N.Y. Judge Charged in Organized Crime Probe

Anthony Lin
New York Law Journal
08-31-2005


A Long Island, N.Y., judge has been arrested and charged by federal prosecutors with participating in a money laundering and fencing scheme with a suspected organized crime associate.

According to a 71-page complaint unsealed Tuesday by the Eastern District of New York U.S. Attorney's Office, Nassau County District Court Judge David Gross helped an undercover Federal Bureau of Investigation agent posing as a stolen diamond trafficker unload merchandise as well as launder about $130,000 in illicit funds.

Gross allegedly explained to the agent several means of laundering the funds, including through the judge's campaign fund.

"[T]he whole point is to make it look legitimate," he allegedly told the agent.

In a statement announcing the arrests, Eastern District U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf said: "The corrupting influence of organized crime has reached new heights in this case with the involvement of a sitting judge in mob-related money laundering."

Gross, 43, who was elected to the bench in 1999, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on the money laundering charge and up to 5 years for conspiracy to sell stolen merchandise.

At his arraignment Tuesday in Central Islip, N.Y., before Eastern District Magistrate Judge Arlene Lindsay, Gross pleaded not guilty. He was released on $500,000 bail after surrending his passport and gun permit. His travel was restricted to the Eastern District.

Gross was represented in the arraignment by Garden City lawyer John Carman. The prosecution will be led by Assistant U.S. Attorneys James Miskiewicz and Cynthia Monaco.

David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the state Office of Court Administration, said Tuesday that Gross had been administratively suspended pending further findings by the Court of Appeals.

Unlike the recent scandal involving Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Gerald Garson, who is facing bribery charges, the case against Gross does not allege he directly used his position as a judge to further his criminal activities. But the case will no doubt fuel concerns about judicial screening and selection.

The judge came under FBI scrutiny in the course of an investigation of illegal gambling clubs on Long Island allegedly owned by three men believed to be associates of the Genovese crime family -- Nicholas Gruttadauria, Ronald Pecoraro and Joseph Rutigliano.

The trio and 11 others also were arrested and charged Tuesday, mostly in connection with illegal gambling clubs. All pleaded not guilty Tuesday and were remanded.

As a county district court judge, Gross was responsible for civil cases involving less than $15,000, low-level felony and misdemeanor cases and landlord-tenant disputes.

A 1987 graduate of Yeshiva University's Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, he worked as a lawyer in the insurance industry and as a solo practitioner before becoming a judge. Elected to a six-year term, the Democrat was up for re-election in November. He is married and has two children.

According to federal prosecutors, the meetings and conversations among the defendants and with the undercover FBI agent were extensively recorded or videotaped. U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert authorized a wiretap of Gross' cell phone in July.

The undercover agent allegedly first met the judge in January 2005 at a dinner at which Gruttadauria and Pecoraro were also present. Later that month, after the agent showed Gruttadauria a packet of 19 loose diamonds that he described as "untraceable," Gruttadauria contacted the judge.

The judge allegedly offered to help unload the diamonds in exchange for a $500 finder's fee. He also told the FBI agent of other criminal activity he was involved in, including the distribution of untaxed cigarettes and the evasion of gasoline excise taxes.

According to the complaint, the judge then moved on to discuss means by which the agent could launder money from the sale of his diamonds. Gross allegedly suggested the agent pose as a campaign fund-raiser, in which guise he would deposit money in the judge's re-election fund. The judge would then write checks to the agent from the fund, purportedly as payment for his service as a fund-raiser.

MONEY-LAUNDERING SCHEME

But the judge was allegedly quick to see a flaw in that plan.

"What's gonna happen is they're gonna say holy shit, who is this guy that can raise this kind of money and everyone else will come and try to hire you," Gross allegedly told the agent.

The judge then allegedly suggested the agent pay for a fake party supposedly thrown at a restaurant called Cafe by the Sea, owned by another defendant, Kim Brady Land.

After receiving payment, Land would then write checks to accounts controlled by the agent as purported payment for fund-raising expenses.

Gross also allegedly suggested that money could be laundered through the purchase of an expensive car.

"Now the auto business is, um, very well renowned as not only, you know, uh, [for] auto sales, but also as a laundromat," Gross allegedly told the undercover agent.

Gruttadauria later decided only Land's restaurant would be used for laundering money. He, the judge and Land all received a share of the laundering commission, which ranged from 15 percent to 20 percent. The complaint notes the arrangement created incentives among the defendants to cheat each other.

The complaint claims Land arranged separate money laundering transactions with the FBI agent so he would not have to share the commission. In a July conversation with the FBI agent cited in the complaint, Judge Gross also appears hesitant to share with Gruttadauria the full amount to be laundered in another transaction.

Between February and August 2005, the FBI agent provided the three men with $130,000 to launder, receiving in return phony invoices for party expenses and funds wired to his designated accounts, minus the laundering commissions.

At the same time, Gruttadauria and Gross both helped the FBI agent sell thousands of dollars' worth of diamonds to contacts in the jewelry business, transactions on which the two also received a commission.

The judge maintains a Web site listing his endorsements by Nassau County Democratic Party, the state Fraternal Order of Police and various unions. Party chairman Jay Jacobs could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

BOOK AUTHOR

Gross is also the author of a recently self-published book about his experiences as a judge. "If the Robe Fits... : A View from the Bench" contains one passage in which the judge describes arraigning on vehicle and traffic charges a reputed mob hit man.

"When I first saw his name on my calendar that morning, the hairs on my neck stood up," the judge wrote, adding: "there was something about him that was pure menace."

In a recent interview about the book with the New York Law Journal, Gross said: "I have no secrets. I am who I am."

According to the complaint, Gross insisted at a meeting earlier this month on giving a signed copy of the book to the undercover FBI agent "as thanks for the fees he had obtained during the money laundering operation."

As the judge retrieved the book from his car, the agent noticed $40,000 stored in the trunk. The judge then allegedly reassured the agent the car was safe, noting that the judge's license plate meant the car would probably not be pulled over by the police.


Police/Prosecutor Misconduct
Truth in Justice