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It's win and lose In Schwarz trial

July 22, 2002

Here are some of the winners and losers from Charles Schwarz's third trial.

Winners:

Charles Schwarz. For the first time, jurors failed to agree Schwarz was in the bathroom of the 70th Precinct station house when Justin Volpe sodomized Abner Louima.

Prosecutor Alan Vinegrad. Despite his hang-dog look when U.S. District Judge Reena Raggi informed him the jury had convicted Schwarz only of perjury, Vinegrad collected himself in time for the six o'clock news, and said, quite rightly, that for the third time, a jury agreed Schwarz had lied about his role in leading Louima toward the bathroom.

Ron Fischetti. As Schwarz's attorney he accomplished what he had been unable to do in Schwarz's second trial.

The Internal Affairs Bureau. IAB led a ruthless investigation into the assault. It not only broke the so-called blue wall of silence in turning up witnesses that led to Volpe's conviction, but those same witnesses contradicted Schwarz's account that he did not lead Louima toward the bathroom.

Police Department's image. As one police official put it: "The Police Department proved it could be very aggressive in rooting out aberrant behavior. IAB threw everything it had, working seven days a week, from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. A terrible thing was done that called for nothing less."

Losers:

Charles Schwarz. With his perjury conviction, Schwarz can no longer maintain he played no role in the sodomizing of Louima. He has yet to provide a credible explanation for why he lied.

Alan Vinegrad. A jury may have convicted Schwarz for the first time of lying, but for the first time, a jury failed to agree on whether Schwarz was inside the bathroom. If Vinegrad's sulk in the courtroom is any indication, he was devastated by the verdict. But is his vow to prosecute Schwarz for the fourth time wise? And with a Republican successor in the wings, will he even have the opportunity?

Ron Fischetti. While Fischetti portrayed Schwarz's perjury conviction as a "technical violation," the question lingers: Did Schwarz lie about leading Louima toward the bathroom because he knew what Volpe was about to do?

Police Department's image. Volpe did something so unimaginable and horrific to Louima that even the most hardened cops could not believe it of a fellow officer. And yet not one cop in the entire 70th Precinct came to Louima's assistance after the assault. And until IAB became involved, not one cop in the precinct turned in Volpe.

 

Said a top police official: "How could they not have known what had happened? This was a human being who was screaming and crying for help and not one of them did anything to help him."

The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. The biggest loser of them all, the police union paid Louima an unprecedented $1.63 million to avoid a civil lawsuit. One of Schwarz's former co-defendants, Thomas Wiese, was a PBA delegate. The secret basement meeting Schwarz and Wiese attended after the assault included a second PBA delegate, Volpe's brother Damian; a PBA trustee, Mike Immitt; and a PBA lawyer, Hugo Ortega.

During this period, Schwarz and Wiese made scads of phone calls to a disgraced former PBA delegate, Anthony Abbate, who had been dismissed from the job for lying. And Schwarz's PBA attorney, Stephen Worth, was so ineffectual at Schwarz's first trial that a federal appeals court concluded Worth had to have a conflict of interest for such shoddy representation.


Bottom-Feeding.
The king of the bottom feeders, Dick Dienst, is about to land a six-figure retainer to represent the Sergeants Benevolent Association.

Dienst's law firm already represents the unions representing detectives, lieutenants and superior officers, whose ranks run from captain through deputy chief. The potential for conflicts of interest at disciplinary hearings is, of course, staggering.

How, if you represent a sergeant, do you effectively cross-examine his boss, who is also your client? And what of the peer pressure that may be applied to a boss, say a lieutenant or captain, to overlook a sergeant's infraction because the same lawyers represent both unions?

No problem, Dienst says. His answer is to hire an outside law firm when conflicts arise, as he has in the past.


Confrontation.
At a ceremony last week honoring the Fresh Kills landfill workers as their duties ended, Insp. James Luongo was talking to reporters as per instructions from the department's Public Information office when his boss, Chief of Detectives William Allee, barked at him. Red-faced, Luongo left the reporters as Allee took over.

Farewell photos of the site in the next day's papers showed Allee in uniform, standing alone, his back to the camera. Was he contemplating or posturing?

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© 2002 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.