Ognibene, Stabile Face Separate Investigations
Ognibene, Stabile Face
The future careers of city Councilmember Thomas Ognibene and his chief of staff, Dennis Gallagher, were thrown into disarray last week when it was reported both are under investigation by the District Attorneys of Manhattan and Queens for allegedly aiding a building consultant in a series of illegal activities.
Another Queens Councilmember, Alfonso Stabile, is also under investigation by Queens DA Richard Brown’s office in charges unrelated to the Ognibene–Gallagher matter.
In addition, Ognibene and Stabile, both Republicans, have become targets of City Council ethics investigations ordered by Council Speaker Peter Vallone because of allegations emerging from the DAs’ probes.
The probes could seriously jeopardize chances of Ognibene’s appointment as a state Court of Claims judge. Ognibene has been a councilmember in Ridgewood, Glendale and Middle Village since 1992, Minority Leader since 1994, the second-ranked official in the Queens Republican Party, and with close ties to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
Gallagher had a good chance of succeeding the term-limited Ognibene, but now his chances for the Republican candidacy in the 30th district could be severely damaged.
An investigation wouldn’t hurt Stabile’s chances of winning the Queens borough president’s race. As the likely Republican candidate, Stabile, also prohibited from seeking re-election to the Council by term limits, stood very little chance of winning no matter what.
All three could possibly have more serious consequences to worry about as subjects of the twin DA probes.
At this point, however, it must be emphasized that neither Ognibene nor Gallagher nor Stabile has been charged with any crime.
In the case of Ognibene and Gallagher, allegations were made that they received gifts and vacations for their allegedly assisting a building consultant, but it has not been shown that they accepted any of these favors. This is part of the investigations.
One of the worst aspects of the revelations alleged against Ognibene is that he assisted the building consultant’s schemes to undermine the activities of the Department of Buildings, an agency which Giuliani has been trying to clean up for several years. Giuliani had been instrumental in having Ognibene elected Council Minority Leader in 1994, and the two had been close political allies since then. The mayor reportedly learned about the Ognibene aspect of the DOB investigation a few weeks ago.
Ognibene and Gallagher reportedly came under investigators’ scrutiny when their names popped up frequently on wiretaps of building consultant Ronald Lattanzio’s telephones. The taps were part of an investigation of the Department of Buildings which led to indictments last September.
The tapes and statements, made by Lattanzio as part of a plea bargain arrangement, indicate that Lattanzio asked Ognibene’s help, among other things, in getting Buildings Department approvals in connection with jobs being done by Lattanzio’s clients in the construction industry.
Gallagher’s involvement consisted of taking telephone calls from Lattanzio, passing the information on to Ognibene and at times returning calls to Lattanzio.
In return for their assistance, Lattanzio allegedly set up vacation trips for Ognibene and Gallagher or gave them tickets to entertainment events.
Gallagher was designated for the 30th District nomination by Republican officials and does not face a primary. His Democratic opponent is expected to be Elizabeth Crowley, the daughter of the late Councilmember Walter Crowley and a first cousin of Congressmember Joseph Crowley.
Candidate Crowley has been personally endorsed by the Congressmember and by Queens Democratic leader Thomas Manton. Her high name recognition and strong organization support give her an excellent chance of winning. But Gallagher, a 30-year-old attorney, has also built strong name recognition by serving constituents in the conservative area over the past several years. So the race bids fair to be a close election.
The investigation concerning Stabile, a councilmember from Howard Beach since 1994, involves allegations that he may have mishandled thousand of dollars in the 23 years he ran the Ozone–Howard Little League.
Also being looked at by the Queens DA’s office are several incidents involving the publisher of a Howard Beach weekly newspaper which first reported the Stabile Little League stories.
The publisher, Patricia Adams, 42, reported to police that she was threatened in a telephone call, the tires on her car were slashed and tampered with, and eggs were splattered on the car after the stories appeared.
HEVESI PAYS PETITIONERS TO GET SIGNATURES: We were surprised to learn that City Comptroller Alan Hevesi’s campaign is paying $10 an hour to petition gatherers to get signatures on petitions to put him on the ballot. We had thought that he had enough political organization and labor group support around the city to get several times more than the minimum 7,000 signatures required to get on the ballot.
Hevesi’s PR guy, Hank Morris, said paying for petition gatherers was the prudent thing to do because the Hevesi camp fears Republican hopeful Michael Bloomberg will use his billions to invalidate Hevesi’s petitions in court and knock him off the ballot. Bloomberg’s PR person said the financial media giant has no intention of doing that.
We think it’s a good idea to spend a few thousand dollars to insure getting the 40,000 or 50,000 signatures needed to be safely ensconced on the ballot. But we also think it indicates that Hevesi may not have sufficient grass-roots support to get what he needs, especially in view of the fact that there are four candidates out there at the same time looking for registered Dems to sign up.
In his home borough of Queens, Hevesi must compete with a fellow Queensite, Council Speaker Peter Vallone of Astoria, to get signatures, but the comptroller’s Forest Hills-based organization is probably as good as they come in this department. Besides, Hevesi, as the Queens Democratic organization’s designated candidate, has an army of petition-gatherers, some from every Assembly district, circulating the county organization’s petitions. This should be comforting to Hevesi.
Yet we’re bothered that he feels it’s necessary to have to pay workers to go around getting signatures. Perhaps he really has a need for them outside Queens, so he can show support from the other boroughs. In any event, we find it surprising, especially since his three opponents are all in the same boat and haven’t had to resort to paid workers.