Courthouse Meets Clubhouse

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Despite years of reforms, in some Bronx courtrooms, it is still just as helpful to know the judge as the law. Sometimes, it’s even more so.


Drugs Eyed at Nursing Homes

Monday, February 25th, 2013

George LaRocca Jr. and his dad ran a Brooklyn auto shop together. Even when Alzheimer’s robbed the elder LaRocca of his memories and ability to work, his son brought him to work. But one day his dad wandered off and the younger LaRocca found him near some scrap yards. When LaRocca rolled up in his car, George Sr. said with a laugh, “I don’t know your name but I know you belong to me.”

LaRocca knew his dad needed more care than he or his mother could provide. So they made the difficult decision to admit him to Regeis Care Center, a nursing home in the Bronx with manicured lawns. Their motto: “The Road Back Home Begins with Regeis.”

Within a week at Regeis, his son says, his dad could no longer walk. Less than a year after being admitted on May 15, 2007, LaRocca was dead from a bloodstream infection brought on by severe bedsores. In testimony for a lawsuit brought by his family against the nursing home and later settled, Regeis’ own medical expert testified that antipsychotics given to LaRocca had “predisposed” the 78-year-old man’s skin to break down, which led to the bedsores.


New Light on Watergate Figure

Monday, November 19th, 2012

When the FBI evaluated Charles “Chuck” Colson for his job as a top Nixon Administration official in 1969, one person who declined to speak federal agents was White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman – who later worked with him on the Watergate cover-up, newly disclosed documents reveal.

Haldeman was not interviewed “because of his personal request not to be contacted on White House investigations,” according to the FBI’s dossier on Colson, who would go on to help compile President Nixon’s infamous “enemies list.”

Haldeman’s stance is replete with historical irony:  He was captured three years later on the famous “smoking gun” tape talking with Nixon about how to use the CIA to subvert the FBI’s probe into the Watergate controversy.  The tape ultimately helped destroy Nixon’s presidency, leading to his unprecedented resignation in 1974.  Haldeman was later tried on counts of perjury, conspiracy and obstruction of justice, and spent 18 months in prison for his role in the scandal.

Colson’s FBI file was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, which obligates the feds to disclose certain previously unreleased documents to the public once the subject has died. Colson died at age 80 on April 21, 2012 due to complications stemming from a brain hemorrhage.

The FBI turned over 63 pages from Colson’s file, while another eight pages were withheld for unspecified reasons. It’s unclear whether any of those eight pages date from the Watergate era.

Colson’s FBI files does reveal that Clyde Tolson, a top aide to longtime agency head J. Edgar Hoover, was among those who signed off on his background check. But Mark Felt – the top FBI official who leaked key information to The Washington Post about Watergate, earning him the moniker “Deep Throat” – apparently was not involved in vetting Colson.

The worst things the FBI uncovered about Colson, pre-Watergate, was an $88.47 unpaid debt to the government and his quick Mexican divorce from his first wife and the mother of his three children several years earlier.

Colson, a Washington lawyer, became a special counsel to Nixon in November 1969 at age 38.  A self-described “hatchet man,” he helped gather a list of the President’s political enemies.

On June 21, 1974, Colson was sentenced to seven months in prison after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice in connection with Watergate.  He later became one of the nation’s most prominent evangelical Christians after a self-professed jailhouse conversion while incarcerated for his role in the Watergate scandal.

Search for The Phantom Landlord

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

One Bronx real estate operator had an interest in more than 100 buildings, most of them severely troubled. But when regulators or tenant advocates tried to push for improvements, they found no one to hold accountable. One of the buildings burned in a 2002 blaze that killed an 8-year-old boy.

A team of J-School reporters, led by Investigative Reporter in Residence Tom Robbins and veteran Bronx editor Jordan Moss, produced for City Limits magazine “The Phantom Landlord,” a multi-part tale of wealthy real estate executive Frank Palazzolo and the buildings connected to him. Among the stories they uncovered, with help from J-School alum Jeanmarie Evelly:

•An examination of the elusive Palazzolo, detailing how many troubled Bronx buildings – plagued by everything from rodents to lead paint dangers – were registered to corporations at his Scarsdale headquarters.

•How 8-year-old Jashawn Parker was killed in a 2002 electrical fire in a northwest Bronx building where a Housing Court judge had ordered repairs to the electrical system a year earlier. The repairs were never made and the building had 387 code violations at the time of the blaze – including citations for electrical problems.

•How Palazzolo obtained tens of millions of dollars in mortgages – even as, records show, many of the properties linked to him were already in severe distress at the time the loans were made.

•How a city inquiry found that Palazzolo stayed under the radar with a real estate operation organized like a McDonald’s franchise: He controlled major financing decisions, while corporation officers acted like local franchisees, handling management of the individual buildings.

•A look at calls by some housing advocates and elected officials to overhaul the rental housing system – with suggestions ranging from licensing landlords to creating a tribunal that would deal exclusively with fining landlords for violations and ordering repairs.



FBI Probed Geraldine Ferraro

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Linkletter Faced Darndest Threats

Monday, October 4th, 2010

FBI Tracked Lena Horne’s Activist Life

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Solzhenitsyn Lived in Fear After Exile

Monday, September 27th, 2010

FBI Files: Helms Faced Threats

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010