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The Bad Superintendent

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Until that moment, most everyone in Roslyn still seemed to believe Tassone had been in the dark about Gluckin. But Costigan couldn’t help but wonder: Did Tassone go shopping for a favorable legal opinion before that meeting in 2002? Had the whole Gluckin resignation been stage-managed by the superintendent? From that point forward, Costigan decided never to meet with Tassone alone.

By late April, Tassone’s office was under siege. Gluckin’s records were rapidly turning out to be fiction. Newsday was filing almost daily public-information requests, uncovering check records for hundreds of thousands of dollars with companies that, once contacted, said they’d received nowhere near that amount. Slowly, others besides Costigan started wondering how Tassone couldn’t have known about this. By then, Tassone was like a wraith, barely there in spirit even when he did bother to show up physically. His cell-phone records show that he spent much of March and April jetting to Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, then California, Florida, and Las Vegas twice again. At first, his employees shrugged and joked that he managed to be out of town every time he had to decide to call a snow day. Now they wondered if he was ducking trouble.

On May 12, Bill Costigan got a call from a lawyer for the school district, telling him to call Andrew Miller as soon as possible.

“We may have uncovered more than $1 million,” Miller said. “And I think it involves Frank.”

The same superintendent who introduced “values-based” education into the school system also had billed the district for his Upper East Side rent, his Mercedes, even jewelry and skin treatments. Miller said he discovered that Tassone had padded his expense account with the most ridiculous purchases—like $33,141 for the dry cleaning that always draped his office conference table.

When Tassone met with Costigan and board member Karen Bodner the next day, Costigan was angry enough to suggest that Tassone consider resigning. But Tassone brushed him off.

“Look at my contract,” they recall Tassone saying. “It covers all ‘reasonable expenses.’ ”

“Maybe we should have bought your clothes, too?” Costigan asked.

“Well, that’s a matter of opinion,” said Tassone.

“What if the D.A. indicts you on this?” Costigan asked.

“That’ll never happen,” said Tassone.

Tassone’s final public appearance in Roslyn turned out to be a PTA meeting on May 28, the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. The missing amount of money had just escalated to $5 million, and Tassone and the board had decided to fire accountant Andrew Miller. The district’s lawyers were also let go.

“We’re your supporters,” said Faith Russo, a mother of two boys at Harbor Hill Elementary. “Why do we have to hear about this from someone else?”

Russo was shocked to see Tassone pointing at her, screaming: “You’re going to listen to me! You’re going to listen to me!” “He wouldn’t let her finish,” says Denyse Dreksler, another mother. “He went from being the therapist to the manic.”

Russo’s heart sank. She realized she was upsetting a powerful person in her life. “I was afraid my kids were gonna get custodians as teachers,” she says.

To her relief, Amy Katz, another PTA member, came to her aid. “You keep changing your story,” she said to Tassone.

And another mom, Lisa Levine, started asking about the district’s new lawsuit against Gluckin.

“I don’t know,” Tassone said, throwing up his hands. “The law firm knows.”

“Is that the same law firm that you just fired?” asked Levine.

Steam seemed to be escaping from Tassone’s ears. Finally he exploded.

“How many of you ladies in here are lawyers?”

Sure enough, Russo, Katz, and Levine were all lawyers. So were other moms in the room.

It took Anthony Annunziato just a few hours at his new job to connect the meat of the scandal to Frank Tassone. On June 1, Roslyn’s new assistant superintendent for business—Pam Gluckin’s long-awaited replacement—started his day by looking into a company called WordPower that, over the past dozen years, had collected $800,000 from Roslyn, mainly for word processing. What bothered him was that the company wasn’t located in Roslyn, but in Manhattan—specifically, at Tassone’s home address, 160 East 88th Street. It took just a few keystrokes, using an Internet reverse phone directory, for Annunziato to find that the number of WordPower CEO Steve Signorelli was connected not just to Tassone’s address but to his apartment.

Before long, Annunziato spoke to Tassone, by phone, in Ft. Lauderdale.

“Frank,” Annunziato said. “These people live in your apartment.”

“Well, they live in my building,” Tassone said. Annunziato couldn’t believe he was sticking to that story. But then Tassone changed tactics.

“We have to figure out how we’re going to spin this,” Tassone said.

“I’m not sure you can,” said Annunziato.

The whole thing reminded Annunziato of the movie No Way Out with Kevin Costner. “He knew he was going to get caught.”

Bill Costigan called an emergency meeting for June 2. Tassone caught wind of it and called Costigan from Florida.

“The board doesn’t meet without the superintendent,” Tassone said coolly.

“You told me you’d be home today,” Costigan said.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Tassone said.

On June 4, the day after he came home, Tassone was relieved of duty by the board.

For an $8 million embezzlement, the Roslyn scandal was remarkably low-tech. The trick, prosecutors say, was in the check-writing. When Gluckin decided to pay her mortgage to Wells Fargo Bank with the district’s money, for example, she simply notated “Wells Fargo” in the check ledger, knowing that the district used a security company called Wells Fargo. In other cases, she abbreviated: “M&T” could be Manufacturers and Traders Trust Co., the mortgage holder on Gluckin’s waterfront home in Bellmore, which was paid a recorded $56,881.96.

It also helped that Tassone appears to have stocked the district with friends. There was a district clerk, Debra Rigano, who arranged travel for the administrators for those trips to Vegas, New Orleans, Boston, and London, and who moonlighted with a travel agency that gave her commissions for her bookings. (One frequent companion of Tassone’s on those trips, it turns out, was his apparent apartment mate, WordPower CEO Steve Signorelli.) Rigano’s aunt happens to be Pam Gluckin, and even after Gluckin resigned in 2002, Rigano was kept on. She was finally let go the same day Tassone resigned, after it was discovered Tassone approved a one-hour overtime charge for her of $1,081.

There was also Tom Galinski, the buildings-and-grounds supervisor, who once worked in the same district as Gluckin and who flew at no expense with Tassone on many of those trips to Las Vegas. Before being hired by Roslyn, Galinski had worked for a contractor he subsequently recommended to redo Roslyn High’s leaking roof. When the leak persisted, Roslyn hired them to do it again, and again, and again.

And there was Al Razzetti, a personnel consultant whom Tassone made an internal auditor—rubber-stamping every bill and check Tassone and Gluckin wrote. Tassone kept him on the payroll even after the board declined to renew his contract. Finally, Razzetti had a sister, Fran Pertusi, whom Tassone made a consultant, earning $300,000 over nine years. Pertusi happened to be a close friend of Tassone’s from his days as superintendent in Levittown.

Who was minding the store? The auditor, Andrew Miller, wasn’t supposed to confirm with every listed check recipient that the money was properly recorded. No school district has that kind of oversight—something Hevesi is addressing now. In the past five years, auditors have checked the books of just fourteen of Long Island’s 124 school districts, even though they spend more than $7 billion in total annually. Tassone and Gluckin, with years of experience between them, must have understood that.


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