The New York Daily News by LARRY MCSHANE - August 12, 2009
The agency created to police New York's notorious waterfront was run by corrupt executives no better than head-cracking mobsters, a blistering state probe charged on Tuesday. The watchdog Waterfront Commission's top echelon misused Homeland Security money, kept a convicted crook in business and surfed the Internet for porn, the stunning 60-page report revealed. The misdeeds, while not exactly organized crime, were pervasive throughout the largest port on the East Coast. "This was a total agency breakdown," said Inspector General Joseph Fisch. "Instead of ridding the waterfront of corruption, this agency itself was corrupt." The report bore out many of the findings in a series of Daily News articles about corruption in New York Harbor, a haven for illegal activities predating the commission's 1953 creation. A year later, the Oscar-winning "On The Waterfront" brought the drama of the docks to the nation's movie screens. The report exposed a plethora of wrongdoing - from ordering cops to hold prime Manhattan parking spots for their bosses to providing police exam answers for a thickheaded would-be cop who twice failed the test. In one of the more stunning accusations, the commission failed to track $600,000 in Homeland Security funds - money directed to prevent another 9/11. Another $170,000 federal grant went to buy a patrol boat intended for "early detection of a waterborne attack." The craft was instead used to ferry VIPs during Fleet Week and other high-profile events, the report said. The findings led New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine to fire Commissioner Michael Madonna last week. The report cited five former commission bosses. All are now gone; Madonna's New York counterpart, Michael Axelrod, was let go last year, when his three-year term expired. The investigation began in May 2007 after whistleblower complaints, including information from a pair of top commission cops - Brian Smith and Kevin McGowan. Investigators soon discovered the commission had botched one of its major responsibilities: auditing and licensing the 50-plus companies doing business in the harbor. The failure allowed all companies to operate on short-term temporary licenses, while in-depth reviews lagged as much as 14 years behind, the report found. Such mistakes flourished amid the agency's "climate of abuse and lack of accountability," the report said.
General Counsel Jon Deutsch reportedly helped convicted felon Frank Cardaci keep open his port business despite his criminal past. Cardaci used his wife's name to run a waterfront warehouse. Madonna reportedly provided the answers for a police exam to James Sutera, who failed the test twice - and then scored a 97.5 on his third try, the highest mark ever. Sutera is facing criminal charges from the Manhattan district attorney in the case. Additional prosecutions are possible, investigators said. They could include audit director Frank Nastasi, accused of running a private tax preparation business at work - in between surfing the Internet for porn. New York commissioner Axelrod provided official "police" parking placards to his wife and a wealthy pal - former Morton's steakhouse owner Allen J. Bernstein. Lawrence Lustberg, a lawyer for Deutsch, said his client voluntarily cooperated with the investigation. "The report completely ignores his answers, and acts as if he never appeared," Lustberg said. "I think this was a witchhunt. I think they made up their minds ahead of time." Madonna did not answer a call to his New Jersey home. In the report, he blamed his boss, former Executive Director Thomas De Maria. email@example.com