NYPD Confidential - An Inside Look at the New York Police Department
Home Page
All Columns
Contact Leonard Levitt
Search this site

Foglia doing battle again

June 30, 1997

In the 1980s, Phil Foglia was regarded as one of the sharpest assistant district attorneys in the Bronx.

He headed District Attorney Mario Merola's Investigations Bureau, which went after corrupt Bronx Democratic officials, and he was cross-designated to work with then United States Attorney Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani's office convicted Bronx Democratic Party Chairman Stanley Friedman, and later U.S. Reps. Mario Biaggi and Robert Garcia in the military contracting scandal known as Wedtech.

Foglia also had the proper law enforcement bloodlines. His father was an NYPD detective and he was so close to Merola that people regarded him as his adopted son and heir apparent, although Merola never appointed him to the coveted position of his first assistant.

Then, in October, 1987, Merola dropped dead.

Gov. Mario Cuomo appointed Paul Gentile, Merola's first assistant, to succeed him, giving Gentile an edge in the upcoming election, as incumbent district attorneys in New York City are rarely defeated. Foglia, who felt his destiny was to succeed Merola, resigned to run against Gentile, whom the entire Bronx Democratic organization lined up to support.

Lacking financial and organizational support, Foglia accepted backing from the only Bronx personage offering to help - the Roman Catholic priest who'd baptized his two children, Father Louis Gigante. A former city councilman and the developer of millions of dollars of low cost South Bronx housing, Gigante is also the brother of Vincent (The Chin) Gigante, who a federal jury will shortly decide is either suffering from Alzheimer's disease or the mastermind behind a dozen or so murders as the head of the Genovese crime family.

Then the whispers started. People whispered about Foglia and Gigante. They whispered the dreaded word that haunts some Italian-Americans. That word is mafia.

The whispers went beyond the Bronx to the office of Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who was feuding with Giuliani over jurisdiction in prosecuting Friedman and Biaggi's partner, Bernard Ehrlich. A top aide promised to release secret wiretaps implicating Foglia but never produced them. Instead, he sought Foglia's help with Italian-American groups when he himself ran for district attorney.

No one ever produced a scintilla of evidence against Foglia. Still, as Father Gigante put it at the time, "I tried to help the kid, and I ended up hurting him."

Then, shortly before the Democratic primary, Gentile leaked a secret report from someone he described as "a highly reliable source from an FBI office." The report alleged Foglia had provided Gigante with confidential information about investigations.

Printable versionThe FBI's assistant director in New York, James Fox, responded that Gentile "misrepresented" his meetings with two FBI officials, who had told him the information was "hearsay" and had come from a discredited informant. Giuliani termed Gentile "reprehensible," saying his actions raised "very serious questions about his ability to operate in law enforcement."

Gentile was forced to withdraw. Determined to defeat Foglia, Bronx Democrats selected Robert Johnson, who defeated him in the primary and became Bronx District Attorney.

Foglia moved on to the Queens DA's office as a top assistant for three years. But he was passed over again, this time by Judge Richard Brown.

So Foglia joined an old friend from the Bronx DA's office in private practice. The firm thrived. It successfully brought a discrimination suit against the City University of New York on behalf of Italian-American professors. It represents, among others, the actor and playwright Chazz Palminteri.

In December, 1996, Father Gigante, quarterbacking his brother the Chin's defense at his murder trial, decided to drop his longtime Manhattan mouthpiece James LaRossa. He hired a little known Bronx firm headed by Mike Marinaccio, a former Bronx assistant district attorney.

Gigante explained to Marinaccio and his partners that his brother had just undergone heart surgery and that the government was planning to put him on trial, and asked the firm to view the case, like the discrimination suit against CUNY, as a violation of his brother's civil rights.

In his opening argument last week, Marinaccio described the government's case against Vinnie the Chin as hearsay and said there would be no medical witnesses to support the charge that he was faking mental illness. When Marinaccio finished, he sat down next to his client, the unkempt, perhaps even deranged Vinnie the Chin.

Seated on the the Chin's other side was Marinaccio's partner, Phil Foglia.

« Back to top

Email Leonard Levitt at llevitt@nypdconfidential.com

© 1997 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.