New York corruption trial: inside look at patronage politics. Government's `star witness' describes kickback schemes
New Haven, Conn.
Geoffrey G. Lindenauer, former deputy director of New York City's Parking Violations Bureau, took the stand yesterday as a key government witness in the trial of five men accused of corrupting the PVB through bribery and kickback schemes. The controversial Mr. Lindenauer, who has pleaded guilty to racketeering charges, described how he received payments from defendant Michael J. Lazar, who represented a collection agency. According to Lindenauer, former Queens borough president Donald R. Manes, who committed suicide in March after the corruption scandal came to light, had invested $25,000 in Lindenauer's therapy practice, which subsequently failed. Mr. Manes told Lindenauer that collecting payments from Mr. Lazar would be a way of repaying him for his lost investment, the witness says.
The federal corruption trial, held in New Haven because of heavy publicity in the city, promises to include an inside look at New York City patronage politics.
On Tuesday, United States Attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani told the 12 jurors that they would hear a tale of ``the purchase and sale'' of public office, and of the specific acts of bribery and fraud that turned the PVB into ``an enterprise for plunder.''
Mr. Giuliani said that Stanley M. Friedman, the Bronx Democratic country leader, Lazar, former city transportation commissioner, and Manes were able to control the PVB like the ``outside board of directors'' who pulled strings on the inside. They allegedly used bribery to control which private firms received lucrative contracts.
Giuliani says Lindenauer ran bribery rackets, as did defendent Lester Shafran, former PVB director. Two other codefendents -- businessman Marvin B. Kaplan and attorney Marvin H. Bergman -- are also named as part of the bribery schemes.
The first government witness, Michael G. Dowd, a lawyer whose collection agency had a contract with the PVB, told of how he was extorted for money in order to keep PVB business. Mr. Dowd told the court he made between five and seven payments of $4,000 to $5,000 after being told he must pay five percent of his gross return on collection of parking fines. Dowd said his money went to Lindenauer and Manes.
The defense attornies, led by former ``Abscam'' prosecutor Thomas P. Puccio representing Mr. Friedman, were quick to attack the credibility of the government's key witnesses. Mr. Puccio, whose less-formal presentation had the court laughing on occasion, also made the most dramatic statement Tuesday when he said Lindenauer knew that if Manes was put under pressure, he would commit suicide, and that he ``manipulated Donald Manes to do precisely that.'' Puccio also charged that Lindenauer, who had a psychotherapy practice, engaged in unethical behavior with his clients under the guise of treatment.
Puccio contends that Lindenauer brought Friedman into the investigation because he had to deliver ``a big fish'' in order to cut a deal with the government. Puccio underscored his assessment of Lindenauer as a character without credibility during a brief cross examination of Mr. Dowd.
``Do you trust Geoffrey Lindenauer?'' he asked Dowd, after reestablishing that Lindenauer harrassed Dowd for money.
``No,'' replied Dowd without hesitation. Mr. Puccio sat down.
US Judge Whitman Knapp is presiding over the case in a courtroom crowded with press, defendents' families, and other observers. On Tuesday, even New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin, who broke much of the early information in the scandal, was forced to sit in the hallway during Guiliani's opening statements since there were no more seats inside.