Carl Kruger was crying. He removed his gold-rimmed glasses and rubbed his fingers at his tears. A storm had come on, and to escape the torrents of rain, we’d ducked under an overhang at the City Clerk’s Office in downtown Manhattan. It was only a short walk from the federal courthouse where Kruger was facing corruption charges that ended his ascent as an Albany power broker and could possibly send him to prison for the rest of his life.
The charges against Kruger were the culmination of a lengthy federal investigation: FBI agents tapped 30,000 of the state senator’s phone calls, collected over 100,000 documents, and snapped surveillance shots of his every move.
Kruger’s own indictment wasn’t the reason he couldn’t stop crying, however. The tears, he told me, were over the indictment of Michael Turano, a gynecologist who had been a surrogate son to Kruger since he was a young man and, over the years, according to the Feds, had become the state senator’s muse. After listening to all those tapped calls, the Feds described Kruger’s relationship with Turano as “particularly close,” one in which “they relied on and supported one another,” and noted that both men spoke nearly every day, sometimes in “baby talk.”
The cooing, however, wasn’t all that the FBI found. Over the past four years, the Feds had tallied the more than $1 million in bribes that had gone from lobbyists and developers friendly with Kruger into bank accounts Turano controlled. The bribe money was used as a kind of allowance for Turano, who used it to pay down his Bloomingdale’s credit card, as well as to pay for the lease to his brother Gerard Turano’s Bentley and renovations to 139 Bassett Avenue, a garish mansion on the waterfront in South Brooklyn that he and his family had purchased.
Despite directing where his bribe money went, Kruger never spent it or saved it. It was all for the Turanos, a family he had adopted as his own. Kruger seemed to live his life for them.
Kruger had been a king of South Brooklyn. From the humblest of beginnings, the senator had turned his district office into a kind of one-stop shop for free constituent services like mammograms and flu shots. He artfully leveraged his ability to provide for Main Street into enormous power in Albany. He was a master tactician who was feared, not loved, and was appointed in 2009 to serve as chairman of the Legislature’s Senate Finance Committee, one of that body’s most powerful posts—all this with little more than a high-school education.
He choked back his tears and boasted about his rise with pride. “If you were to take my life and bottle it, and drink what was inside that bottle, it would be like a cough medicine,” he told me. “It wouldn’t taste very good, but it’d be good for you.”
The bottle was empty now. In late December, he pleaded guilty, as did Turano, to engineering yet another Albany corruption racket.
“My world is over,” Kruger told me. “I’m frightened of the future. Just frightened. And that’s very hard for me to say, because I was always the guy that you came to to sort out your problems, then sweep up the floor and leave. Now my floor is swept up, and I’m part of the sweepings.”
Kruger was back where he started—at the bottom, broke. “To this day, I still don’t have any money,” he said. “I took a loan on my pension to pay off my credit-card debt. I was just denied a Visa because I wanted to have a direct deposit on my Social Security check into it … Still don’t have any money.”
Brownsville, the Brooklyn neighborhood where he was born, is famous for its poverty and gangs—not an easy neighborhood to grow up in, and especially difficult knowing you were unwanted as a child. Kruger’s mother, Irene Leibowitz, was not proud to tell young Carl that she’d given him up for adoption. She worked in a factory that made hats. Her job was to place feathers in the brim. Her pay was $5 a week, Kruger said.
Until Kruger arrived, his mother’s life had been a series of tragedies. Kruger’s grandfather was killed during a labor dispute in 1910, the same year his mother was born. His grandmother was a janitor who died after fracturing a hip, leaving sisters and brothers to raise his mother, then 10 years old.
Irene’s first husband, George Kruger, an auctioneer, struggled with alcoholism. Irene tried for years to conceive, and she thought that adopting a child would perhaps persuade George to give up his drinking. So they adopted a baby girl, Marlene. Soon after, George died in the street of a heart attack. He was 44.
Irene struggled as a widow. Living on welfare in a walk-up, she dated a man named Abe Tack, whose family owned real estate in the neighborhood, and became pregnant with Carl. But Tack had no interest in marrying her and quickly disappeared. With abortions risky and costly at the time, Irene felt she had no choice but to arrange an adoption.