New York trial: flawed system blamed
The charges of municipal corruption in New York City reach federal court in New Haven, Conn., today, as jury selection begins in the trial billed as the main event in the city scandal. The indictment handed down by the federal court alleges that five men, including the Bronx Democratic county leader, were involved in a ``racketeering activity.'' Thus, the indictment charges, they were able to use the city's Parking Violations Bureau (PVB) for ``the corrupt profit of county leaders, public officials, private businesses, and private businessmen.''
The trial is being held in New Haven because of extensive publicity about the case in New York City.
The scandal broke here last January when the late Donald R. Manes, then Queens borough president, was found dazed in his car early one morning, after he had attempted suicide.
Several weeks later it was revealed that he was a subject in a federal probe into allegations of corruption at the PVB.
Mr. Manes, who did commit suicide in March, was named as a co-racketeer but not a co-defendant in the indictment, along with the former deputy director of the PVB, Geoffrey Lindenauer, who pleaded guilty to charges resulting from the scandal and is awaiting sentencing.
Last week, Mayor Edward I. Koch admitted that the city has undoubtedly ``lost some time'' because of the scandal, which he says came as a shock to him and others in city government. But in releasing his annual management report last week, the mayor said the scandal has not prevented ``enormous'' progress in city services, except that the city could probably have done even better.
United States Attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, who will prosecute the case, has kept quiet while preparing for the trial. This will be the first case that Mr. Giuliani has personally tried since he came to the US attorney job in New York in 1983, although he has been outspoken on issues such as corruption and organized crime. Adding spice to the trial, observers say, is the fact that Giuliani has a political agenda in addition to fighting crime.
A slew of reporters will be on hand in New Haven to record every detail that will emerge from both the prosecution and defense. Newspapers and wire services have frequently run chronologies, or ``rap sheets,'' as the scandal emerged.
Since then, investigations at the city, county, state, and federal level have been pursued. State and local politicians have called for reforms, and commissions have studied what went wrong and have proposed ways to prevent future scandals.
Stanley Friedman, Bronx Democratic leader, is the highest-ranking Democrat to be charged in the corruption scandal, and he maintains his innocence. Although other Democratic leaders, including Mayor Koch, have called on Mr. Friedman to resign his post, the former deputy mayor (under Abraham Beame) refuses. Last week he was reelected as county leader by local Democrats.
The four other men going on trial this week include former city transportation administrator Michael Lazar, former Parking Violations Bureau director Lester Shafran, businessman Marvin Kaplan, and attorney Marvin Bergman. They allegedly -- either through public position or bribery -- exercised control over the affairs of the PVB, and thus obtained money, ``other things of value,'' and revenues and contracts for specific businesses.
The indictment charges that Friedman used bribery and fraud in helping various firms get contracts from the PVB. He was a director and listed as the largest stockholder in one of the companies.
Since the scandal has come to light, several commissions have looked into ways to stem such abuse of the system. Recently a special commission to investigate city contracts released its report on what had happened, spurred by reports that charges of corruption in the PVB had surfaced as early as 1982.
In the hard-hitting report, the commission found that systems had failed repeatedly. The city's Department of Investigation ``did not adequately pursue'' information and leads relating to alleged corruption and other improprieties, the report said.
Investigation commissioner Kenneth Conboy said Thursday that the handling of the PVB probe was a disaster, but that the job now is to ``rebuild the credibility of the office.''