Christopher Twarowski is editor in chief of the Long Island Press and its chief of investigations. He holds an M.S. in Journalism with a specialization in investigative journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and was an inaugural member of the school’s Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism. He also holds an M.A. from the school with a concentration in business and economics. Twarowski has written for the financial and metro desks of The Washington Post and has earned more than 100 local, state and national journalism awards and accolades.
Seventeen-year-old Cody Talanian, of Farmingdale, was pronounced dead at 10 p.m. Sunday at Nassau University Medical Center, according to Nassau County police homicide detectives.
Talanian is the latest casualty of the horrific collision that claimed the lives of four other teenagers on Saturday, May 10 at 12:04 a.m., when, detectives said, their 2001 Nissan traveling westbound on Conklin Street crossed into the eastbound lanes and was struck by a GMC Suburban.
The impact of the collision resulted in two male passengers being ejected, police said, with three passengers and the driver killed upon impact and another victim pronounced dead at a local hospital.
The 53-year-old driver of the Suburban and his female passenger have been listed in serious condition.
• Tristan K. Reichle, 17, of Farmingdale
• Jesse J, Romero, 18, of South Farmingdale
• Carly Lonborg, 14, of South Farmingdale
• Noah Francis, 15, of Farmingdale
• Cody Talanian, 17, of Farmingdale
Friends and family members have created makeshift memorials near the crash site in remembrance of the victims. Multitudes from the community packed a Mother’s Day prayer vigil for the teenagers at St. Kilian Roman Catholic Church Sunday.
Police said the investigation into what led the teens to veer into the oncoming lane is still ongoing.
• Led “Landmark” Bureau Created to Address Wrongful Convictions
• Sudden Departure Comes Amid Criticism From Nassau & Queens D.A.s Over His Recommendation to Free Queens Father of Two, Convicted Sex Offender Ronald Bower
• Stated it “Highly Unlikely” Bower Committed Sex Crimes
• Team of Independent Investigators Continue To Seek Bower’s Exoneration
“He’s actually no longer with the attorney general’s office,” a woman answering the phone at Schneiderman’s Albany office confirmed Wednesday, before referring further inquiries to “his old number” where “maybe somebody in the office there will pick up and can help you.”
They didn’t, follow-up calls have been met with the same response, and attempts to reach Schellhammer outside the office have been unsuccessful. The attorney general’s press office Thursday did not immediately respond to questions regarding Schellhammer’s unceremonious exit, either.
That set off fireworks, not only among Parole Board commissioners—who slammed the AG’s Office and the district attorneys’ offices of both counties for failing to seek full exoneration and leaving them with the uncomfortable responsibility of releasing what the judicial system deems a violent sexual predator—but among prosecutors as well, with both district attorneys’ offices then blasting the AG’s office and Schellhammer, in particular, claiming ignorance of any probe into Bower and alleging that they were completely blindsided. Schneiderman’s office “vigorously disputes” that charge, according to an article in the New York Law Journal last month.
All three agencies—the attorney general’s office and the Nassau and Queens DA’s offices—have asked the Parole Board to “re-examine” its decision on Bower’s release. The Nassau DA’s office is also conducting a “comprehensive review” of his case, according to correspondence between it and the attorney general’s office cited by the Journal.
Schneiderman, a former state senator, heralded the creation of the Conviction Review Bureau as a “first-of-its-kind statewide,” “sweeping” and “landmark initiative to address wrongful convictions in New York” in his office’s official April 11, 2012 press release, touting its mandate “to help New York’s criminal justice system maximize its ability to convict the real perpetrators of crimes, while preventing innocent people from being penalized for crimes they did not commit.”
“There is only one person who wins when the wrong person is convicted of a crime: the real perpetrator, who remains free to commit more crimes,” he expounded at the time. “For victims, their families, and any of us who could suffer the nightmare of being wrongly accused, it is imperative that we do everything possible to maximize accuracy, justice, and reliability in our justice system.
“As a result, my office will be working with District Attorneys across the state to address compelling claims of innocence, and I will conduct a top-to-bottom review of my office’s investigatory and prosecutorial procedures, and adapt them as needed to ensure reliability,” he continued.
Bower was then-30-years-old when he was picked up May 10, 1991 mid-shift at the mall, made to change out of his security uniform into a hooded sweatshirt that matched the description two teenagers described an assailant who allegedly sexually attacked them at gunpoint on a rooftop in Corona as wearing, according to court documents. His arrest came on the heels of a tip from his estranged father-in-law, a retired NYPD detective who knew one of the detectives in the Queens sex crimes unit, and who told a sergeant there that a mysterious sketch bearing a near-perfect likeness to Bower that appeared in the local newspapers alongside a description of the purported attack, resembled his son-in-law, according to court documents, affidavits and investigators. The girls ultimately recanted, telling investigators they’d made the incident up, state court filings.
Yet instead of freeing Bower, who had no prior criminal record and owned neither a car nor a gun, he was paraded through up to 28 or more lineups for a series of sex crimes along the Nassau-Queens border in 1990 and 1991. Internally, investigators dubbed the attacks—which often included forced oral sex, sodomy and rape at gunpoint, usually involving a silver .38 revolver and sometimes up to two victims at a time—the work of the “Silver Gun Rapist,” and labelled them “Pattern #1/91.”
Bower was eventually convicted for two of those attacks, primarily on eyewitness testimony, and has maintained his innocence ever since. Despite his incarceration, the pattern attacks continued for three months after he was already in custody, according to state court documents and investigators, ending with the arrest of another man—a New York City police officer named Michael Perez—who unbeknownst to Bower or his attorneys at the time, was arrested and charged in two other such similarly patterned alleged sexual attacks. Unlike Bower’s wardrobe switch, police allowed Perez to change out of the clothes he was arrested in and instead wear a suit and tie for his mug shot. Investigators later discovered Perez was off-duty during each of the pattern attacks, had access to a car, owned nearly a dozen guns—including a silver and a black .38 revolver (one of which was discovered in his possession when police arrested him for a similar sex attack in August 1991, one of two such cases he was eventually acquitted of)—and bore a striking resemblance to Bower, according to court documents, investigators and two New York Times articles at the time.
Schellhammer, explaining his reasoning for recommending Bower’s release in his Dec. 30, 2013 letter, cited an extensive, ongoing investigation into the father of two’s case that included speaking with investigators and witnesses associated with the crimes he was convicted in an attempt to reconstruct those events.
“This position is based upon several factors,” his letter states. “a) His physical resemblance to another person who committed identical crimes at about the same time as these in question, some of which occurred after Bower was in custody; b) the possible mis-identification of Bower as the perpetrator of these crimes by the victims; c) the lack of a propensity or any other prior indicator that Bower was inclined to commit offenses of a sexual nature; and d) the probability that Bower had an alibi for the nights in question.”
Shellhammer’s departure amid such contention about Bower’s release raises obvious questions regarding the impetus behind his exodus (one being whether or not he is simply a victim of blood-lust politics, damn the possibility of freeing a wrongly convicted man), and casts doubts upon Schneiderman’s sincerity toward the bureau’s stated mission—actually righting such horrific wrongs and seeking out, as the attorney general so eloquently stated back in 2012, “the real perpetrator(s), who remain free to commit more crimes.”
Few would dispute that Schellhammer’s recommendation for parole couldn’t be interpreted as at least a little embarrassing for prosecutors—and, should Bower one day be exonerated, costly to the state—though when it comes to what’s at stake, a man’s life, not to mention the shattered lives of victims throughout Nassau and Queens whose attacks still remain unsolved, it shouldn’t be, but rather, a call to arms to thoroughly get to the bottom of these brutally horrific atrocities.
In a recent, painfully emotional jailhouse interview at Clinton Correctional Facility—dubbed “New York’s Siberia” for its isolation and arctic temperatures among the Adirondacks just south of the Canadian border—Bower repeated what he’s been saying for nearly 23 years:
“I’m innocent!” he cried, his face distorted and drenched in tears. “I never done nothing to nobody!”
Schellhammer, charged with re-investigating potential wrongful conviction cases and compelling claims of innocence, was simply the latest law enforcement official to believe him.
UPDATE: Four hours after the publishing of this story, Schneiderman’s office issued an official press release announcing the appointment of Gail Heatherly, former head of the Attorney General’s Criminal Prosecutions Bureau, to lead the Conviction Review Bureau, and reiterating his professed commitment to freeing the wrongfully convicted and holding true perpetrators accountable:
“Those who are wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit deserve to have an advocate who will fight for justice, both for the wrongly accused and for the victims of the original crime,” says Attorney General Schneiderman. “The only person who benefits when the wrong person is convicted of a crime is the real criminal, who remains free to commit more crimes.”
The press release provides zero insight into Schellhammer’s departure, and Schneiderman’s office has still not answered a request for an explanation from the Press.
UPDATE II: Attorney General Schneiderman’s Press Secretary Matt Mittenthal tells the Press his office has “no comment.”
[dropcap]R[/dropcap]onald Bower, a 52-year-old father of two from Queens, has spent nearly 23 years in prison for heinous sex crimes an ever-growing number of law enforcement officials believe he did not commit.
Bower was arrested by Queens sex crimes detectives on May 10, 1991 during his shift at the Douglaston Mall, where he worked as a security guard. The then-30-year-old, who had no prior criminal record, was made to change out of his security guard uniform and into a hooded sweatshirt, similar to the one sex crimes victims of a series of attacks along the western Nassau-Queens border in the vicinity of Union Turnpike throughout a roughly two-year span ending in August 1991 reported their assailant as wearing.
The attacker, dubbed the “Silver Gun Rapist” by investigators, would accost his victims, sometimes two at a time, while they walked or entered their vehicles, always threatening them with a gun—oftentimes either a silver or black .38 revolver.
Victims described him as about 30 years old, around 5’6” to 5’8”, 150 pounds, brown or black hair, brown eyes, sporting a moustache, wearing a dark leather or vinyl bomber-style jacket, acid-wash jeans or chinos and gloves. The perpetrator was likely left handed and required access to an automobile to commit the crimes, according to investigators and court documents. He would drive or lure his victims to secluded areas and force them to perform oral sex on him at gunpoint—sometimes, he’d also rape them.
Police labelled these crimes internally as “Pattern #1/91.”
Bower, who weighed approximately 210 pounds at the time of his arrest, is right-handed, and did not possess a gun nor own a car. He passed a polygraph test about the incidents in which he was charged administered by one of the world’s leading experts in the field, Richard O. Arther, and has insisted his innocence ever since. And despite his arrest, the pattern attacks continued.
Three months after Bower’s arrest, unbeknownst to him or his attorneys, another man—a New York City Police officer named Michael Perez—was arrested and charged in two such alleged sexual attacks (though allowed to change out of the clothes he was arrested in and instead wear a suit and tie for his mug shot). In one such incident, Perez was pulled over by police for driving the alleged victim’s car erratically and a loaded .38 was discovered under his seat, according to court documents, investigators and an Aug. 7, 1991 New York Times article titled “Police Say Officer Abducted and Raped Woman.” He was eventually acquitted in both cases—yet an investigation revealed he had been off-duty for many of the Pattern #1/91 attacks, is left-handed, and owned several handguns, according to court documents and investigators—including silver and black .38 revolvers.
Bower was recently granted parole, in part due to the NYS Attorney General’s Office’s recommendation. Because the Conviction Review Bureau fell short of moving to exonerate him, however, he will be released as a sexual offender—a Queens hearing to determine his risk level assessment is scheduled for the near future; a Nassau judge recently rendered him a Level 3 Sex Offender, the highest classification. Bower’s refusal to participate in mandatory sex offender classes, since he still maintains his innocence, was a contributing factor.
Bower’s longtime attorney, Nassau Legal Aid Society appeals bureau chief Jeremy Goldberg, tells the Press that for the father of two to achieve exoneration—something an independent team of law enforcement officials and investigators, his attorney and tortured family vow to never give up on—Bower will need “a miracle.”
Thus, he is making a plea to sex crime victims in the hopes that shedding new light on these brutally vicious attacks will unearth details that can be used to not only help exonerate Bower, but bring the true perpetrator to justice.
Because investigators with knowledge of the aforementioned attacks also tell the Press there were potentially a dozen or more women who were similarly sexually victimized in this vicinity during this time period—whose cases remain unsolved—information obtained from his plea may be just the miracle all these women have been praying for, too.
“You may be able to play a part in saving the rest of Ron Bower’s life,” he says. “Your help could prove crucial.”
Somewhere, along the mad and transcendental road of rock and roll, the tale of one of its greatest architects, masters and casualties has been lost. Somewhere, between the gyrating hips and rebel snarl of Elvis and the shallow, uninspired gushiness of emo, music history has forgotten one of its first antiheroes. Somewhere, somehow, the man responsible for turning popular culture, music and several generations, worldwide, upside-down—and influencing every band since—has been left for dead and buried, destined for obscurity but for a growing legion of fans-turned-archeologists.
The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story, by award-winning Broadway theater producer Vivek J. Tiwary (A Raisin in the Sun, American Idiot, The Addams Family) and artist Andrew C. Robinson, resurrects the seminal Beatles manager, breathing life, color, validity, and resounding beauty, into his short, intense, often-overlooked life and his contributions shaping and molding the four young lads from Liverpool. The Beatles’ immortality, as documented in this meticulously researched, masterfully written and gorgeously illustrated graphic novel, is Epstein’s legacy, as are the boundless torrents of love, hope and optimism shared through their songs.
It was Epstein who shed their leather jackets for matching tailored suits. It was Epstein who got them a record contract. Epstein who landed them in America and on The Ed Sullivan Show. Epstein who invented their synchronized bow, comforted and cared for them, transported them from The Cavern Club’s basement to the center of the world’s stage.
Through The Fifth Beatle, we hear his thoughts, see his struggles, feel his jubilation and his pain—Jewish and gay, yearning for acceptance and self-worth. Visionary, businessman, family man, son, friend, tortured soul, matador—we see Epstein’s genius, his passion, his struggles and his flaws.
This must-read work of art—a “labor of love” for Tiwary, which took 20 years to realize—is a worthy tribute, historical account, comic, biography, love letter and song to a man who shaped and molded music, and life itself.
• NYS Attorney General’s Office tells Parole Board it is “highly unlikely that Bower committed the crimes”
• Parole Board grants freedom but blasts AG for no exoneration
• March 25 and April 3 hearings
• Family and lawyer still seek justice
Ronald Bower, a 52-year-old father of two from Queens who’s spent the past 22 years behind bars for heinous crimes many believe he did not commit, will finally be coming home to his family.
Schellhammer’s recommendation, however, falls short of tossing out Bower’s convictions or granting exoneration. Thus, Bower—who was convicted of sodomy, sexual abuse and attempted robbery for two sexual attacks in Nassau and Queens—must register as a sex offender and adhere to stipulated guidelines that range dependent upon his risk-level assignment, which will be determined through two NYS Sex Offender Registry Act hearings: March 25 in Nassau and April 3 in Queens. He’ll be released sometime afterward. The NYS Parole Board was consequently saddled with the awkward task of releasing a convicted sex offender who has not been cleared of his crimes by the judicial system—something they hammered NYS Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s Office and Nassau and Queens district attorneys’ offices about during the parole hearing. Prosecutors from both Nassau and Queens district attorneys’ offices complained to the attorney general’s office, stating they were never informed of intentions to parole Bower nor contacted for their respective offices’ case files—a charge Schneiderman’s office strongly refutes.
Regardless of the hubbub between the Parole Board and the three agencies, both Bower’s family and his longtime attorney Jeremy L. Goldberg—Appeals Bureau Chief at the Legal Aid Society of Nassau County, who’s been working on Bower’s case pro bono for the past 20 years—are “jubilant,” says Ronald’s older brother Steve that he is finally coming home and commend the attorney general’s office for helping make that a reality. Neither, however, say they will rest until Bower has been fully cleared of the crimes he’s been convicted.
“We’re happy about his release but we are not going to rest until he is exonerated and justice is done,” says Steve, who has been fighting for his brother’s release since his arrest and caring for their elderly mother ever since.
“I’m very happy that my father’s coming home, but I’m not going to stop all efforts until his name is cleared and he’s exonerated,” vows his daughter Kristy, who was just a toddler when her father was incarcerated and is now a paralegal working for New York City. “I want him to have all the freedom he deserves, and parole is a blessing, but I really want exoneration so that he doesn’t have to fall within the restrictions and the stigma behind being a parolee. It’s just not fair.”
“What does it take for the authorities to recognize his innocence when so many people, their own people, already have?” asks Goldberg. “The big picture, to me—it’s about my client and it’s about ultimately getting him exonerated.”
Bower had been picked up by Queens sex crimes detectives on May 10, 1991 during his shift at the Douglaston Mall, where he worked as a security guard. The then-30-year-old father of two, who had no prior criminal record, was arrested, made to wear a hooded sweatshirt similar to the one victims described their attacker as wearing, photographed, paraded through several police lineups and eventually charged with two crimes Queens sex crimes unit investigators dubbed the work of the “Silver Gun Rapist”—an assailant eyewitnesses described as having considerably similar physical characteristics to Bower who accosted young women and girls in a series of at least nine sexual attacks through a corridor of eastern Queens and western Nassau counties in the vicinity of Union Turnpike between 1990 and 1991.
The perpetrator’s M.O. was to approach his victims—sometimes two at a time—while they walked or as they entered their vehicles, force or drive them to secluded areas and demand them to perform oral sex on him at gunpoint.
Sometimes, he’d also rape them. Victims described the weapons used as a small silver handgun and a snub-nose .38-caliber revolver. Internally, cops labelled the crimes as “Pattern #1/91.”
While Bower was in custody, the crimes continued, and unbeknownst to he and his attorneys at the time, another man, a New York City police officer named Michael Perez, who had a striking resemblance to Bower, was also arrested and facing trial, accused of raping and sodomizing two women. When police pulled Perez over for erratic driving in relation to one of the incidents, a fully loaded, silver .38 caliber six-shot revolver with a 2-inch barrel was recovered from beneath the driver’s seat.
Perez was off-duty at the times of each pattern attack and eventually became the subject of an Internal Affairs Bureau investigation. He was caught peeping into apartment windows and also in the act of having sex with a prostitute, according to court documents, and resigned shortly afterward.
Yet while Perez was acquitted in both cases—and allowed by police to change into a suit and tie for his mug shot and lineups—Bower received an 18- to 54-year sentence for sodomy, sexual abuse and attempted robbery, with an official maximum expiration date of May 3, 2041.
He has insisted his innocence ever since, which has often led to added friction within various prisons throughout New York State; because of his professed innocence, he refused to participate in mandated rehabilitation classes for sex offenders.
Schellhammer outlined his reasoning for Bower’s release in his Dec. 30, 2013 letter, explaining that his bureau had been investigating Bower’s claims of innocence “for some time,” a probe that included speaking with investigators and witnesses associated with the crimes he was convicted of in an attempt to reconstruct those events “to the best of our ability.”
“Unfortunately, due to the passage of time and the loss of some crucial evidence, we are unable to completely do so,” he writes. “Some witnesses have been uncooperative with the Conviction Review Bureau procedures. Accordingly, we are unable to fully close our investigation at this time.”
“This position is based upon several factors,” the letter continues. “a) His physical resemblance to another person who committed identical crimes at about the same time as these in question, some of which occurred after Bower was in custody; b) the possible mis-identification of Bower as the perpetrator of these crimes by the victims; c) the lack of a propensity or any other prior indicator that Bower was inclined to commit offenses of a sexual nature; and d) the probability that Bower had an alibi for the nights in question.”
“In light of these factors, I urge the Parole Board to grant Mr. Bower parole at its earliest convenience,” Schellhammer adds, noting that Bower’s is the only case to date that his office, which was created in 2012, has asked the Parole Board to consider granting parole to an inmate. “As a prosecutor, I am aware of the elements that the Parole Board looks to when considering granting parole, and I am aware that Bower has never fully accepted responsibility for these crimes. Considering what the Bureau has learned about the facts of these crimes, I believe there is ample reason for Bower not to do so. In any event, given that Bower has now been incarcerated for twenty years, I believe that society’s best interests are served by granting him parole.”
The Parole Board at Clinton Correctional Facility, however, did not grant Bower’s freedom without first blasting the Attorney General’s Office at Bower’s Jan. 21, 2014 parole board hearing for putting them in the uncomfortable position of releasing a convicted sex offender and for failing to seek full exoneration.
“JUST DISMISS THESE CHARGES”
“I am greatly disturbed that a prosecutor—and unlike any other attorney in the system, not even a judge—a prosecutor is charged with doing justice,” slammed Commissioner James Ferguson, according to a transcript of the proceeding. “That means doing the right thing. If they feel so strongly about this, I’m shocked and dismayed that they have not had—let me say it politely—the fortitude to come forward and just dismiss these charges.
“Instead, they’re trying to convince the Parole Board to take the responsibility for releasing you on a pretty egregious offense because they don’t have—again, I’ll say it politely—the fortitude to come forward and basically release you or dismiss the charges or petition the court for your release,” he told Bower. “So that’s to me very disappointing.”
“I am dismayed, if they feel so strongly, they have not taken their own action to secure your release, hoping that the Parole Board would give this weight to the letter that they have submitted and make a decision,” Ferguson reiterated.
Commissioner Lisa Beth Elovich also weighed in, taking additional aim at Nassau and Queens district attorneys’ offices.
“I too as a former prosecutor and someone that’s been involved in the criminal justice system for 23 years, find this shocking and I find this very, very disturbing the way this has been handled by the judicial system, the DA’s office, and anyone else involved in this,” she said. “What they are virtually doing is putting the Parole Board in a terrible position because as a Parole Board, we are charged to assume that the person that is in prison is guilty of what they’re in prison for because we do not have the resources to retry a case.
“We don’t have the witnesses—we don’t have sworn witnesses, we don’t have documentation, we don’t have the evidence, we can’t cross-examine people. We don’t have any of those things at our disposal,” Elovich continued. “So there is a reason why we don’t retry a case. The District Attorney’s Office, however, has those resources in terms of what they have as sworn testimony, documentation, evidence.
“So the fact that the DA’s office and all other prosecuting entities that have been involved in this have not taken a stand either way, to go ahead and say that this person is not guilty of what they’re in here for, I find that extremely disturbing,” she told Bower, “and the fact that an Attorney General…would personally write a letter saying that they feel that you are not guilty of the crime that you’re in here for and their only recourse they think is the Parole Board to release you, is a very deep concern. I don’t understand why this would not have been taken to a judge or some other judicial forum that would have the authority to release you based on lack of evidence or any other reason they can think of why you would not be guilty of what you’re in here for.
“It does put the Parole Board in a very bad position.”
Nassau and Queens prosecutors are also perturbed. Neither were copied on the Attorney General’s letter or apprised of the office’s conclusions, writes Nassau County Chief Assistant District Attorney Madeline Singas in a Feb. 28, 2014 letter to Chief Deputy Attorney General Harlan Levy, Esq. Neither were contacted by the Attorney General’s Office in order to review Bower’s files, either, she contends—a claim that Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office “vigorously disputes,” according to the New York Law Journal, which published an article about Bower and his release in their most recent issue.
“While we applaud the Attorney General’s creation of this new bureau, it is troubling that this review was undertaken without a review of the case files held by the District Attorneys of Queens or Nassau County,” she blasts. “Mr. Schellhammer’s letter to the Parole Board contains a single paragraph to support his conclusion that ‘it appears highly unlikely that Bower committed the crimes for which he was convicted.’ While those claims of innocence have been substantially reviewed and rejected by the prior Nassau County District Attorney’s administration, the Queens District Attorney’s Office, and examined and rejected by both state and federal courts, this office is prepared to fully re-examine this case immediately if warranted.
“Thus far, when we have asked to provide the office with any new or exculpatory evidence in order to facilitate any appropriate release of Mr. Bower from custody, you have declined to do so,” Singas continues. “Once again, I respectfully request that your office immediately share with us the evidence that supports the findings outlined in Mr. Schellhammer’s letter.”
Bower, whose horrific tours around the most brutal prisons throughout the state—Auburn, Gowanda, Green Haven, Sullivan, Clinton—have wrought him and his family immeasurable pain and anguish, told the Parole Board at his hearing that: “I’ve been crying almost every day.”
“I’m innocent!” he told this reporter, his eyes welling up with tears during a jailhouse interview at one of those hellish facilities. “You have to believe me… I never hurt anyone.”
Gary Melius exited a side door of his palatial mansion estate and entered his Mercedes-Benz parked in its back courtyard.
It was about 12:30 p.m., a Monday, and the developer-turned-owner of Oheka Castle—a historic 127-room French-style chateau tucked behind rolling hills and residential homes in Huntington—was reportedly about to meet his pal, former U.S. Sen. Al D’Amato, for lunch.
A lone masked shooter blasted through the car window and struck the 69-year-old in the head before speeding away, reportedly in a Jeep Cherokee. Bleeding profusely, Melius stumbled back toward the castle. His daughter rushed him to Syosset Hospital. Later he was transferred to North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in Manhasset, where Melius underwent surgery for what police described as a “penetrating head wound.”
Once Melius was in stable condition, a who’s-who of local politics have been visiting him in the hospital in a show of support—D’Amato, of course, plus former Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, among others.
Who shot Melius and why? The power-broker castle owner is a politically connected developer who frequently hosts lavish luncheons, formal dinners, cigar-filled poker games and a variety of other galas at Oheka, the former opulent residence of financier Otto Kahn. Officials from both sides of the political aisle have often been his guests. D’Amato told reporters gathered at the hospital that the shooting was an “assassination” attempt. Was it related to politics, as one source with close ties to Melius who did not want his name used adamantly tells the Press? Was the hit related to the castle’s multi-layered financing? Melius’ myriad business dealings? Or was the gunman simply a disgruntled employee of the Gold Coast castle?
One thing’s for sure: Someone wants Gary Melius dead.
Melius may be the proprietor of one of Long Island’s glitziest estates from the Gold Coast era, but in dress and demeanor he always strikes a very down-to-Earth pose as befits his roots as a kid from Queens.
In the hallowed halls of this ornately refurbished mansion-turned-luxury hotel, catering and wedding hall, Melius would often be spotted without a tie and wearing blue jeans. At the “power lunches” he’d host in the mahogany-paneled dining room with an assortment of Long Island luminaries and wanna-bes—like New York Giants football stars showing off their heavy Super Bowl rings to enterprising businesswomen showing off their décolletage—Melius would not put on airs or adopt an attitude. He’d take a seat at the polished table, hang out and listen, and if the topic could include his pet politics, the Independence Party, he’d be grateful and never preach. He’d make his case that the two major parties had failed the republic and then move on. And if there were a pressing problem requiring immediate attention, he’d be the first one to be hands-on, as you’d expect from a guy who once was a plumber, long before he became the king of the castle.
But even Oheka—which borrows from the name of its originator, Otto Herman Kahn—has had some interesting reincarnations, too. The financier had created the 109,000-square-foot manor in 1919. Orson Welles used its exterior to shoot some scenes there in 1940 for his American classic Citizen Kane.
Melius, who’d worked as a bowling alley pin setter and a plumber’s helper before striking it rich in real estate, acquired the property in 1984 for $1.5 million and reportedly contemplated tearing it down because vandals had had the run of the place for several years. He stuck with it but the costs of renovation were steep, and so in 1988 he sold Oheka to a Japanese businessman for $22 million. But something about the castle must have had a deep hold on him because he could not walk away from it. By 2003 he was its rightful owner again, having bought it back for $30 million and spending almost an equal amount over the years on its upkeep and restoration.
Melius once was nearly $6 million in debt, according to the Daily News, and owed the Trump Taj Mahal some $100,000 in 1992. He had also faced three criminal convictions as a younger man, according to the paper.
Melius has clearly gambled his life on Oheka Castle. He reportedly renegotiated its $27.9-million mortgage last August and had defaulted on the loan in 2012.
But at Mangano’s second inauguration, Melius was basking on stage as one of the honored guests seated in rows behind the podium, where he chatted with Congressman Steve Israel (D-Huntington). Not bad for a guy who’d bankrolled the entire losing campaign of Mangano’s supposed opponent, Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick, for $23,000.
Throughout the years Melius has been impartial in his campaign contributions, doling out hundreds of thousands of dollars to politicians without party preference, according to state finance records.
Melius’ political dealings have also resulted in some controversy.
It was Melius’ call to former Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Dale requesting Randy White, a Roosevelt resident, be charged with perjury in an election lawsuit that made headlines last December—resulting in White’s arrest and Dale’s resignation following a Nassau County District Attorney probe that ultimately cleared the developer, Dale and Mangano of criminality, but infuriated Nassau Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs for giving the Mangano administration a pass.
Following a 911 call to police, officers, dogs and a police helicopter descended on the estate. Authorities set up “informational checkpoints,” interviewing passing motorists and anyone else who might have seen something useful. They have reviewed the castle’s video surveillance footage, but it reportedly did not catch the face of the would-be killer.
They’ve vowed to investigate “every aspect” of Melius’ life. The 69-year-old went into shock immediately after he was shot and his recollection of the shooting are hazy, police say.
To enter from the castle’s main entrance, visitors must follow a long winding road and pass through a gated driveway equipped with surveillance cameras. The employees’ entrance at the rear of the property, however, has no such security—and provides a quicker exit.
The FBI has also offered assistance, an agency spokesperson tells the Press.
Melius remains concerned for his welfare and that of his family, telling investigators he has no idea who is behind the hit.
Politicians from both parties have sent well-wishes to the wounded power broker, including those who’ve clashed with him, like Nassau Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs.
“The whole thing is awful,” Jacobs told the Press shortly after the shooting. “I’ve had my differences with Gary politically but this is really just a tremendously awful act… I hope that he does well and pulls through this. My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.
“This is shocking and sickening,” he added.
Independence Party Chairman Frank Mackay, a close confidante of Melius, was in Louisiana with his family when the shooting occurred and was almost overcome with worry. “I think he’s going to make it!” he told the Press when he was reached. “Thank God!”
A day after the attack, Melius posted a statement on Oheka’s Facebook page, thanking those who have offered prayers and expressing his desire to return to the castle and to get back to work.
“If this near- death experience has done anything it is a reminder to live each day, celebrate life and embrace your family. I happen to be blessed with a very very large extended family who rallied to my side during the past 24 hours. God bless you all.”
As of press time, there had been no suspects named nor arrests made in the case. What is known, is that the king and his castle will never be the same.
• Crime Lab Misdeeds Have Cost Taxpayers More Than $2.4M
• County Still At Least Year And Half From Opening New Lab And Ending Fiscal Bleeding
• D.A. Caught By Surprise, Seeks Review after Being Informed by the Press
• Outraged Lawmakers Demand Hearings Upon Learning Latest Revelations
An analyst falls through the floor while testing evidence to be used in a criminal case, his legs literally dangling through the ceiling of the work stations below. An inspector notes that a steel escape ladder, ordered to be installed three years earlier as an emergency exit since the laboratory only has one entrance, sits unopened in a box on the floor, for just as long—the noncompliance simply copied and added to his new report. Analysts testing MDMA, aka ecstasy, fuddle through tests determining the criminal sentences of defendants.
These were but a few of the daily, costly antics that took place at the Nassau County Police Department (NCPD) Crime Lab—where drugs were tested, fingerprints analyzed and blood and ballistics work conducted, with the results used by prosecutors of the Nassau District Attorney’s Office in criminal cases. Shuttered since February 2011, much of this all-important testing, along with the re-testing of thousands of cases, were outsourced, with Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and District Attorney Kathleen Rice pledging to already cash-strapped taxpayers that they wouldn’t be charged “one single penny” for the misdeeds—of which two police commissioners, two county executives and prosecutors claim they were absolutely clueless about its persistent problems until inspectors stripped the lab of its accreditation three years ago.
The Long Island Press has now learned that despite assurances from county officials to the contrary, Nassau taxpayers have unknowingly been paying millions of dollars as a consequence of the years of lax oversight, mismanagement, neglect and/or willful ignorance at the county-run police crime laboratory and will continue to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars more because of these improprieties far into the foreseeable future.
These are just some of the newest revelations in this infamously eye-opening, disgraceful and continuing saga.
Upon being informed by the Press of the hefty switcheroo onto taxpayers’ backs, a taken-by-surprise District Attorney Rice is calling for a review by Mangano.
“After the Nassau County Police Department crime lab was shuttered at my insistence due to inexcusable errors, the Department committed to using funds forfeited by criminals—not taxpayer dollars—to pay for retesting costs,” says Rice in a statement. “If the Police Department has done otherwise, I encourage the County Executive to review this matter and ensure that taxpayers are not affected.”
Team Mangano refused to comment for this story, instead, the county executive’s senior policy advisor Brian Nevin referred all inquiries to First Deputy Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter.
“The county wanted to ensure that all necessary testing was conducted,” explains Krumpter. “The testing was significantly more extensive then was originally anticipated.”
The closing of the troubled, yet oh-so-critical crime lab by Mangano in February 2011 at the behest of Nassau District Attorney Rice followed a scathing November 2010 report by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD/LAB). The Missouri-based nonprofit, responsible for ensuring public and private forensic science labs around the world comply with universally accepted accrediting standards, had discovered 26 areas of noncompliance—including 15 deemed “essential” and 10 “important”—and placed the lab on probation.
It was the second time in four years the laboratory was put on probation, the first being in 2006; the crime lab has been cited by the group for myriad improprieties each year since it began inspections there in 2003, and Nassau remains the first and only such municipality in the nation to hold such dubious distinctions.
As reported by the Press in a July 2011 expose titled “What A Mess,” the ASCLD/LAB report painted a hellish portrait of the critically-important facility, among its findings: that evidence sat unmarked and lacking the proper seals designed to protect its integrity; evidence was mishandled, improperly stored and safeguarded; internal audits ensuring the lab’s compliance with accreditation standards were never conducted; control and standard samples mandated for use and documentation to ensure the validity of examination results were not utilized; equipment and instrumentation were not calibrated and documentation lacked the necessary oversight used to identify exactly who conducted the tests, among a long laundry list of other damning problems.
The consequences of the lab’s closure have been unprecedented. Rice ordered sample evidence in about 3,000 felony drug cases dating back to 2007 to be retested by Willow Grove, Penn.-based laboratory The National Medical Services (NMS). Rice’s spokesman at the time, John Byrne, told the Press that because each felony case involved multiple samples, the total number required to be retested could “go into the hundreds of thousands.”
The county Medical Examiner’s Office (MEO) took over some of the NCPD crime lab’s functions and is currently accredited in biology (body fluid identification and DNA testing) and latent print comparisons (performing analysis and comparison of fingerprints), according to assistant director and quality manager of the MEO Karen Dooling. This lab will be applying to extend its accreditation scope to include drug chemistry (controlled substance and quantitative analysis), fire debris and latent print processing “mid-year 2014 dependent upon some facility issues that need to be resolved,” she says, adding that if they “make application mid-year, I anticipate we would be accredited in those areas by fall/winter 2014.”
“The remainder of the anticipated disciplines Firearms/Toolmarks and Digital Evidence,” she continues, “will not move forward until we are in the new crime lab facility unless additional space becomes available.”
That “new crime lab facility”—something in the works in one stage or another for at least a decade, according to Krumpter—is still yet-to-be constructed and will be located in New Cassel.
Krumpter puts the timetable for construction of this new facility at about August 2015, explaining: “The Nassau County Legislature has approved bonding and the construction budget. The contract is completing the routing process. The construction is slated to commence in February and be completed 18 months from the start date. Bonds for the new facility are issued as the money is needed.”
In the wake of its closure, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered an investigation into the lab by Inspector General Eileen Biben, whose probe included the review of tens of thousands of emails and documents and more than 100 interviews. Ultimately, its 184-page November 2011 report discovered “systemic problems” yet failed to hold a single person accountable.
Former County Executive Tom Suozzi, Rice, Mangano and former Nassau County Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey all told investigators they were absolutely clueless about the facility’s myriad problems—despite many of its ailments’ stark visibility and, in the case of Mulvey, a deputy chief of detectives telling investigators he’d hand-delivered the commissioner a report about the lab’s many issues.
In fact, much of the mess was pretty much impossible to miss.
“’There has been a problem with water seeping through the floor in the Firearms Sections Lab which is in the basement of police headquarters,’” reads Biben’s report, citing a previous inspection’s findings. “’This has caused the relocation of two comparison microscopes to laboratory space on the second floor. Examiners must frequently go back and forth between the firearms lab in the basement and the location of the scopes in order to complete their analytical assignments.’
“Sgt. Robert Nemeth, the longtime Firearms Section Supervisor, testified that the water problem had persisted unattended for years,” it continues. “At one point, the floor had rotted to the extent that one analyst fell through the floor. When Nemeth brought the dire situation to the attention of the chiefs, he was told ‘to do more with less.’”
Biben also ordered an expanded review of the lab’s results, since “an extensive retesting plan of the lab’s drug chemistry results revealed preliminary results that found inconsistencies in at least 10 percent of the cases.” The police department tells the Press that every felony case and every misdemeanor case from 2007 through 2010 were submitted for retesting.
A Mangano spokeswoman had put the tab for the retests as high as $500,000, to be paid for by asset forfeiture funds—monies obtained through the confiscation of proceeds or substituted proceeds of a crime, designed to take the profit out of illegal activities and strip criminals of their ability to continue such activities. These funds supplement, not supplant, a police department’s budget. Asset forfeiture funds cannot be used for things that are already budgeted. Such monies could, say, fund additional hazmat suits, bulletproof vests, the county’s much-touted Gun Buyback Program or even marine patrol boats.
In March 2011 Mangano and Rice touted this in a joint announcement, promising cash-strapped taxpayers who’d been financing the supposed maintenance and operations of the all-important lab that residents wouldn’t be spending a cent for its remediation.
“Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice and County Executive Edward P. Mangano announced today that the retesting of samples for approximately 3,000 felony drug cases will be paid for entirely with Nassau County Police Department asset forfeiture funds, not with taxpayer money,” pledges their statement [Read full statement below]. “It is imperative that we restore confidence in our evidence testing procedures and we will do that without asking the taxpayers of Nassau to pay for even one single penny.”
Not everyone was impressed—after all, those funds were intended to supplement the police force, and would have gone to other much-needed supplies and initiatives instead of having to be re-routed to clean up a mess which never should have taken place in the first place.
As David Shapiro, an assistant professor of economics at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, explained, just because the crime lab’s screw-ups were being footed by forfeiture funds doesn’t mean Nassau taxpayers weren’t still ultimately paying for it.
“It is not simply found money that they can say doesn’t come out of taxpayer funds,” he said. “It should be used to defray other unexpected expenditures, instead of being used to pay for something they should have done right the first time.”
“That’s robbing Peter to pay Paul,” blasted Joseph Lo Piccolo, past president of the Nassau County Criminal Courts Bar Association. “It doesn’t come from a tree. It doesn’t come out of the air. It comes from the taxpayers.”
The Press has learned that not only has the police force and Nassau taxpayers lost out on the benefits of nearly $1 million of asset forfeiture funds, but the county has also been paying for the re-testing and review of evidence with more than $1.1 million in police operating funds—in other words, a far cry from the originally anticipated $500,000 and exactly what county officials pledged they wouldn’t be using to pay for the preventable disaster, “taxpayer money.”
Additionally, taxpayers have also been footing the bill for “first-time forensic analysis of crime-related evidence,” as the NCPD explains it, to the tune of more than $1.3 million—$1,330,788.60, to be precise.
In all, the re-testing, review and new testing has cost Nassau taxpayers more than $3.2 million: $766,557 of asset forfeiture monies and $1,127,385.30 of operating funds have been spent, to date, “in support of this re-test and review program,” says the police department; and $1,330,788.60 in operating funds has been spent for “first time forensic analysis of crime related evidence,” states updated figures from the department, also compliments of county taxpayers.
And that’s not sitting well with some county lawmakers, who were also left in the dark about the public monies being used until informed by the Press.
“This directly contradicts what was presented to the legislature,” blasts a fired-up Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick), demanding a legislative hearing be held into the matter. “It’s like police overtime: It’s always well over budget and it always is in direct contradiction to promises made by the county executive’s office…in committee hearings.”
He bemoans the fact that the cost overruns will likely mean other county services will suffer, that the new lab was originally supposed to open this year, and doesn’t expect the legislature’s Republican majority to act on his calls for such a hearing into the issue, same as last time he called for a crime lab hearing, he laments.
“This is costing Nassau County taxpayers because the administration can’t run a crime lab and can’t stay within budget as to what it outsources,” he continues. “I could add this to a list of 10 issues that cry out for hearings that the Republican majority refuses to hold.”
“It’s definitely a revelation!” slams an equally surprised and outraged Democratic Minority Leader Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), who is also demanding hearings. “I wasn’t aware of this at all. I was aware of the $760,000, but the $2.4 million on top of that, I was not aware of that at all.”
“I know we finally got our act together to put together a [$40M] bond package to pay for a new lab, but this is taxpayer money that’s going to go out the window from this point until the new lab is built,” he continues.
Nassau Legislature Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) declined to comment for this story.
Krumpter tells the Press the police department cleared the use of the additional asset forfeiture monies to be spent on retesting with “officials in Washington” and that under asset guidelines, the department could not go back and obtain more funds, since at this point the money would be “supplanting nor supplementing” the police budget.
That left the county taxpayers having to pay the bill.
“It ran a lot higher because when it first started the scope was set at a certain level, and then as we got further into it we expanded the scope and then expanded the scope again of the retesting,” he explains. “So when we said it was going to be a half million dollars, that was based on a certain number of cases being retested. And then what we did was we went from a certain percentage of the cases to all felony cases, and then we went even a step further and we actually did a test of the percentage of the misdemeanor cases.”
“The asset funding request was based on an estimated number of tests (since then, the testing has tripled),” reiterates Krumpter in an emailed statement. “The testing was more extensive then originally anticipated. The spending was originally permitted because it was unanticipated and was not budgeted. Once the amount was approved, the department could not seek additional funding for the expansion of the testing. The use of additional funds would have created a supplanting issue. Asset funds must be used to supplement and cannot be used to supplant.”
Yet even after spending more than $3 million in tests and retests, a permanent, fully accredited crime lab facility is still months, or more likely, years away.
FAR WAY OFF
With the lab’s many issues so well-known throughout the police department for so long, as Biben’s report so clearly documents, formal architectural plans for a new facility date back a decade. Yet according to NCPD Assistant Commissioner Robert Hart, the job was only just put out to bid earlier this year.
The county Medical Examiner’s Office will be responsible for running the new lab once it’s operational—though some critics take issue with this, too.
In September 2013, Rice’s office discovered that two blood alcohol samples in two DWI cases had been “switched.” They notified the lab and the lab confirmed its mistake. According to office spokesman Shams Tarek, “The lab caught the mistake right away after we reported it to them and none of those samples were used in any trial so there was no problem in that regard.”
He added that letters went out to a total of 31 attorneys notifying them of the problem and offering to retest the blood samples from their clients. Regulating agencies were also notified.
For Brian Griffin, a defense attorney and former chairman of the Nassau County Criminal Bar Association, that’s just not good enough.
“That is exactly the kind of stuff that was happening before,” he slams. “Here we have been spending this money and we have been assured that any new testing is going to be state-of-the-art, and is going to be the best that there is to offer and we are repeating the same mistakes again.”
“One wrong test is one too many,” continues Griffin, adding that the authorities explained the switcheroo as an isolated incident and insignificant. “This is not a high school science lab we are talking about. It is a crime lab, which cannot make these types of mistakes when the outcome is so very serious.”
Tarek says they are still waiting for the results of the retesting of some of the blood samples processed by the technician who made the error.
With no central lab in operation, samples are still being sent to private vendors and the MEO, leaving many to question what has caused the delay to fix a problem that the police department has known about for years.
Those decade-old plans for a new lab didn’t originally just call for its relocation, but for the relocation of all of police headquarters, explains Krumpter, who insists he’d seen such schematics with his own eyes seven years ago.
Between 2003 and 2004, the Suozzi administration sponsored a second plan that included only the crime lab and the communications bureau being moved, according to Krumpter. At that time, a new lab would have cost approximately $20 million.
So despite years of planning, Assistant Commissioner Hart agrees it will still be awhile before the county can rely on its own lab.
“So as far as new evidence that comes in, it’s going to be an extended process and the reason for that is everything that we are doing in the world of forensic examinations has to be done by an accredited laboratory,” he explains. “The examiner’s office, while they are accredited in the world of toxicology, DNA and latent, still has to go through an accreditation process for drug chemistry, trace evidence and things like that. That is something they have to do both with the state of New York, with the forensic commission and with ASCLD American Society of Crime Lab Directors.”
This accreditation, warns Hart, is not an overnight occurrence, but, in fact, timely and complicated.
“It is not something that you call and ask and say, ‘Come out and accredit us,’” he explains. “First, you have to establish your protocols, your standard operating procedures. You have to go through a lot of casework onsite inspections, and, as you’re going through all this, ASCLD is asking questions, examining what you submitted—your protocols, your mock casework results—and when they come and do an onsite inspection, they’ll go through everything and they will issue a written report. The best-case scenario is they find everything up to their standards. Sometimes they say, ‘You need to tweak this, you need to enhance this,’ and when that happens, you have to respond to them.”
And from there the tedious requisites continue, according to Hart. The next step is to correct what ASCLD found wrong. The lab has to then send a letter to ASCLD, carefully detailing the steps they took to correct any problems. Then, more waiting.
“ASCLD can take that written response and say, ‘That’s great, terrific, we don’t need to come back and do another onsite inspection,’” explains Hart. “Or they might say, ‘That’s great, we’d like to schedule another onsite inspection,’ and they will want to come back out and look at you again. It’s a very long, drawn-out, lengthy process, very thorough.”
This procedure has to be done separately for each accreditation.
Hart puts the target date for drug chemistry accreditation, optimistically, at sometime in early 2014. He declined to speculate on when the ballistics accreditation would be complete.
ASCLD’s executive director Ralph Keaton is not as optimistic. He estimates the average time for accreditation, once the paperwork is received, at nine months to a year.
Assistant Commissioner Hart insists the accreditation process will not be negatively impacted by the move to the new facility in New Cassel.
“That accreditation process takes into account many factors, including the site presently occupied by the lab in question,” he asserts. “The fact that the lab may relocate at a future date to another site need not to adversely impact or delay that lab’s pursuit of forensic discipline accreditations based upon its current physical locale.”
Not so quick, nor so easy, says Keaton—stressing that accreditation is “not automatic.”
“We have standards that relate to the security and control of access of the facility and flow of evidence and things that are impacted by the facility per se,” he says. “So, it is not uncommon that we accredit a laboratory and that laboratory then moves to another facility and maintains their accreditation. However, there are certain things that we have to verity that are in place before that accreditation is continued for that laboratory, and of course, security and controlling access to the facility are important elements, but also associated with that is the movement of critical equipment and ensuring that the equipment that is moved from one location to another is properly calibrated and verified before it is put back online. So it is not an automatic thing.”
Keaton says his agency does not want to shut down a laboratory because it lacks accreditation, but “that doesn’t mean that the laboratory won’t be down for a period of time while they are in the process of moving and setting up the equipment and ensuring that it is working properly, and that any new equipment that is purchased is properly calibrated and that they verify that it is working properly.”
“It is very surprising to hear that Nassau County appears no closer to opening up a new crime lab,” says Griffin. “When the old crime lab was shuttered, assurances were made to the public and those in the criminal justice system that the county would be opening a ‘state of the art’ crime lab in the near future. The fact we’re millions of dollars into this and no closer to getting a competent crime lab is a terrible injustice.”
—With Additional reporting by Timothy Bolger and Spencer Rumsey
Rice and Mangano statement titled: “Taxpayers Will Not Foot the Bill For Retesting of Felony Drug Cases”
Observations and Ruminations on L.I. Election Night 2013 from the Long Island Press News Staff
Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano clenched the hands of GOP party boss Joe Mondello and former senator-turned-lobbyist Alfonse D’Amato and together, from a stage at the back of a catering hall in Westbury, the smiling trio raised their arms triumphantly.
Cameras flashed. Chants of “Four more years! Four more years!” and “Ed-die! Ed-die!” engulfed the room. More than a dozen fellow county, state and federal lawmakers joining Mangano and his family onstage cheered, applauded and roared along.
“I feel so blessed that I’m able to continue in this job,” the emotional former legislator from Bethpage told supporters, one of whom presented him with a portrait in his likeness which Mangano eventually posed alongside.
It was a definitive moment for the incumbent county executive, the culmination of a months-long, hard-fought rematch against predecessor Tom Suozzi marked by finger-pointing and vicious rhetoric from both sides. Campaign literature from the state Republican committee had cast the Democrat as a sneering bank robber, transformed him into a Pinocchio and slapped him with a dunce cap. The state Democratic committee’s mailers were adorned with a winking Mangano alongside Sandy-devastated neighborhoods and an assault rifle, the massacres “Newtown” “Aurora” “Virginia Tech” and “Columbine” emblazoned from a revolver’s barrel.
And of course, both candidates made a whole bunch of promises to Nassau taxpayers. For decades they’ve been paying the second-highest taxes in the country for ever-dwindling municipal services, and thus, talk of taxes and spending once again became the signature of the campaign trail.
Election night is that special evening in which respective political parties throw themselves celebrations packed with hard-core loyalists and supporters while praising each other for the hard work they’ve all been doing throughout the year, their term, ad infinitum, and, of course, touting their values. The publicly financed officials typically wear their best suits or outfits, glad-hand and smile. They laugh, spout glowing sound bites, and then make more promises.
There are camera crews, live broadcasts, drinks, balloons, sometimes food, and most of the time, ballot results before dawn.
Election Night 2013 saw an island-wide re-election of the status quo, with both majority parties in Nassau and Suffolk counties retaining their respective legislatures and very little upsets. The Mangano-Suozzi rematch was undoubtedly the most-anticipated and most closely watched race, yet typically left out of most media’s election coverage are arguably the most telling scenes: the relentless bro hugs, the operatives’ rants, the felons-turned-county appointees cheering from the sidelines, the donors and the puppet masters out from the shadows basking in their own narcissism and successful spins.
The Mangano-Suozzi showdown had arguably been in the works since their last faceoff; a nail-biting squeaker in 2009 in which the former ousted the latter by a mere 386 votes. Their first contest was sealed, says at least one Mangano loyalist there that night, by Mangano’s chief deputy county executive, former New York State Assemblyman “Rob” Walker (whose first name is actually Richard).
As the tale goes, he allegedly awoke from a dream—or a nightmare, more appropriately—in which his boss had lost that election to Suozzi by absentee ballots. He consequently refocused all their efforts the next morning and the remainder of the campaign, the legend continues, on those crucial votes.
Prophetic vision or party-created mythology, it doesn’t really matter. Following a month-plus hand-recount, it came to pass—absentee ballots effectively deciding and dictating the course of the county for the next four years.
Suozzi had famously, or infamously, stated during his failed New York State gubernatorial primary bid against Eliot Spitzer in 2006 that he wanted to one day become president. He bode his time out of the county executive suite as counsel to Harris Beach, PLLP and senior advisor to investment bank Lazard Freres & Co.
That group consists of the company’s programming and media properties, including Newsday Media Group—comprised of Long Island’s lone daily newspaper, Newsday, the newspaper’s website and free New York City daily am New York. The group also included Cablevision’s News 12 Networks, which consisted of 12 local news, traffic and weather channels, and its high school sports initiative MSG Varsity, where Suozzi had a large supporting role.
Cablevision and its owners, the Dolans, have poured nearly half a million dollars into Suozzi’s various political campaigns throughout the years, including nearly $300,000 in his latest bid.
It’s these figures and his Cablevision payroll connection that Newsday repeatedly failed to disclose in its reoccurring endorsements and campaign stories until being called out by the Press, though these facts were not lost on Nassau Republicans.
“Since when do the journalists and the media who are supposed to be impartial—since when do they contribute hundreds of thousand of dollars to one of their employees that they don’t tell you about!?” blasted a fired-up D’Amato during a venomous anti-Newsday tirade alongside Mangano, Mondello and an army of Republicans lining the backroom podium.
“Dump Newsday!” Mangano supporters at Mirelle’s Restaurant & Catering in Westbury—Nassau GOP’s historic campaign-night celebration venue—chanted in response.
“Dump ’em!” sniped D’Amato, snarling that his remarks would never be broadcast by the live News12 cameras recording the event or the lone Long Island daily newspaper, and almost baiting them to do so. “Dump Cablevision. FIOS is much better and cheaper.”
“They are strangers to the truth,” he spit.
Arm and arm onstage with the smiling and victorious re-elected county executive, D’Amato, the founder and managing director of Manhattan-based lobbying firm Park Strategies LLC, which represents multiple clients who’ve received county contracts from the Mangano administration, made no mention of his company’s own financial connection, the more than $35,000 in donations state Board of Election records show his political action committee Renew New York contributed to Mangano in 2009 ($10,000) and 2013 ($25,300), nor the $12,500 those filings state he personally contributed to Mangano in 2011 ($2,500) and 2013 ($10,000).
But Suozzi, during his failed campaign, did do that, alleging improprieties. He also blasted Mangano every chance he could about alleged sweetheart deals to donors (government watchdogs refer to such transactions as “pay-to-play” schemes) in the wake of Sandy—though if Suozzi’s goal was to paint himself as somehow above such dealings, the former Cablevision consultant didn’t get the job done.
“Contracts are given to campaign donors all the time, and sometimes donors give you money based upon the fact that they want to keep a good relationship with the administration,” he said during a pre-recorded debate with Mangano that aired on CBS Nov. 3.
“Yes, I have,” Suozzi said of his own awarding of contracts to donors during his tenure as county executive. “It happens all the time.”
On Tuesday night, however, there was no talk of Cablevision or campaign contributions from the former two-term county executive down the road at his own ill-fated gala.
Death of a Salesman
Almost an hour had gone by after the polls had closed and Nassau Democrats gathering in the Leonardo ballroom upstairs at the posh Chateau Briand catering hall in Carle Place had nothing but candidates’ zeroes to contemplate on the big screen projected behind the podium.
Then the first numbers were posted, and with 23 percent of the precincts reporting, Mangano had a double-digit lead. There was uneasiness among some observers, anxiety on the faces of others, and scorn on the rest. Nobody stopped talking or laughing—or drinking.
Nassau Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs was asked about the early figures as he was leaving the main ballroom after making a brief round of TV interviews in the main room. He did his best to put a positive spin on them.
“Those numbers are coming from basically Republican areas,” he said. “I can’t say I’m optimistic, I’m a realist.” But he added that he hadn’t heard from “minority areas we’re counting on,” as well as North Hempstead town, which he thought would turn Suozzi’s way.
As he headed back to where Suozzi was ensconced, Democrats in the ballroom had something new to contemplate on the big screen: the unabashed jubilation of Nassau GOP Chairman Joe Mondello, Ed Mangano and his wife Linda, and a charged D’Amato. On the ticker at the bottom of the News12 broadcast being projected live were these words: “Mangano victory speech.”
The onlookers at Chateau Briand stared in various degrees of disbelief, shock and awe. Suozzi hadn’t even conceded yet.
“The Republican machine must be running better than ever because they know something that we don’t,” said David Mejias, a former longtime Democratic county legislator. “They know what’s going on in an election before the Democrats or even the people do!”
Later, Jacobs recounted, he entered Suozzi’s room and his staff handed him some updated numbers but there on the TV screen was a triumphant Mangano. The Dem Party boss was back in the ballroom within minutes, Suozzi and his wife Helene in tow, threading their way through the crowd to the podium, where they were greeted by a growing wave of applause.
At the podium, Jacobs—who filed complaints with state Attorney General Schneiderman’s office alleging fundraising improprieties regarding the aforementioned MetLife Stadium skybox—said that he’d seen quite a number of elections but “I have yet to see a campaign without the finality of numbers jump to a victory speech with such anxiousness as I just saw.” But he had to admit the election was over. His hopes that Suozzi’s run for a third term would succeed this time were dashed.
“If I have one regret in this campaign,” he said, emphasizing that he meant himself and not his candidate, “is that we left unchallenged for too long the misstatements and mischaracterizations of the eight years that Tom Suozzi served as county executive. He turned this county around; he put it on the right track! He had eight balanced budgets and 14 bond-rating upgrades! That means something.”
When it was his turn at the podium, Suozzi said, “This is a tough loss. It’s a tough loss for the Democrats, a tough loss for me personally…. We may have run a bad campaign, and we may have hit the wrong message, but we still have serious problems in Nassau County.”
Forty miles away in Patchogue, Suffolk County Republican Party boss John Jay LaValle, standing at a podium overlooking his team’s supporters, glanced over his shoulder at the scene unfolding on a massive projector screen, paused, and asked the room:
“Can we watch Tom Suozzi cry for a second?”
Suozzi’s political fortunes had clearly ebbed. In 2001, he’d beaten all-but-forgotten Republican Bruce Bent 64 percent to 33 percent in 2001, but lost by 386 votes to Mangano, then a Republican Nassau County legislator, in 2009.
This Nov. 5, Mangano trounced Suozzi 58.73 percent to 41.04 percent. More than 275,000 votes were cast out of some 900,000 registered voters, according to William Biamonte, the Democratic commissioner of the Nassau Board of Elections, marking an uptick in turnout from four years ago. Clearly not enough Democrats came to the polls for Suozzi, although countywide they now outnumber Republicans by 37,000 people, 361,570 to 324,210.
In the end, the almost 18-point spread in this matchup was actually greater than the results of the first Newsday/News12/Sienna College, which came out in early October and had Suozzi losing by 17 points. A survey conducted a week before the election showed Mangano’s lead narrowing to 52-41. But despite a flurry of robo-calls and an appearance from Gov. Andrew Cuomo (who gave a heart-hearted endorsement at a rally for all Long Island Democrats Oct. 26, tacking the former county executive’s name at the end of a long list of Democratic candidates), an appearance at a campaign fundraiser at Leonard’s of Great Neck by former President Bill Clinton, endorsements in The New York Times and Newsday, Suozzi could not recapture the executive seat in Mineola.
Tellingly, Suozzi’s margin in defeat almost equaled the 58.68 percent to 41.29 percent victory that Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice, the Democratic incumbent, won over her Republican challenger, Howard Sturim. The Sienna poll had predicted that Rice was “cruising” to re-election but that the race for county comptroller between Republican incumbent George Maragos and Howard Weitzman, his opponent, was “too close to call.” Weitzman had been the Democratic comptroller in 2009 whom Maragos defeated by 576 votes. This time Weitzman lost by 6 percentage points, 53-47 percent.
Taking his place at the podium, Weitzman told those still on hand at the Chateau Briand that in the last 12 years he’d won twice and lost twice, so he wound up with “a .500 batting average and that gets me in the hall of fame!” He noted that four years ago he was so ill he was in a wheelchair and needed the help of the Nassau County Democratic chairman and several others to get him up a ramp.
“Here I am on my own two feet, standing in front of all of you and getting all your well wishes,” he said proudly.
Weitzman afterwards said he had no regrets about how he’d run the race this time and that he wouldn’t have changed anything.
“Not one thing! Not one thing!” he repeated. “I couldn’t overcome a big Mangano win like that,” he lamented, adding that Mangano’s campaign mantra that he hadn’t raised taxes was “an easy message to put out, and it takes a nuanced message to explain that that’s not what happened. The voters chose the message that they wanted to hear.”
Same Old, Same Old
Looking at the election from a broader LI perspective, it’s hard to generalize. Democrats held their majority in the Suffolk County legislature, but slipped a seat there and in Nassau, although not enough to give Nassau Republicans a super-majority so they could pass borrowing without bipartisan support, which could prove interesting since the county is still run by the state Nassau County Interim Finance Authority due to its million-dollar budget shortfall.
Nassau Democrats didn’t turn out in enough numbers to help Suozzi regain his former office (or help his cousin Ralph Suozzi remain mayor of Glen Cove), but in the 5th Legislative District they “crushed the Republicans,” as Election Commissioner Biamonte put it, electing Laura Curran, Suozzi’s former aide.
Across the county line, Suffolk Democrats were celebrating maintaining their majority, even though they lost a seat left vacant by outgoing temporary Presiding Officer Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon) to Republican Kevin McCaffrey.
That one loss aside, there were some heavy hearts in the crowd at the usual election night party venue, the IBEW Local 25 hall in Hauppauge—a relic of the party’s relationship with the union forged by the late Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook), who died of cancer this summer.
“We miss him dearly…he’s left us too soon,” Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Richard Schaffer, who also won re-election as Babylon town supervisor, told the crowd. “But I know today he is with us. He is here and he is smiling down because the one thing he told me…was: ‘Rich, don’t screw up Billy’s campaign.’”
Billy, or as he appeared on ballots, William Lindsay Jr.—the former legislative leader’s son—won his father’s seat, allowing Schaffer to say he kept that deathbed promise, despite the extra low turnout of what Schaffer termed “an off, off, off-year election.”
Party faithful cheered when Schaffer announced that political newcomer Monica Martinez had unseated fellow Democrat Legis. Rick Montano (D-Central Islip), a renegade who refused to caucus with his party. They laughed when he joked, “We call her landslide Sarah,” referring to Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mt. Sinai), who narrowly thwarted her Republican challenger. And some rolled their eyes when he touted “another nailbiter” victory for Thomas Spota, the unchallenged, cross-endorsed Suffolk County District Attorney, who was re-elected but spent the night with the Republicans in Patchogue, where he trumpeted his own victory as “historic.”
So, in the end, all the predictions that this election would become a Democratic verdict on the federal shutdown perpetrated by the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, or a Republican reaction to the badly handled rollout of Obamacare, came down to the simplest of political edicts, attributed to the late great Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, that “all politics is local.”
Back in Westbury, Italian-American tenor opera singer Christopher Macchio joined the giddy Nassau Republicans onstage. With a pink handkerchief peering from his upper breast jacket pocket, he smiled before serenading the crowd a cappella.
“Are you guys ready for a victory anthem?” he asked.
Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano soundly defeated Democratic challenger Tom Suozzi Tuesday night in a heated rematch for the county’s top seat.
In contrast to their 2009 squeaker—in which Mangano ousted Suozzi by just 386 votes following a historic weeks-long recount—the Republican carried approximately 59 percent of the vote to Suozzi’s 41 percent, according to Nassau County Board of Elections Commissioner William Biamonte, winning by a nearly 18-point margin.
“I feel so blessed that I’m able to continue in this job,” smiled an emotional Mangano to a packed and charged room of supporters and fellow Republicans at Mirelle’s Restaurant & Catering in Westbury, the Nassau GOP’s election night headquarters.
He was flanked onstage by dozens of party and elected officials, including Nassau GOP boss Joe Mondello, former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and Nassau Legislature Majority Leader Norma Gonsalves, along with Mangano’s wife Linda, their sons and his parents.
“Four more years! Four more years!” shouted the crowd before chanting a deafening “Edd-ie! Edd-ie! Edd-ie!”
It was a much different vibe in the Leonardo Room at the Chateau Briand catering hall down the road in Carle Place, where the Democrats had hoped to host their victory celebration for all their countywide candidates, which turned sour quickly. Somber supporters and party officials watched in states of shock and awe as the big screen behind their podium flashed a jubilant Mangano hugging Mondello with a headline “Mangano Victory Speech’’ before their candidate had even a chance to formally concede.
When it was Suozzi’s turn, Nassau Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs led the former two-term county executive to the microphone alongside his wife Helene, where he told the crowd:
“It’s a tough loss.”
Mangano’s win was one of several for the Nassau GOP. Among them, Comptroller George Maragos and Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray were both re-elected and Republicans increased their majority in the legislature by a seat, according to Biamonte.
Nassau Dems had at least one key win: District Attorney Kathleen Rice was re-elected by nearly the same large percentage margin as Mangano.
A celebrity food critic’s husband is discovered slain in their multi-million-dollar Upper East Side townhouse, his throat slashed, butt cheek missing and naked corpse garnished in parsley, garlic and Parmesan cheese. The couple’s husky, Skippy, is guarding the body.
Enter F.X. Shepherd, pet columnist for the daily tabloid New York Mail, mistakenly sent to cover the murder by his Australian overlords/editors instead of the real cops reporter, who’s out on “holiday” and has the same last name. The request interrupts Shepherd’s chicken souvlaki lunch and kicks off a quest for the truth that transports readers on an inside tour of the salaciously cutthroat-bloodlust world of tabloid journalism and the grisly, backbreaking, raw shoeleather work of crime and court reporting in New York City.
Kieran Crowley, a bestselling author and award-winning investigative journalist formerly of the New York Post, knows the subject matter inside-out, having covered countless murders and trials and making it his personal hobby along the way to find evidence overlooked by NYPD crime scene detectives.
The man is a legend, a master of his craft, and Hack is a seamlessly flowing, imaginative translation of these realms, blended together in exciting, suspenseful and oftentimes hilariously moving prose that reads like a conversation while serving as engrossing fiction, compelling insight and eye-opening commentary. It’s a joy to read and captures the imagination from the start.
Crowley is not just a monster journalist, he’s also one hell of a storyteller. Nails it.