No one disputes that Pirro has effectively used her office as a bully pulpit for victims (offering battered women free cell phones for emergencies, installing peepholes in the doors of senior citizens). But critics say she is now more bully than sermonizer and that her office is ruled through intimidation. "You cross her," says one former prosecutor, "at your own professional peril. I never met an A.D.A. I didn't smell fear on. Their main goal is to live another day, to be able to say, 'I didn't piss off Jeanine and step on my johnson and let a rapist get off. I'm safe.' "
Pirro herself has angered a number of Feds in what they say is a grab for power and headlines. "It was a constant turf war," says a former head of the U.S. Attorney's office in White Plains. "She used strong-arm tactics with us, with local cops, with whoever she could."
Pirro has also alienated her share of beat cops around Westchester. On June 20, 1994, Mamaroneck cops busted a 51-year-old Seattle man who had met a 14-year-old local girl through e-mail, then flown to town to meet her. Pirro stepped in and took most of the credit, later turning the case into a one-woman crusade to make it a felony to have indecent communications with a minor on the Internet. "She makes a lot of enemies," says one local cop. "It's always her taking credit over people who are actually out there tearing up their shoe leather. She's playing a dangerous game."
That game turned truly dangerous on March 21, 1996, when Richard Sacchi Jr. killed an Eastchester cop, then took his own grandmother hostage in a twelve-hour armed standoff with police. As hostage negotiators tried to coax Sacchi from the family home, Pirro appeared on the evening news, saying she would consider seeking the death penalty against him. "She got up there for a few moments of news time," says the former assistant U.S. Attorney, "risking that this guy might hear it and kill his grandmother and go out in a blaze of glory." Sacchi, it turned out, had killed his grandmother and himself long before her remarks, but Pirro didn't know that.
Pirro now says her statement was taken out of context. As for the grandstanding charges, she says it's simply the nattering of critics: "Name me a person in public life who doesn't have critics. Especially women in public life. I mean, just by virtue of doing my job, it draws attention to me, and you know, whatever people are going to say, they're going to say. I focus on what I've got to do and my purpose in being here. Period. End of story."
Soon after her 1993 election, Pirro took over a new floor of the courthouse, remodeled her office with mahogany, installed a private kitchenette, and built a $20,000 press room, decorated with her awards. Then she instituted a policy that no one could talk to the media without her permission -- ironic given her own success in corralling headlines as an A.D.A.
Few of the steady flurry of press releases that issue weekly from her office concern one of Westchester's most insidious problems: organized crime. The trouble, say more than a dozen former federal prosecutors, FBI agents, and members of the state Organized Crime Task Force, is that Pirro, married to a man whom many say she should be investigating, has turned her back on organized crime.
"Jeanine Pirro has not made it an issue," says one former federal prosecutor. "Why? Because there's no crying victim to wrap her arms around. It's silly to suggest that in a county with so much labor, money, and politics, you don't have corruption. Where are the wiretaps? Where are the undercover cases?"
Pirro's spokesman, David Hebert, bristles at the suggestion that his boss is soft on organized crime, noting that last year the office had eleven wiretaps and executed 75 search warrants through its organized-crime-and-criminal-enterprise bureau. But one former A.D.A. mocks those figures. "Most of that stuff is her busting grandfathers for sports gambling," he says. Pirro herself says one big problem is funding. "I don't have the luxury of what some other organizations may have," she says, "to take $5 million or $10 million, put four people for five years on a case."
But Pirro's relationship with the state's Organized Crime Task Force "was essentially nonexistent while I was there," says Ron Goldstock, former head of the OCTF. "We were investigating Al in the Calvi case." More problematic is what some say is a chill between Pirro's office and the office of U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, who is investigating Al. "To say it's cool is an understatement," says one FBI agent. "First of all, Jeanine feels she's the leading law enforcement in the area. She's just not taking a backseat to anybody. Second, come on: Mary Jo White is going after her husband."