• U.S.

Giuliani: The Passionate Prosecutor

8 minute read
Richard Stengel

When Rudy Giuliani was graduating from Bishop Loughlin high school in Brooklyn, many of his classmates inscribed “Good luck in the seminary” in his yearbook. It was the natural thing to write; the high-spirited, high- minded senior, who started the school’s first opera club and idolized the New York Yankees, was planning to begin studies for the priesthood in the fall. But that summer he changed his mind and decided instead to go to Manhattan College. Although he chose not to become a man of the cloth, Giuliani found his particular calling anyway. After college he entered New York University law school, and it was there, as his old friend Father Palca puts it, that “he was converted by the law.”

As U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the showcase office of the federal legal system, Rudolph Giuliani, 41, has a mission: “To make the justice system a reality for the criminal.” Nearly three years into his four-year appointment by President Reagan, he has done just that by snaring high-living mobsters, low-life drug dealers, quiet white-collar criminals and loud banner headlines. Like Thomas Dewey and Henry Stimson, earlier New York prosecutors who parlayed their convictions into prominent national careers, Giuliani has become a high-profile, white-hatted gangbuster in an age when the public yearns for someone to prove that crime doesn’t pay.

A thoughtful, driven man who rarely sleeps more than five hours a night and resembles a quattrocento fresco of an obscure saint, Giuliani has put the Southern District into overdrive. Under Giuliani, the office has prosecuted three of the largest tax-fraud cases in U.S. history; he cites with satisfaction the $200 million settlement in the case of fugitive Commodities Trader Marc Rich. Giuliani asserts that the office prosecuted more insider- trading cases last year than at any other time in its history, a number greater than all the other districts in the U.S. combined. Last week Giuliani took the lead in investigating a burgeoning New York City parking-violations scandal that has been linked to the curious suicide attempt of Queens Borough President Donald Manes and threatens to entangle the highest levels of city government.

But it is the cluster of cases against the Mafia that is turning Giuliani into a national figure. His office is currently prosecuting three major cases, including the “Pizza Connection” trial, in which the American and Sicilian , Mafia are accused of importing $1.6 billion worth of heroin into the U.S. The jewel in the crown is the “Commission” trial, sometimes called “The Case of Cases,” which is set to begin next month. In what could be the most significant assault on the infrastructure of organized crime since the high command of the Chicago Mafia was swept away in 1943, the dons of the five major Mafia families that dominate the East Coast are charged with operating a “ruling council” that controls a variety of illegal enterprises. The case, which Giuliani will try himself, uses the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act to prosecute an entire organization, not just its leaders, and to confiscate its proceeds. “Our approach,” he declares, “is to wipe out the five families.”

Giuliani’s father, who ran a small pizza restaurant in Brooklyn and set about teaching his son to box almost as soon as the boy could make a fist, instilled in him a hatred of bullies and an anger at the way in which a few Italians had besmirched the name of a great culture. Unlike many Italian Americans, Giuliani makes a point of using the term Mafia. He has no tolerance for those who say it does not exist. “By using the word Mafia correctly,” he says, “you actually help to end the unfair stereotype. By playing word games and denying reality, you increase the prejudice. The most effective way to beat down the prejudice,” he says resolutely, “is to beat them down.”

Giuliani’s early glory days were the five years he spent as an assistant U.S. Attorney, beginning in 1970. His lapidary cross-examination of Democratic U.S. Representative Bertram Podell of Brooklyn, who confessed on the witness stand to conspiracy charges, and his relentless hammering away at undercover cops on the take established the leitmotivs of his career: the passionate prosecution of public corruption and organized crime. While serving a stint in the Justice Department during the Ford Administration, he completed his gradual metamorphosis from a Robert Kennedy Democrat to a registered Republican.

After four years in private practice, Giuliani went to Washington in 1981 as the Reagan Administration’s No. 3 man in the Justice Department, responsible for the entire criminal division, including all 94 U.S. Attorneys. He became a prime mover of the Government’s efforts to coordinate federal and local efforts to fight organized crime. To Washington insiders, it just did not make sense when he decided in 1983 to give up such a high position to return to New ) York as one of the prosecutors he once administered. But to Giuliani, it was like being executive vice president of the Yankees and someone saying, How would you like to play center field?

Giuliani supervises 130 lawyers, about 90 of whom are in the criminal division. For young attorneys, the Southern District is the place. Competition for jobs is intense; nearly all of those chosen made law review at the most prestigious law schools. Every morning at 9, the heads of the various units sit in green leather chairs around Giuliani’s desk, which resembles a display counter in a second-hand store selling Yankee memorabilia. Giuliani, his presidential-seal cuff links gleaming, his manner radiating enthusiasm, listens to each of their reports. The mood is one of seriousness seasoned by banter. At one recent session, the corruption-unit chief tells him that the state is thinking of bringing an indictment in a case that the Southern District has been investigating. “I think they should back off,” says Giuliani firmly. The head of the general-crimes unit mentions two cases involving drug dealers; one got an eight-year sentence. “That’s pretty good,” says Giuliani.

Rare is the day that Giuliani’s name does not appear in the papers. He is media savvy, not overtly calculating. He loves to talk (he does so with unselfconscious self-absorption), to expatiate in professorial detail (with the slightest hint of a lisp). He is also a modern haiku master who can distill a complicated answer into a crisp, 15-second sound bite. When necessary, he can be circumspect. After Giuliani testified at a recent hearing in New York on medical malpractice, one reporter tried to engage him in debate about the Mafia. He smiled mischievously. “Remember the rules. You ask the questions, I say, ‘No comment.’ “

Such discretion is an anomaly, say some critics. In his highly publicized indictments of organized-crime figures, some have been reminded of the Alice in Wonderland dictum: “Sentence first; verdict afterwards.” They suggest that he is a glutton for publicity, and that his press conferences are part of a political campaign, the office to be determined later. But Giuliani responds that it is not a crime to want to go into politics; anyway, that is for the future. For him, publicity is a necessary weapon in his crusade against organized crime, and a way to dispel cynicism about law enforcement: “The only way to deliver a deterrent effectively is to publicize it. I want to send a message.”

Giuliani believes that the legal system has come to favor the rights of the victimizer over the victim. “During the ’50s and ’60s,” he says, “we socialized the responsibility for crime. We broke down the line between explanation and excuses, and explanations became excuses.” The individual, he stresses, not the group, must be held morally responsible. “For purposes of ethics and of law,” he says fervently, “we elevate human beings by holding them responsible. Ultimately, you diminish human individuality and importance when you say, ‘Oh, well, you’re not really responsible for what you did. Your parents are responsible for it, or your neighborhood is responsible for it, or society is responsible for it.’ In fact, if you harm another human being, you’re responsible for that.”

The Commission trial will consume most of Giuliani’s time in the coming months, except when he is overruled by his wife Donna Hanover, an anchor on a local TV station, and their first child Andrew Harold, who was born last week. But Giuliani takes time out for the unexpected pursuit. Not long ago, he attended a memorial Mass for Roger Maris at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Giuliani was that rare thing, a fan who preferred the saturnine Maris over his more popular teammate Mickey Mantle. “Mantle was a better natural hitter,” Giuliani explains. “But Maris, a team player, always went for the long ball, for home runs.” The scouting report on Giuliani would say the same thing.

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