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The Convert


But the e-mails he sent to his new Catholic friends were unlike any others. In them, Belnick seems like an adolescent in love, according to copies obtained by New York Magazine, in love with Catholicism, and with its presiding figure, McCloskey. “I’m on fire with the faith,” he wrote to McCloskey, whom he referred to as his “human guardian angel.” “I love you for your understanding and wisdom,” he wrote to McCloskey. When McCloskey moved to Washington, D.C., Belnick longed to see his old friend: “Jesus is a great companion, having Him is having everything (but I still miss you . . .).”

Belnick’s former colleagues were baffled and a little hurt when news reached them of his new religious enthusiasm, as if he’d defected yet again. Not that they’d been told. Belnick split his friendships: pre-McCloskey and post-McCloskey.

When the lawyers had read the e-mails—the Wall Street Journal published excerpts—they claimed not to recognize Belnick. “It didn’t sound like him,” says one former colleague. Another former partner simply denied that he’d converted. “I told people the information was wrong,” the partner says.

His admirers at the Harrison JCC were equally befuddled. “Opus Dei caused us more shock than anything else,” says the treasurer. “It shook us.”

Belnick, though, was on an intense and meaningful journey, one he longed to complete.

“It all works out for the best for those who love God,” McCloskey wrote after Belnick’s first canceled conversion. “Your time will come soon.”

Then one day in Utah, out of nowhere, Randy said, “Do it.”

“Do what?” said Belnick.

What she meant was: Join the Catholic Church. “How can I say no if this is something you want?” said Randy. She wasn’t sure she’d attend the ceremony. Belnick understood. Still, he was overjoyed. He made up guest lists, inviting Nathanson, Lehrman, Kuhn, Thomas Dillon (president of Thomas Aquinas College), and David Hartman. Belnick promised to wear Hartman’s wife’s brown scapular.

The ceremony was set for April 25, 2000, at St. Thomas More on East 89th Street. The day before, Belnick still wasn’t sure if Randy would come, but she had made up her mind. She’d surprise him—Wouldn’t that be cool? she thought—and show up. Then her taxi got caught in traffic, and she entered midway through the ceremony, which made it seem even more dramatic.

“I turned my head,” remembers Belnick, “and there was Randy, and it was the most amazing feeling I ever had.” Soon he’d pray that “the HS”—the Holy Spirit—would bring Randy along.

John W. Moscow, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case against Belnick, may be the most feared prosecutor in town. Mention his name, and defense attorneys chime in, always off the record, “No superego,” “No discretion,” “Messianic zeal.” His supporters don’t entirely disagree. “Convinced that he’s right, he can’t be talked down,” says one lawyer who worked with Moscow. “He always thinks he’s absolutely right.”

Many lawyers pass through the D.A.’s office on their way to lucrative jobs representing the kind of people they once put in jail. Moscow, a graduate of Harvard Law School, could have gone that route. “He had a lot of alternatives,” says Boies. Instead, Moscow, a year younger than Belnick, has worked for District Attorney Robert Morgenthau for nearly 30 years. His salary is $149,000.

A prosecutor’s compensation, in addition to vast subpoena power, is the conviction that he’s on the right side. For Moscow, the plotters, the actively corrupt, aren’t the only target. Those who lend their good names, the cover of their reputations, to corrupt enterprises should share responsibility. “Moscow is personally affected by what he thinks of as breaches of integrity,” says Boies, whose firm, Boies, Schiller & Flexner, cooperated with Moscow on the Belnick case. “Particularly when those are done by lawyers.”

By all accounts, Moscow, deputy chief of the investigative division, is a gifted, tenacious investigator. A dozen years ago, he almost single-handedly unraveled the Bank of Credit and Commerce International scandal when the U.S. Justice Department couldn’t. The complex international BCCI case seemed beyond the reach of a local D.A., but Moscow effectively shut down the corrupt institution. Then he personally prosecuted Robert Altman, the well-connected attorney who’d done work for the bank.

In 1992, Moscow lost that five-month trial—the forewoman said she “felt insulted” by the prosecution’s case—and since then, he had not personally tried a case, until Belnick’s crossed his desk. For that, Moscow came out of trial retirement.

Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of Belnick’s trial was that both sides agreed on the basic facts. Belnick got a $17 million bonus, which, he’d later learn, wasn’t approved by the board of directors. He took $14 million in no-interest loans, which he did not disclose on questionnaires used to prepare information for shareholders.

Why? That was the question—really, the sole question—at the heart of the trial. Was Belnick’s intent criminal or had he acted in good faith?

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