Mister District Attorney, Forever?
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
When the District Attorney makes a point, you listen. When the Queens DA says something, follows it up with email, punctuates it in person and then hands it to you in writing, you better get the point. Queens County’s District Attorney for the past two decades reacted to my column of two weeks ago, containing my fanciful political predictions, one of which read:
“Queens DA Richard Brown will announce that he will not seek a fifth term and retire after 20-plus years as DA and a 50-plus year career of public service. Brown will be saluted by the entire community, for his exemplary service with recognition from the Mayor, the Governor, Congress and more.
Contrary to speculation, Brown will not step down early to permit the appointment of an insider to replace him. Instead September 2011 will witness an exciting political mad scramble for this coveted position.
The speculation will include: Peter Vallone Jr, Mark Weprin, Mike Gianaris, Melinda Katz, Eric Gioia, and Grace Meng; on the Republican side, Dan Halloran will be the GOP’s clear choice.
The Dem Primary will be between Vallone Jr., Katz, and Gioia.
Vallone, campaigning as ‘The People’s Lawyer,’ will win and go on to beat an energized effort by Dan Halloran to be elected as Queens DA.”
DA Richard Brown arrived at the Trib holiday party last week, walking up to me in Douglaston Manor with a paper in hand containing an email he had sent to me earlier. He immediately sought me out, handed me the paper, pointed to it and turned and smiled for the camera.
Judge Brown, as he is stilled called in deference to his prior position on the bench, had written:
“Mike: Thx for your kind words but rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, I’m not going anywhere. My goal is to surpass Bob Morgenthau’s record for longevity in office. That means I’ve got at least another 15 years to go. I’ll see you tomorrow nite at your Holiday Party. Regards. RAB.”
And apparently Judge Brown has been receiving phone calls since the publishing of my column, commenting on his impending retirement. Now Brown, well into his seventies, has reminded us of Morgenthau who served as Manhattan DA for 35 years, retiring last year at the age of 90.
No one is going to argue with this giant of a man who commands the borough’s law enforcement. That no one includes me and Councilman Peter Vallone Jr.
And so I say to Judge Brown: I agree with everything you say, and will be following you for the next 15 years. Now where is my get-out-of-jail free card?
|Gloria D’Amico began her political career the same year this newspaper published its first edition. And for the next 40 years, we watched the talented lady from Astoria blaze trails across the landscape of Queens.
Although we’ve used the phrase before, this is one of those rare times that we sadly report the passing of one of the true Queens of Queens.
Gloria D. D’Amico, county clerk for Queens County, NY, for the past 19 years and the first woman ever to hold the position, died on Tuesday, December 21, at home with her family at her side.
The Tribune extends its condolences to the family of this proud lady who broke the glass ceiling long before it became fashionable to do so.
How Did a Rogue Agency Escape Detection So Long?
By HENRY STERN
Swift action followed the report of the indictment of six people accused of an $80 million fraud against the City of New York.
The Daily News, which has been reporting for over a year on CityTime and its derelictions, ran a story with the lede:
“Investigators probing the massive CityTime payroll scandal seized $850,000 in cash yesterday from safe deposit boxes linked to consultants accused of stealing $80 million.
“One of the six defendants even showed up at a Long Island bank with a large duffel bag but was turned away, a source told the Daily News.”
The Times reported on City Hall’s response to the indictments in a story:
“The official in charge of the New York City agency at the heart of the $80 million information technology fraud scheme was suspended on Thursday without pay by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Comptroller John C. Liu.
“The official, Joel Bondy, was chosen by Mr. Bloomberg to be the executive director of the Office of Payroll Administration in April 2004. But the payroll agency has been repeatedly criticized for its handling of the CityTime project, an automated system designed to streamline employee timekeeping, which has been dogged by delays and enormous cost overruns.
“On Wednesday, Federal prosecutors accused several CityTime consultants - at least one of them a longtime associate of Mr. Bondy - of being involved in a scheme that manipulated the city into steering expensive contracts to businesses that they controlled and of redirecting some of that money for their own enrichment. But the scandal has become one of the most serious that the Bloomberg administration has faced. And by casting a pall over an initiative that the mayor had championed as a hallmark of efficient, computerized management, the case also shines a harsh light on the administrations outsourcing practices.”
The Post covered the bank incident:
“Now that’s timing.
“A defendant in the $80 million CityTime payroll office scandal arrived at a bank with a large duffel bag yesterday to clear out money allegedly stolen from city taxpayers - but investigators got to it first, officials said.
The Post ran a harsh editorial: It’s Mike’s Mess. The Post is generally supportive of the mayor, but this editorial alludes to grievances that may have accumulated over time.
One thing overlooked on Day One was the significant role of the City’s Department of Investigation in exposing the fraud. U.S. Attorney Preet Shahara said: “I want to praise Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn and her DOI team for their exceptionally quick and diligent work in this matter. Working with our partners, we will continue to ferret out public corruption and prosecute those responsible to the full extent of the law.”
Commissioner Hearn said: “The shame is that a project to save time and money on the City payroll fell prey in part to the accused swindlers who cost the taxpayers a stunning $80 million and counting. The supposed experts hired and paid well to protect the city’s interests were exposed as the fox guarding the hen house, secretly pocketing millions and purchasing expensive homes and cars, it is charged. Ironically, when CityTime’s hand scanners got in their way, they even resorted to fudging paper timesheets, according to the Complaint.
One person who deserves great credit for his work on this case is Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News. A sad aspect of this case is how long his repeated warnings, published in the News, were not acted upon. Councilmember Letitia James of Brooklyn held hearings on the subject, but her complaints may or may not have reached Speaker Christine Quinn, the public official to whom the administration is most likely to be responsive.
There should be an inquiry into the city’s handling of this fraud during the six-year period over which the conspiracy is said to have operated. We should also remember that this is not the first time that honest people have been duped by unprincipled swindlers. What is unusual here is the period of years over which the fraud occurred, its magnitude, and the apparent complete lack of oversight over Joel Bondy and the OPA. Similar events have occurred in prior administrations, where honest mayors are betrayed by corrupt subordinates, of whose very existence they were barely aware.
Part of the problem here may be that since OPA was a two-headed agency, responsible to both the Mayor and the Comptroller, neither provided the close supervision that now appears to have been badly needed. Another aspect of the case is that since the project itself was opposed by the unions who had no interest in accurate timekeeping, critics of the contract may have been dismissed as naysayers, even though they were right about the contract.
We also learn the lesson again that it doesn’t matter how many oversight agencies exist, the system often relies on individuals being honest and doing their jobs responsibly. When people lack integrity, the cost can exceed even the $80 million which is reportedly missing. As an individual and a taxpayer, I would want those convicted to remain in prison until all the money is returned. They stole from all of us.
The perpetrators should receive plenty of time to make the acquaintance of Mr. Madoff, with whom they could trade notes. Their enablers should consider less demanding employment.StarQuest@NYCivic.org