Replacing Robert Morgenthau
By J. R. de Szigethy
Members of the American Mafia on the Eastern Coast are anxiously observing the race to replace Robert Morgenthau, the legendary Prosecutor who is retiring as District Attorney for Manhattan, a position he has held since 1975. Morgenthau has attained a record that ranks him as one of the most successful Prosecutors in U. S. history, and those who currently commit crimes in the Manhattan area are well aware that their very freedom depends on whether Morgenthau is replaced by someone equally up to the challenge, or by someone who through either corruption or incompetence will allow the Mob free reign over the Metropolis.
AN HISTORICAL OVERVIEW
The rise of the American Mafia can be traced to two key events, both of which were the unintended consequences of legislation passed by the U. S. Congress; the Prohibition Act, which in 1920 made illegal the manufacture and distribution of alcoholic beverages, and the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which facilitated the formation of labor unions within the workplace. Prohibition created overnight a national syndicate of criminals who manufactured, imported, and distributed alcoholic beverages to a thirsty American public, a syndicate which flourished through the corruption of law enforcement and public officials. The formation of labor unions served to create health care and pension funds which the Mafia seized control of as their own private “piggy banks.” These funds were stolen outright, as well as mingled via money laundering, through various businesses, some legitimate, that the Mafia used to operate their various criminal enterprises, including loan sharking, gambling, the distribution of narcotics, prostitution, and the production and distribution of pornography, including child pornography. Billions of dollars were to be made in the major cities of America, notably New York City, Boston, Chicago, and Las Vegas. Few public figures had the courage to take a stand against organized crime, but those few who did so became legends.
In Chicago, Eliot Ness of the U. S. Treasury Department led his team of “Untouchables” against Mob boss Al Capone. Ness’ counterpart in New York City would be Thomas E. Dewey, who in 1931 was appointed as a Special Prosecutor for the U. S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. Dewey created a sensation across America, winning dozens of trials of Mafia figures such as "Lucky" Luciano and heroin dealer Lepke Buchalter. The average Worker in New York during this time was weary of the effects of organized crime on their daily lives. Working people in cities controlled by the Mafia understood that they paid a "Mafia tax" on most goods and services, thus reducing their disposable income and standard of living. Dewey capitalized on the frustration felt by the rank-and-file Workers of New York, winning election as District Attorney for Manhattan in 1937 and as Governor of New York for three terms beginning in 1942. In 1948 Dewey ran for President on the Republican ticket. Most members of the Media expected Dewey to win, given his enormous popularity with residents of major cities victimized by the Mafia and their corrupted labor Unions. When Dewey's opponent Harry Truman went to bed on election night, Truman did so believing he had lost the election, given that the urban vote had been tabulated and was overwhelmingly for Dewey. Overnight, however, as the ''farm' vote slowly came in from rural America, the vote total shifted towards Truman. The Chicago Daily Tribune's front page opened with the headline "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN!" Truman had in fact won, and his Attorney General Tom Clark would not take on organized crime.
The next American to aggressively take on the American Mafia was Bobby Kennedy, who, ironically, was the son of a man who made his family fortune in part through the distribution of illegal alcohol during Prohibition. Determined to make his mark, Kennedy approached Senator John McClellan after the Democrats regained a majority in the Congress following the elections of 1954. Kennedy asked to be Chief Counsel on a new Committee led by McClellan that would investigate organized crime. The McClellan Committee became a national obsession, with Bobby Kennedy the star during televised hearings in which Kennedy grilled leading Mafia figures of the day, most of whom repeatedly invoked their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Bobby Kennedy taunted his adversaries relentlessly; during one such grilling of Chicago Mob Boss Sam Giancana, the wiseguy erupted into a nervous giggle, prompting Bobby Kennedy to taunt: "I thought only little girls giggled, Mr. Giancana!" Bobby Kennedy also aggressively pursued Dave Beck, Jimmy Hoffa, and Tony Provenzano of the Teamsters' Union as well as Mob bosses Joey Gallo, Carlos Marcello and Santo Trafficante.
In order to empower working people and their families victimized by corrupt Labor Unions, Robert Kennedy and his brother John spent two years drafting legislation towards this end. Congress finally passed a compromise Bill in 1959. Called the Landrum-Griffin Act, the legislation included provisions that prohibited individuals from holding office within a labor Union for a period of 5 years after that person had resigned as a member of the Communist Party and/or 5 years after being released from prison after a felony conviction. The Act also strengthened Freedom of Speech rights for Union members who dared to criticize Union leaders, strengthened the rights of members to sue their Unions, and compels labor Unions to file annual financial reports with the U. S. Department of Labor. Kennedy then wrote a book, "The Enemy Within: The McClellan Committee's Crusade Against Jimmy Hoffa and Corrupt Labor Unions," which became an immediate best seller.
Two short years later, Bobby Kennedy was the Attorney General for the United States, and would embark on an aggressive, unprecedented assault against the American Mafia. Among those Kennedy would recruit in this effort was Robert Morgenthau, appointed to the post formally held by Thomas Dewey, and G. Robert Blakey, who would go on to author the “RICO” statutes that have become the most effective tool of law enforcement in convicting members of organized crime.
However, the enemies of Robert Kennedy and his brother the President were constantly exploring methods of bringing down both men and their associates. Jimmy Hoffa, who had thrown the support of the Teamsters’ Union behind Richard Nixon in 1960, once again supported Nixon in his Presidential bid in 1968, even though Hoffa was in prison at that time. Once elected, Nixon appointed as Attorney General John Mitchell, a criminal who would later be imprisoned for his role in the Watergate Affair. As both Robert Kennedy and his brother had been murdered by the time Nixon took office, it was only necessary for the Nixon Administration to remove those “Untouchable” loyalists to the Kennedy brothers who remained in the government employ. Among them was the U. S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Robert Morgenthau. Morgenthau, who detested Nixon and his cronies, not the least of which were criminal lawyer Roy Cohn, did not want to go.
Nixon then forced Morgenthau out of office. Just a few years later, however, it was Nixon himself who was forced out of office, while his comrade Jimmy Hoffa, who had been released from prison by Nixon in 1971, was then murdered. Robert Morgenthau ran for election as Manhattan District Attorney, and, during his first year in that office, had the satisfaction of literally being the ‘last man standing’ in this saga. He would remain in that capacity for over 30 years.
Distilling a long and varied career such as Robert Morgenthau’s into a few paragraphs is no easy task. Here are just some of the highlights of Prosecutions by his office during his long reign:
BERNARD GOETZ, the “Subway Vigilante,” brought the plot line from the Charles Bronson thriller “Death Wish” to real life in 1984, when he pulled out a gun on 4 teenagers who tried to mug him on a New York Subway. The case was an international sensation, with a large degree of public opinion in Goetz’ favor in the initial months after the incident. Morgenthau presented the case to a Grand Jury, who refused to indict Goetz on attempted murder charges. As public opinion began to shift away from support of Goetz, a second Grand Jury was convened, which returned all the charges against Goetz. However, after a trial jury, Goetz was acquitted of the most serious charges and only convicted of weapons possession charges.
BANK OF CREDIT & COMMERCE, INTERNATIONAL The “Bank of Crooks and Criminals, Inc.,” as it was referred to was suspected of the laundering of drug money, the bribing of corrupt officials - even heads of State - involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal, and the procurement of nuclear weapons by the government of Pakistan. BCCI was investigated by State and Federal Prosecutors here in the United States, members of the U. S. Congress, and their counter-parts in many of the 73 countries in which it operated until it was shut down by regulators in 1991. The story was as complicated as a Russian novel, and it was difficult for investigators to determine who was a criminal and who was a spy, especially given that in some cases someone could be both. Robert Morgenthau seized onto this investigation, claiming that some of the laundered money passed through Manhattan banks, his jurisdiction. This case was just one of several in which Morgenthau would accuse the Justice Department of impropriety. What gave Morgenthau credibility was the fact that many of the targets of his investigation were stalwarts of his own Democratic Party, some of whom probably considered Morgenthau to be their friend. The end result was that almost no one was convicted of anything; banker Robert Altman, charged with lying to bank regulators, was acquitted at trial. Co-Defendant Clark Clifford was not taken to trial, the stated reason being his advanced age and health issues. Clifford made the famous quote to the New York Times about this case: “I have a choice of either seeming stupid or venal!” (Some believe he was neither.)
DC - 37 is a Union of Municipal employees in New York City. In 1999, Robert Morgenthau announced the indictments of many of the leaders of the various Local Unions that belonged to this District Council. In announcing the charges, Robert Morgenthau claimed that some male Union leaders had used Union Dues to pay for male prostitutes. 30 DC 37 officials would be convicted of crimes ranging from Union election fraud to the disappearance of $19 million in Union dues money, to a scam involving the purchase of Thanksgiving turkeys for Union members. The turkey scam involved "Wild Bill" Cutolo, a hitman for the Colombo Mafia Family and "Turkey Joe" DeCanio, the former driver for DC 37 boss Vinnie Parisi. In 2007, Alphonse Persico, the son of imprisoned Colombo Godfather Carmine "The Snake" Persico, was convicted by the Feds for the murder of Cutolo, who was Vice-President of Local 400 of the Production Workers Union. Cutolo was one of the key players in the Colombo Family War that raged in the late 1980s and early 1990s that left at least 12 people dead. Morgenthau’s convictions included that of Charles Hughes, who for 30 years headed Local 372. Hughes stole over $2 million dollars in Union dues, some of which was used to help finance his $400,000 home in Georgia, in addition to paying off his American Express personal credit card, as well as vacations for family and friends to Paris and London, and strip club excursions of his son.
ACTING LUCCHESE BOSS STEVEN CREA In September, 2000, Morgenthau’s office announced the indictment of 38 individuals and 11 companies on charges relating to labor racketeering. Among the Defendants were Steven Crea, reputed Acting Boss of the Lucchese Mafia Family, and Michael Forde, President of Local 608 of the Carpenters’ Union. However, Crea received a sentence that was denounced by Morgenthau’s office as being too lenient, and Forde was acquitted. Forde was recently indicted by the Feds in Manhattan on similar charges.
No public figure is ever without critics, and Robert Morgenthau has been no exception. Now that there is a political campaign to replace Morgenthau, his critics are not as silent as they have been in the past. Critics have accused Morgenthau of being a patrician who in his employment practices favors those, who like himself, are the scions of privileged upbringings. Morgenthau’s supporters would argue that these well-known employees are the exception rather than the norm in an organization the size of the District Attorney’s Office. Morgenthau has also hired scores of minority employees, including women, since taking office. In 1976 Morgenthau promoted Linda Fairstein to head the Sex Crimes Unit which oversaw the prosecutions of several high-profile cases, including the sensational “Preppy Murder” case of Robert Chambers, the “Wilding” trial of 5 teenagers accused of raping the “Central Park Jogger,” and the case of Oliver Jovanovic, accused of kidnapping and sexual torture of a woman he met in an Internet chat room. The 5 teenagers were convicted and served their sentences, yet Morgenthau eventually asked the Court to vacate those sentences after a man confessed to being the sole attacker of the Central Park Jogger, a claim backed up by the identification of his DNA from the rape kit. Jovanovic’s conviction was also overturned for the withholding of evidence by the Judge from the jury in the original trial of parts of Jovanovic’s emails from the alleged victim in which she expressed interest in consensual S & M sex, which is what Jovanovic had claimed all along. Jovanovic’s multi-million dollar suit against Fairstein, now a popular crime novelist, is ongoing.
CONTROVERSIAL CASES INVOLVING DRUGS
Morgenthau has received extensive criticism in Media outlets over his office’s handling of 4 cases involving drugs. Those cases relate to the “Purple Caps Gang,” a syndicate that sold crack cocaine to young people in Harlem during the 1980s and 1990s, a similar drug gang that called themselves the “Young, Talented Children,” who operated on the Upper West Side, the case of Peter Gatien, the owner of 4 Manhattan nightclubs that were drug dens during the 1990s, and the infamous prosecution of Lt. Patricia Feerick and 3 colleagues. In Feerick’s case, Morgenthau’s office made a “Devil’s Deal” with Ben Stokes of the Purple Caps gang. Caught with 591 vials of crack, Morgenthau’s office agreed not to prosecute in exchange for Stoke’s testimony against the “Feerick Four,” accused of an illegal search of an apartment in search of a stolen police radio. Stokes testified against the police officers, but continued to sell crack; a videotape would later be obtained by the Media which showed Stokes selling crack to a woman pushing a baby in a stroller. Lt. Patricia Feerick and her 3 co-Defendants were convicted and Feerick was sentenced to two years in prison, although Governor George Pataki would commute her sentence after receiving over 20,000 Petitions from New Yorkers on her behalf.
The Purple Caps gang was involved in the murders of at least 7 people and their cross-town counterparts known as the Young, Talented Children killed at least 8 people. In 1995 it was revealed in Court proceedings that a Police Officer in the 24th Precinct of Manhattan, Darrin Edmonds, had been bribed by the YTC gang. Edmonds had regularly tipped off the drug gang about impending raids, but just as he was to be arrested, his case had to be scratched when Morgenthau’s office learned that one of their Detectives, who had worked on the Edmonds investigation, was involved in a sale of cocaine with an undercover State Trooper prior to his assignment to the D. A.’s office. The Detective was quietly dismissed and the charges against him dropped. Meanwhile, Officer Edmonds, still free while the D. A.’s office pursued a new case against him, tipped off the drug gang as to the identities of two undercover cops, who then narrowly escaped being murdered themselves by the drug gang. In April, 1997, Morgenthau’s Prosecutors gave Officer Edmonds a plea bargain that only carried a 1-3 year sentence, outraging some who believed the corrupt and dangerous cop should have received a longer sentence.
The conduct of Morgenthau’s office in prosecutions relating to former nightclub owner Peter Gatien has also received extensive, negative coverage. Peter Gatien was an immigrant from Canada who during the 1990s was the most successful nightclub owner in New York. Gatien’s clubs were the Limelight, an abandoned Episcopal Church in Chelsea, Club USA in Times Square, the Palladium on 14th Street, and The Tunnel in the warehouse district of Western Mid-town. These 4 clubs quickly became the centers of drug trafficking to teenagers and young adults, several of whom died as a result of drugs obtained at these clubs.
There were also murders associated with these clubs. The first occurred on Thanksgiving, 1990, when Marcus Peterson, a Bouncer at the door of The Palladium, was shot by two men. Morgenthau’s office eventually put two men on trial, David Lemus and Omeldo Hidalgo, who were convicted at trial and given lengthy prison sentences. Afterwards, a New York City Detective approached Morgenthau’s office with information from one of his Informants naming 2 members of the man’s drug gang as the actual shooters. Morgenthau’s office determined that the witness was not credible. 2 years later one of the men fingered in the murder was arrested on other charges and confessed to the murder of Peterson, offering up information only the real killers would know. For the next several years, the two NYPD Detectives claim they were met with open hostility by members of Morgenthau’s office as they tried in vain to vindicate the 2 men wrongly convicted and put on trial the two actual perpetrators of the murder. Eventually, it was revealed that exculpatory evidence had been withheld from the Defense team - prosecutorial misconduct, in and of itself reasons for the overturn of the convictions.
The story didn’t end there. Morgenthau’s office assigned a Prosecutor, Daniel Bibb, to review the case, and this man himself told the New York Times he was pressured to defend the original convictions in Court despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Omeldo Hidalgo was eventually cleared by a Judge in the case whereas David Lemus received a new trial and was acquitted. Hidalgo sued the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and received a reported $2 million settlement for the 14 years the innocent man spent in prison.
Thomas Morales, who was originally implicated in the murder back in 1990, was finally charged in 2005. However, the Judge in the case felt compelled to dismiss the charges given the fact that Morgenthau’s office had sat on evidence for years implication Morales and thus deprived him of the right to a speedy trial. That same Judge, Bonnie Wittner, suggested Morgenthau’s office was more interested in preserving it’s reputation than seeking Justice.
No one in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office was prosecuted or sanctioned for their actions in this case, with one notable exception; Daniel Bibb was investigated on alleged ethics violations which could have resulted in disbarment, but he was not sanctioned.
THE CHALLENGES FACING MORGENTHAU’S SUCCESSOR
In addition to a legacy of accomplished prosecutions whomever succeeds Robert Morgenthau will face the task of “cold cases” of a significant number of murders never solved during Morgenthau’s tenure. This topic has become “hot” in recent years because of the hit television series “Cold Case,” in which in each episode an old murder case is dusted off, re-examined utilizing the latest in technology, and Justice is served, all neatly packaged inside of one hour, including commercials. In real life, it just doesn’t work that way.
Among these cold cases is that of Etan Patz, who was a 6-year-old boy when he vanished from the streets of Manhattan in 1979. Patz’ body has never been found and he is believed by some to have been murdered by Jose Antonio Ramos, whose defense is that he was molesting a different boy on the day Etan Patz disappeared. In 2004, the parents of Etan Patz sued Ramos in Civil Court and the Judge ruled that Ramos was in fact responsible for the abduction and murder of the young boy.
However, in 1996 Morgenthau’s office pursued a new theory that focused on men other than Ramos, who allegedly abducted Patz and murdered him in upstate New York. Most investigators, however, believe Ramos is the person responsible and are pushing for a murder indictment given that Ramos could be released soon after serving his sentence for molesting 2 boys in Pennsylvania. This case is a classic example of the dilemma often facing prosecutors, who are under pressure to resolve high-profile cases with little evidence, but at the same time recognizing that, as the old saying goes, they can indict a “ham sandwich” given the rules of evidence presented before a Grand Jury. While some investigators are certain that Ramos is responsible, there is practically no evidence available, other than alleged testimony of jail house Informants, which are notoriously unreliable given that they themselves are convicted felons, that could likely secure a guilty verdict in a Court trial. Still, all 3 candidates in the September Democratic primary to be that party’s Nominee for Manhattan District Attorney have expressed their desire to conduct their own investigation into this case.
Other cold cases that also may be of interest to whomever is elected the next District Attorney of Manhattan include that of Samuel Todd, a 24-year-old Yale Divinity School student who vanished on New Year’s Eve, 1983, and 23-year-old Cameron Jones, who vanished on New Year’s Day, 1993. Both men were from stable, distinguished families and had no history of a troubled youth. In each case, the young men became disoriented after ingestion of moderate amounts of alcohol.
In the past several decades, religious extremists have become a serious threat throughout America, but nowhere more so than in Manhattan, during which time over 2,700 people have been murdered in the name of religion. No religion is immune from extremists. Most people who practice Islam, for example, are non-violent, yet some who carry Islam to an extreme commit ritual murder by blowing up themselves and others as suicide bombers, or by flying aircraft into buildings. Most Christians in the United States do not bring poisonous snakes to Church, but in certain parts of Appalachia, this custom has occurred for decades. Most practitioners of Santeria, an Afro-Cuban religion brought to the New World by Slaves, do not murder other human beings, but some have been convicted of having done just that.
Nor is the issue of religious extremism a recent phenomenon in the American experience. During the 1600s, the area now called New England was ruled by the Puritans, who in retrospect clearly fit the definition of religious extremists. The Puritans were obsessed with the notion that Witches were in their midst, and during times of mass hysteria those accused of Witchcraft were submitted to various forms of torture. One such was a “Trial by Ordeal” called Dunking, a practice which was popular in Europe and England where it originated but was less frequently resorted to in America. Dunking was nothing more than a perversion of the Christian ritual of Holy Baptism, dating back to Biblical times when John the Baptist would submerse a person into a river in a means of both physical and spiritual cleansing. During the Dunking ritual, the accused was bound against their will and repeatedly submersed until they either confessed their guilt, which could result in execution, or until they drowned, which was interpreted as meaning they were innocent of the allegations. This sordid practice has been revisited in recent years, as critics of the controversial interrogation method known as “Waterboarding,” used by some members of law enforcement to extract information from Islamic extremists, has been compared to Dunking.
Santeria, which loosely translated from Spanish means, “Ways of the Saints,” is a “composite” religion by which Slaves from Africa disguised their ancient religious customs behind the “Saints” of the Christian religion which was forced upon them when they were brought to the New World. Most Santeria rituals and incantations are non-violent, although, as in all religions, there are fanatics who carry their beliefs to the extreme. Many such of these were among the “Marielitos,” over 100,000 Cubans dumped upon the shores of America by the Castro regime during the Mariel boat lift of 1979. Many of these were prisoners from Cuban jails, as well as inmates from psychiatric hospitals. As the Marielitos spread across America, they brought with them drug trafficking and other crimes committed in the name of their religion.
One practice of Santeria is animal sacrifice, most often that of a chicken or goat. In 1993 the U. S. Supreme Court ruled on a lawsuit filed by a Marielito Santeria Priest, against a Florida ordinance which forbid the practice as animal cruelty. In an unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the U. S. Constitution guarantees the right of citizens to practice animal sacrifice as part of their religion.
However, some Santeria extremists have graduated from the ritual sacrifice of animals to those in which fellow humans are murdered. This horrific practice was revealed in 1989, when a drug trafficking gang based along the border of Texas and Mexico, led by a young Cuban, Adolfo Constanzo, were brought down by members of law enforcement from Mexico and the United States. Constanzo’s cult believed that by sacrificing humans in Santeria rituals, their Deity protected them from detection from law enforcement. Constanzo used a copy of the movie “The Believers,” which depicted such acts, as a means of recruiting members into his religious cult. A common tactic of this gang was thus; members would scout out a bar, looking for a victim to target. A drug would then be secreted into the victim’s drink, which would disorient them. Once the ill young man left the bar, the gang would kidnap the victim and transport him to the gang’s ranch just over the border of Texas in Mexico. There, the victim would be sacrificed in a Santeria ritual, which would vary in method; the victim’s throat would be cut, as is the common manner in which a chicken is sacrificed, be hung with a rope around the neck, or he would be drowned by repeated submersion into a small cauldron, an “Un-Holy Baptism.” The Constanzo gang would then cannibalize the brains and other organs of their victims.
The Constanzo gang’s end came after they kidnapped and murdered a young man named Mark Kilroy, who was among thousands of young people from the Southwest who cross the border into Mexico each year during the annual tradition of “Spring Break” from their colleges, in Kilroy’s case the University of Texas. Kilroy’s uncle happened to be an Agent of the U. S. Customs Service, and once that agency partnered with their counterparts across the border, the Constanzo gang was apprehended. The body parts of some of their 23 victims were eventually recovered, including the spine of Mark Kilroy, which the gang intended to make into a necklace.
In the following 2 decades, members of law enforcement in Manhattan would face the challenge of solving crimes committed by practitioners of Islam, Santeria, and other religions, who took their beliefs to the extreme, as well as the task of solving crimes committed by “traditional” gangs such as the American Mafia. In some cases, these investigations overlapped. On April 28, 1990, a bomb detonated at a gay bar in Manhattan called “Uncle Charlie’s.” No one was killed, and investigators for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office would not know for some time that the person who planted the bomb was an Islamic extremist, El Sayyid Nosair. A few months later, on October 4, 1990, another crime was committed in Manhattan, the murder of Louis DiBono, an associate of the Gambino Mafia Family, who had the Contract to fireproof the buildings of the World Trade Center. That Contract was worth millions of dollars, but Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, the Underboss of the Gambino Family, at that time was in the process of murdering men such as DiBono, in order to take over their businesses for his own insatiable greed.
This murder betrayed a shocking gap in the Security in place at the World Trade Center; no video camera surveillance photos existed to document who was responsible for this outrageous crime committed in a public place, and no eyewitnesses or ‘ear witnesses’ could be located. Although this crime was eventually solved - Godfather John Gotti was convicted for ordering this murder, his son “Junior” now awaits trial for his alleged role - this event should have been sufficient to prove that Security measures at the Trade Center needed to be drastically improved. It should have been self-evident to Trade Center authorities that if a car could be parked for 3 days unexamined in a Trade Center parking lot with a dead body inside, such a vehicle could just as easily be left behind that contained a bomb.
A few weeks later, on the evening of November 5, 1990, El Sayyid Nosair, who failed in his attempt to murder patrons of a gay bar, would finally murder an American in the name of his religion. On that evening, the Rabbi Meir Kahane, Founder of the Militant Jewish Defense League, was delivering a pro-Israel speech at a public event at the Marriot Hotel in mid-town Manhattan. After his speech, Kahane was approached by Nosair, who pulled out a gun, shooting a single bullet into Kahane’s neck. Nosair then ran outside the hotel, expecting his accomplice, Mahmud Abouhalima, to be waiting in the getaway car. However, Abouhalima was not there. Instead, Nosair encountered a retired law enforcement official and a gunfight erupted between the two on the crowded sidewalks of Lexington Avenue. Both men received non-life-threatening bullet wounds which allowed for the arrest of Nosair.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office then put Nosair on trial for the murder of the Rabbi Kahane. However, despite all the eyewitness’ testimony and ballistics evidence, the jury inexplicably declared Nosair “Not Guilty” of the murder of Rabbi Kahane. Morgenthau’s office should not be blamed for the failure to convict Nosair; that fault, the Judge in the case publicly proclaimed, lay in the hands of the jury. However, Morgenthau’s office failed to follow this case to it’s best conclusion by incorrectly determining that El Sayyid Nosair was a “lone nut,” acting alone, in his murder of the Rabbi. In fact, it is now known, Nosair was part of an on-going plot by other Islamic extremists, led by the blind cleric Sheik Omar Abdel-Rachman, who were plotting to murder as many Americans as they could through the bombings of New York landmark buildings.
The evidence of such a plot was there all along, in the personal belongings of Nosair’s apartment, in which classified documents and other documents pertaining to terrorist bombs were confiscated after his arrest. The Blind Sheik was at that time plotting to plant bombs underneath targets including the World Trade Center, with Mahmud Abouhalima, his driver, among the accomplices. On February 26, 1993, these Islamic terrorists carried out the first bombing of the World Trade Center by parking a van which contained a bomb near the same place where Louis DiBono was murdered. As was the case in Nosair’s first bomb planted at the gay bar, this bomb also was not as powerful as they had hoped. Their intent was for the bomb to buckle the support pillars of the North Tower, sending it toppling onto the South Tower, destroying both and in the process murdering tens of thousands of people. 2 years later in Oklahoma City, Timothy McVeigh and his accomplices would prove that a truck bomb could in fact bring down a large building, but back on that day in 1993, the bomb at the World Trade Center only created a 3-story crater, killing just 6 people. Islamic extremists would later try again.
The office of Robert Morgenthau would next cross the paths of religious extremists of a different sort, but deadly nevertheless. In March, 1996, Angel Melendez, an illegal alien drug dealer from Bogota, Columbia, was brutally murdered in the Manhattan apartment of Michael Alig, a party promoter for nightclub owner Peter Gatien’s The Limelight, housed in an abandoned Church in Lower Manhattan. Angel was murdered by Robert “Freeze” Riggs, an avowed Satanist who clubbed Angel on the head with a hammer, bashing out his brains. Then, with the help of Alig, Riggs bound Angel’s mouth with duct tape and injected him with a drain cleaner. Angel’s original name was Andre, but Michael Alig “Christened” him “Angel,” after his favorite movie “Angel Heart,” an Occult-themed movie from the 1980s which centered on the kidnapping of a young man in Times Square on New Year’s Eve who was murdered in a Santeria ritual.
Angel’s mutilated body rotted in the bathtub of Michael Alig’s apartment for a week while Alig, Freeze, and another accomplice passed the time getting high on the heroin they stole from Angel. The murderers then dismembered Angel and discarded his body parts in the Hudson River. Peter Gatien then gave money for Alig to travel out West to check into a treatment center for heroin addiction, which didn’t pan out. Soon Alig was back in New York, bragging to numerous people as to how he and Freeze had murdered Angel. In the meantime, Peter Gatien and numerous employees were indicted by the Feds on drug trafficking charges. Almost all of Gatien’s co-defendants either pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial. Gatien was acquitted in Federal Court on drug trafficking charges, thus those following the case then turned their attention to Morgenthau’s office, who could secure a potential sentence against Gatien of many years for income tax evasion. However, Gatien’s criminal lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, a former Prosecutor for Morgenthau, negotiated a plea bargain which resulted in just a 90 day jail term for Gatien. This was seen as a slap on the wrist by many observers, including the parents of kids who had died from drugs obtained at Gatien’s nightclubs. The Feds then used Gatien’s guilty plea to income tax evasion as a means of deporting him back to his native Canada, where he is back in the nightclub business. One of Gatien’s former DJ’s at the Limelight, Cameron Douglas, son of the actor Michael Douglas, has been in the news recently, arrested by the Feds in Manhattan on charges of trafficking crystal meth and possession of heroin. The story of the murder of Angel Melendez was made into a movie, “Party Monster,” starring Macauley Culkin as Michael Alig.
During the course of the investigation into the murder of Angel Melendez, Morgenthau’s investigators uncovered substantial evidence as to the numerous young people who flocked to the Limelight who were involved in various forms of the Occult. As in the case of the Marielitos, many of these young men and women adorned their bodies with tattoos, which left a record indicating which specific religious practice the person was involved in. The ethnic gangs that sprung up on the East and West Coasts during the 1980s also marked themselves with similar tattoos, and also self-identified through the choice of colors of the clothes they wore, and were also known for the graffiti they created with spray paint to mark their territories. Gang graffiti became such a problem in New York City that today the sale of cans of spray paint is strictly regulated; stores that sell such merchandise must keep the cans under lock and key, there is a limit as to the quantity a customer can buy, and the cash register at point of sale prompts the input of information from the purchaser’s driver’s license.
It was against this backdrop of the crimes and practices of some young people in Manhattan that prompted members of law enforcement to examine a string of suspicious deaths occurring in 1997 and 1998. Patrick McNeill was a 20-year-old Fordham University student last seen at a bar on the Upper East Side of Manhattan on February 16, 1997. His body was later found floating in the waters off of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. His death was ruled an accidental drowning, although his blood alcohol level was not high. Police theorized that McNeill fell into the East River in the vicinity of the bar in which he was drinking. However, that area of the River is a New York City Park, surrounding Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the Mayor of New York. Entry to the River is precluded by a high gate, making it difficult for someone to fall over that gate into the River. Also, there are rocks jutting out at the base of the wall that holds back the water, the degree to which they are exposed depending on the tide levels. Thus, McNeill would have had to climb over the railing or be thrown over by others, descending at an angle that would propel his body beyond the rocks, assuming that was the entry point of McNeill’s body into the East River. It’s also possible that McNeill was drowned in a different location.
Lawrence Andrews was a 22-year-old from the suburbs who met with friends in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, 1997, but left their company after becoming disoriented. His body was later found in the waters off Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Andrews had no history of troubles and his family was not satisfied with the theory that he became intoxicated, walked across Manhattan to the Hudson River, and accidentally fell into it.
Peter Caragiulo would die next. The 21-year-old Brooklyn resident vanished on the night of March 11, 1998, after leaving a local bar complaining of ill health. His body was found deep inside a subway train tunnel almost a month later. His skull was fractured, and the only thing missing from his body was a gold Cross and chain he always wore around his neck. His family and friends were convinced he had been murdered.
19-year-old Joshua Bender, a Yeshiva University student, disappeared on the evening of May12th, 1998. His body was found in the waters off of Washington Heights on May 24th. He had not been drinking on the night he vanished. As in the other cases, his family and friends insisted on their belief he had been murdered.
10 years after these deaths, 2 retired NYPD Detectives made the stunning claim in the Media that the deaths of young men such as Patrick O’Neill were in fact homicides, based upon their investigations of scores of similar deaths across the Northern States of America. Found at the point of entry to the bodies of water where many of the victims were found was a specific form of graffiti, they have claimed. Some in law enforcement have attempted to debunk their claims, insisting that all of these cases are simply accidental drownings that the traumatized family and friends of the victims cannot accept at face value. Many family and friends of these men are angry at such dismissals, with some pointing to the case of the Constanzo gang as precedent.
Interest in these cases is growing; a website, “Footprints at the River’s Edge,” documents the background of many of these deaths, without taking a position as to whether the young men are the victims of accidents or murder. At least one book on this subject is soon to be released.
Thus, with public awareness of this situation growing daily, it is just a matter of time before whomever is elected the next District Attorney of Manhattan will be asked to re-open the cold cases of Patrick McNeill, Lawrence Andrews, Peter Caragiulo, and Joshua Bender, and possibly also the cases of Samuel Todd and Cameron Jones.
Robert Morgenthau’s legacy is secure; he will be remembered as one of the most successful Prosecutors of organized crime during the 20th Century. Now, in the 21st Century, his successor will pick up a heavy mantle and crime -weary residents of Manhattan will choose who that person is to be. Members of the American Mafia and other criminals syndicates are watching also, for whomever is chosen in that capacity will likely determine whether they will be brought to Justice and sent to prison - or not.
RELATED FEATURES BY THIS AUTHOR
THE AGONY OF ECSTASY: THE FALL OF SAMMY GRAVANO AND PETER GATIEN
A CHRISTMAS MURDER IN HOLLYWOOD
Additional Sources and Recommended Reading
1. In the Shadow of Justice, Dateline, NBC, 2007.
2. The Grisly Secrets of a Lonely Ranch
3. Man accused in terror plot bombed gay bar
4. “Buried Secrets: A True Story of Serial Murder, Black Magic, and Drug-Running on the U. S. Border, by Edward Humes. Dutton Books, 1991.
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