• U.S.

NEW YORK: An Abrupt Exit for The Superprosecutor

3 minute read

In three years as New York State’s special prosecutor, tough, single-minded Maurice Hyman Nadjari has been both praised and damned for his relentless crusade against official corruption. To his defenders he was upright, honest and dedicated in his pursuit of larcenous cops, politicians, judges and even fellow prosecutors. To his detractors he was unorthodox, ruthless, overzealous, tyrannical and inept. Last week, in a meeting that lasted less than three minutes, New York Governor Hugh Carey told Nadjari to clean out his desk. For Carey, who is thought to be eying a spot on trie Democratic national ticket, the firing could prove a costly blunder. At best, it was badly timed and handled.

Carey explained that his decision followed a “perceptible decline in public confidence” in Nadjari. He cited “clashes in personalities as well as a series of adverse court decisions and rulings” against the special prosecutor. Indeed, Nadjari had been bickering openly with State Supreme Court Justice John M. Murtagh over a number of key indictments that the judge had recently invalidated. But Carey’s action came as a surprise because the dispute appeared to have been resolved.

Nadjari, 51, had compiled a reasonably good record. He became known as a superb prosecutor during 20 years in New York City and nearby Suffolk County before then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller named him special prosecutor in 1972. The post was created in the malodorous wake of the Knapp Commission hearings on official corruption in the Big Apple, and Nadjari was given extraordinary powers. A Democrat-turned-Republican, Superprosecutor Nadjari went on to indict 296 persons on various charges of corruption. He won guilty verdicts against one district attorney (later reversed) and a number of lesser government officials. No fewer than 500 other investigations were under way.

After Carey lowered the boom on him, Nadjari reacted with characteristic toughness. He refused to resign. Instead, he called a press conference and strongly suggested that Carey was trying to protect high-level Democratic cronies. These Democrats, Nadjari said, were the targets of a nearly completed probe into “the hard core” of corruption in the upper reaches of the justice system. Indictments in the case, he added, could be delivered this month. Said he: “The closer I get to the hard core—and I tell you that I am close, closer than I have ever been—the greater the abuse to which I am subjected.”

Leaked Evidence. The investigation in question centers around the selling of judgeships and other political favors. According to Nadjari’s office, one possible target of the inquiry being conducted by a grand jury was Bronx Democratic Boss Patrick J. Cunningham, whom Carey appointed state Democratic chairman in 1974. Nadjari also claimed that “critical evidence growing out of investigations into corrupt judges, public officials, elected officials and politicians” was leaked in recent weeks to “a political leader” by someone outside his office.

Carey refused to comment on the charges. His defenders emphasized that if he were trying to cover everything up or to protect cronies, he would hardly have chosen as Nadjari’s successor a man with an outstanding reputation for integrity: Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau. Even that decision, however, immediately stirred controversy. As special prosecutor, Morgenthau would be responsible for investigating all of New York’s D.A.s—including himself as well as the police upon whom his success so heavily depends. Special legislation may be required to allow Morgenthau to hold both posts. For another thing, only State Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz has the legal power to dismiss Nadjari. As of week’s end, an embarrassing legislative fight was shaping up.

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