Once, when four elementary-school teachers complained about their principal, Tassone both talked with the principal and sent the four teachers a T-shirt. One shirt read 2TEACH + 2TOUCH LIVES = 4EVER. “He couldn’t do too much wrong in my eyes after that,” one of the teachers says. “I liked that he was so approachable.” A few years after he arrived, the Rotary Club named him man of the year.
There were limits to how much Tassone would reveal about his private life. The most he’d tell colleagues was that he’d been briefly married. “Frank said his wife, Joanne, died at a very early age,” says Eleanor Russell, the teachers-union president. “She had some kind of an illness. He had a wedding picture in his office.” But outwardly, he lived the way the people of Roslyn seemed to want a superintendent to live. His Mercedes was one example. Serving lobster tails to other superintendents at a regional luncheon was another. “You’re not going to find many superintendents who live like Frank, because we’re afraid to,” another Long Island school superintendent says. “You don’t want to appear overpaid. He lived the opposite way. He acted as if he was entitled to it—to the car, to the clothes, to the money.”
During working lunches, Tassone would go on about how the school district should act like any private corporation with an $80 million budget. “He thought the salaries of administrators should be as high as possible,” says Piemonte. “That these jobs had a great deal of subtlety and required education. He’d say, ‘Look at the CEO of IBM—they’re making zillions and we’re making $200,000.’ ”
If Tassone was the proud father of the Roslyn family, Pam Gluckin was the fun-loving aunt. Bubbly and industrious, the mother of two liked to poke fun at herself and how hard she worked. If the board assigned her a task, one board member says, “she used to joke, ‘All of you go home, stay with your children; I’ll be working till six o’clock in the morning on this one.’ ” She commuted from middle-class Bellmore but lived very much like a typical Roslyn working mom, with homes in Westhampton Beach and Florida, and a Jaguar with a vanity plate reading DUNENUTN.
Gluckin became one of Tassone’s closest confidantes at the office. She arrived two years before Tassone as a treasurer, and Tassone promoted her until she landed the district’s top-money job, assistant superintendent for business. “They were very comfortable with each other, playful, jovial,” a former board member says. “He made a lot of jokes about how she had a lot of names because she was married so many times—and about her dogs, which he said were like her children.” After staff lunches, Gluckin would stay behind to kibitz with Tassone, sometimes for more than an hour.
“Pam went everywhere with him,” says Eleanor Russell. “She would attend meetings at individual schools, and districtwide committee meetings, like the committee on special education or enrollment. He relied on Pam to do everything. He’d say, ‘Oh, Pam will work it out.’ ” She was the one who handed out the gas credit cards and approved trips to other cities for conferences, and furnished some board members with computers and cell phones. A few employees even got Jeeps.
One Roslyn parent calls Tassone “Pecksniffian.” The name refers to a Dickens character who exploits the weaknesses of others, and is selfish and corrupt behind a display of benevolence.
Some say Tassone simply wasn’t good with numbers—that language was his forte. And if at times Gluckin seemed sloppy, too, Tassone would be protective of her. “One time she gave me a check for too much money for the benefit fund and she told me to just keep it,” Russell remembers. “I said, ‘Are you kidding?’ She said, ‘What’s the big deal? We’ll owe you money in a couple months and that’ll cover it.’ I took the check to Frank and he tried to minimize her mistake, saying, ‘It’s not that important.’ ”
It was pure luck that allowed Tassone to get a look at the anonymous letter before the media did. The letter had been sent in February to a Who’s Who of local politicians, but one copy went to the wrong address. And since the envelope had been disguised to look like it was from the school district, the post office routed it straight to Tassone’s office.
We believe that Dr. Frank Tassone participated in this embezzlement scandal so as to support HIS lavish lifestyle, with the help of Ms. Gluckin. He submitted . . . his personal credit-card statements, bills for personal vacations and trips, and various household bills . . . and included them in the cover-up.
But before anyone could start pointing fingers at Tassone, he launched a preemptive defense. “He calls me in, and he says, ‘There’s this letter and none of it’s true,’ ” Piemonte remembers. Secretaries in the building, union leaders, custodians, school administrators, the PTA—they all were summoned, hearing firsthand how shocked he was that the business manager had done this to them—to us, to the Roslyn community. And the community believed him. Some even praised him for being so forthcoming. While spending perhaps a bit too much time trying to find out who the author was, Tassone had little trouble finding ways to discredit the letter itself: The district’s return address on the envelope was misspelled; so was Tassone’s name.
When the D.A. launched its investigation in February, it was Tassone who suggested bringing back Andrew Miller, the accountant who had noticed the missing $250,000 two years earlier, to go through the books of Gluckin’s tenure with a fine-tooth comb. This time, thanks to the leads from the letter, Miller found a more professional style of embezzlement than he’d seen in 2002—phony companies, for example, instead of just suspicious checks. Soon, Miller put the amount of missing money at $1 million. Newsday caught wind of it and reported it—and the community stepped in, demanding its pound of flesh. Once-sleepy school-board meetings became last spring as stormy as Knesset hearings, lit garishly by those TV crews the board had feared two years earlier.
Still, the target of Roslyn’s anger wasn’t Tassone; it was the school board. The decision to protect Gluckin back in 2002—to let her resign rather than pressing charges—was seen as collusive, conspiratorial, even Faustian. Tassone, for his part, was seen by Roslynites as valiantly coming to the board’s defense, telling everyone who would listen how upset he was, how betrayed they all felt by Gluckin. “We called it ‘The Seduction of Pam Gluckin,’ ” one former board member says.
State Comptroller Alan Hevesi vowed to audit Roslyn’s books. And before long, the community rallied behind Tassone. The Journal piece naming Roslyn High School one of the nation’s best public high schools was published April 2, and at the next board meeting parents stood up pledging support for their superintendent. In a local newspaper column, Tassone tried to explain why they let Gluckin resign without pressing charges, effectively passing the buck to the accountant and lawyer who had advised the board. “If we had known then everything we know now,” he wrote, “we would certainly have taken a different course of action.”
There was only one problem: The accountant and lawyer wouldn’t take the fall. At an explosive April board meeting, Tom Hession, the attorney who had advised the board in 2002, insisted that he had been telling the board only what was legal, not ethical. Andrew Miller also defended himself, noting that auditors for New York State school districts aren’t supposed to be looking for outright fraud, just irregularities. Board president Bill Costigan, searching for answers, asked Tassone where he had found Tom Hession in the first place. Tassone said he was referred by Carol Hoffman, the district’s usual lawyer. But when Costigan called Hoffman, she was outraged, arguing that Hession had been brought in by Tassone. And when Costigan confronted Tassone, Tassone changed his story, saying Hession was referred by someone else.