate papers are giving it major coverage).

Mauskopf is the governor’s choice to be one of the top federal prosecutors in the land. She is, sadly, a reflection of his values. She was better off when all she could be accused of was a career of omission, never making a case against a top Pataki aide. This report is an act of commission, a whitewash with the brush squarely in her own hand, visible even from Schumer’s Washington.

It will finish her always dubious nomination.

Research assistance: Annachieara Danieli, Jesse Goldstein, Martine Guerrier, Lauren Johnston, Peter G.H. Madsen, Jess Wisloski