portraits in corruption

Corruption on the Waterfront!

If you liked season two of The Wire, you might enjoy the New York inspector general’s report on the corruption at Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, which was released today. If you like the idea that government agencies can function without corruption, however, you might find the results of the two-year investigation infuriating. The Commission, an $11 million-a-year bi-state agency that was created in the fifties to stem mob activity at the docks, devolved into the same kind of corruption it was created to watch over in the first place. At the heart of it, of course, was a cast of characters that would be perfectly at home on your stereotypical HBO drama. Let’s meet some of them.

Michael J. Madonna: A former police officer and union representative, the New Jersey commissioner was generous with his friends, whether it meant using a boat paid for by Homeland Security to fend off waterborne attacks to ferry them across the river during Fleet Week, or hooking them up with special parking passes. He was also always good for getting jobs for their delinquent acquaintances, which he did with James Sutera, a friend of a friend. After failing the police examination twice, Sutera actually scored a 97.8, the highest recorded grade ever achieved at the Water Commission. Alas: Sutera was not content with a legacy as a civil-service genius, and then “repeatedly bragged that the ‘big guy,’ as he referred to Madonna, had given him the test.” He has now been fired.

Jon Deutsch: Among other things, the commission’s general counsel helped a friend convicted of federal racketeering charges conceal his felon status so he could continue to operate on the waterfront and intervened when another friend was arrested as part of a murder investigation. His excuse: “I was a prosecutor in Union County. Jersey’s a little different than New York. I mean, we know people.”

Frank Nastasi: The commission’s auditing director was resourceful. Not only did he run his own accounting business out of his commission office, he put his city computer to use in pursuit of his favorite hobby: “From approximately 2006 to his retirement in 2008, Natasi accessed or attempted to access pornographic material … many of Natasi’s attempts to access pornography and lingerie websites were blocked by software on the Water Commission network, however, Natasi became more creative and searched for websites which included items such as nude art.”

Waterfront Commission Investigation [NYT]

Corruption on the Waterfront!