What: Sean Farrell, son of the King’s County DA, has screwed up for the last time and has been sent, first to rehab, and then to Siberia in the form of the Westchester headquarters of Republican DA Gina Fucchio.
Who: Sean Farrell, playboy criminal defense attorney with a white powder problem is a blight on the reputation of his father Frank, the DA of King’s County and a leading New York State Democrat. After an accident involving a stripper, cocaine, a sex act and an out of control sports car, Sean is sent upstate to rehab. Upon “graduation” he is summoned by his father, Frank.
Frank: …We got better plans for you now that you’re back.
Sean: Oh yeah, what’s up?
Frank: I spoke to Gina Fucchio while you were away. She’s gonna hire you as her special counsel up there. Pays 100 grand and a car.
Sean: (shocked) Fucchio! She’s a Republican.
Frank: They’re all goddamn Republicans up there. This will be good for you. That criminal defense shit was too stressful for you. Too many scumbags. Too much temptation.
Frank leans in as close as he can get to Sean across the desk.
Frank: Look, I know you made a bundle representing those low lifes, and I also heard more than ten times how you were burnin’ up the world over there in Manhattan. Judge Casey told me his people were all sayin’ that you were the next big thing over there. But Sean, it’s over. It almost killed you.
Sean is looking down, as Frank leans back into his big leather chair.
Frank: Take this job. You could do it in your sleep. It’ll be a nice change.
Sean: It’s not that I don’t appreciate it but…
Frank: But nothing young man. We did it your way for ten years, and it almost got you killed. Not to mention that powder you were doin’. You know Sean, I lock people up for 25 years for that shit!
Frank stands up and comes around the desk and sits next to Sean, placing his hand on his shoulder.
Frank: Look I don’t know much about this ah… affliction you got. But what I’ve been told is that the way to beat it is to live a nice clean life. Get out of the City, go up there. Westchester is nice, you know, grass, trees, golf… those rich people know how to live.
Sean: I don’t play golf.
Frank: You’ll learn! Listen Fucchio is a firecracker. She’s going places, she needs someone like you to guide her.
Sean: What about my clients?
Frank: (impatiently) You’ll refer them out. Now listen, Fucchio wants to be Governor. This is a sweetheart deal for you. That’s it, end of story.
Sean: Alright. We’ll do it your way.
Frank: That’s right. Now let Doug take you up there. We got you a nice one-bedroom close to the office. I picked up first, last and security, after that you’re on your own.
Sean: You’ve got all the angles covered don’t you?
Frank: Always do.
And Gina Fucchio, 50, is everything and more than he expected. Ambition oozes from every pore of her well-sculpted body. Gina is “protected” by her husband Carmine who manages the family business – and the term family can be taken in several ways – as he and close friend and lawyer Steve Sansilvio manage the local graft machine. Having done their homework on Sean and his outstanding career as a mob lawyer, they have big plans for him in their organization; and they’ll need him soon because things are heating up with John Cardinale, the local mob boss and one of their major sources of “funding.” Then there’s Gina.
When a group of underage teens get into a fatal accident after a night of drinking at a local club, Gina goes into action. Where most would see tragedy, Gina sees opportunity, especially when she discovers that one of the youths, now in a coma, is the son of the Democratic Attorney General, a chief rival. Before the prerequisite compassion call at the hospital to support the families of the survivors and give condolences to the families of the dead, Gina, instead, holds a press conference:
Gina: And let this be a lesson to every teenager who thinks that drinking alcohol is a right of passage. We will find you and prosecute you for a crime. Tragedies like this one will not happen on my watch. And for the bar that served these children, I have been informed by the Governor’s office that the State Liquor Authority will be closing this establishment today. Now I need to go inside. I will take questions later in my office.
Reporter: Gina is it true that one of the victims is Attorney General Hoffman’s son?
Gina: There are no victims here. All the children are underage and were drunk; they are all defendants and will be treated as such regardless of their family ties.
Sean is dumbfounded by Gina’s actions; a televised moment of compassion for the AG’s family would have helped her image and earned a favor, to be collected later, from the AG. Carmine is apoplectic, not because of the lack of finesse and missed opportunity, but because Gina has threatened to shut down the bar, a bar that belongs to John Cardinale. Sean has his orders from Carmine and Steve, treat Gina as though she were his candidate, a candidate that he is going to put in the Governor’s seat. When she fucks up, it means he’s fucked up. Easier said than done.
Int. Fucchio Home – Night
…Sean pours two glasses of scotch, one straight up one with ice. And returns to the chair after delivering one of the drinks to Gina.
Gina: Here’s to your first day.
Sean: Yeah, this should be interesting.
Gina: You did great, you know it’s going to take some time to get acclimated to the way we do things here. I think you did great.
Sean: Thanks, but let me ask you…
Gina: Shh, shh… Here comes the 11 o’clock news.
The television is divided into four screens and Gina has the remote control in her hand pointing it at the screen like a gun.
Television Reporter: A tragic accident this morning claimed the life of two teenagers…
Gina changes the channel to one that has a close up of her at the hospital press conference.
Gina: (on screen) And let this be a lesson…
Gina: How do I look?
Gina: How do I look, do I look good?
Sean: Ah, yeah, I’m trying to hear what you are saying.
Gina: I know what I said, how do I look?
Sean: You look great, really great.
Gina: Thanks, I think so. I like the red.
Gina flips the channel again and again. Now she is in a close up shot at the hospital.
Gina: Here’s a right shot, I don’t like this shot as much as this one.
Gina flips the station again. The shot is of her from the other side.
Gina: See this is my left side. I like that much better.
Sean takes a large gulp from his glass.
Sean: Uh, yeah I see what you mean.
Gina is fixated on the television and keeps flipping back and forth.
Gina: You know we made FOX News and MSNBC, those bastards at CNN took a pass.
Sean: Well, what do you want me to do with the case?
Gina: The case? Oh, do what you do. I’m not going to micromanage you Sean. You know what you’re doing. Just do whatever is best for us.
Sean: But you are out there saying that you want to charge the Hoffman kid and throw the book at the driver. What do you want me…
Gina: Sean, my role in this is over tomorrow. There will be front page stories, but in two, three days we’ll be on to something else. Just wrap it up. I need you to stay close to me.
Sean: But Gina, you can’t go on TV saying…
Gina: (interrupting) Don’t tell me what I can’t do. I know what I can and can’t do. Just do what I tell you to do. Wrap it up and move on.
Sean gets up and pours himself a larger glass of Scotch as Gina surfs stations looking for herself on television.
Trouble lurks around every corner, and not just with Gina, but also with John Cardinale and the Feds. When Cardinale’s muscle, Ricky Delgado, is murdered… well it looks as though Carmine and Steve will need all the help they can get, even if it means having to bring Sean into their confidence a bit sooner than expected.
No Meaner Place: Hynes, a former Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan, has written an engaging, rapid-paced thriller with the knowing, behind-the-scenes sense of humor of an insider. He brings us up close and personal into the world of district politics, corruption, ambition, family dysfunction and sound bites. With a female lead character seemingly modeled on both Sarah Palin and Paris Hilton, old school Irish politicians, a couple of good old fashioned mob stereotypes and the classic not-so-innocent guy in the middle, a fun and edgy potboiler is created. Most interestingly, this was Hynes first script, written while on hiatus from his day job. He was so new and inexperienced that he wrote it in Word and formatted it by hand. Although certainly the work of a beginner, it is still compelling material and signals the arrival of a rising star.
Life Lessons for Writers: To quote Dorothy Fields: “It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish and you’re gonna finish on top.”
Neely: I loved the script, warts and all. I don’t want to mislead anyone into thinking that it wouldn’t need changes, but for a first script this was terrific. So do you now own a copy of Final Draft?
Kevin: I do, I do. I wrote “Recovering Justice” on Word, because I didn’t know Final Draft existed. After meeting with a writer, someone who had an actual writing credit, he suggested that I get a copy of Final Draft and I’ve had a copy for about 2 years now.
Neely: I have to say, I loved your chutzpah in contacting me.
There are so many things to talk about, but let’s start with the script? Based on anything or anyone you knew?
Kevin: I was a prosecutor in the Manhattan DA’s office for 5 years. After that, I had my own criminal defense practice for 10 years and then went back to prosecution for the last two years of my career before I moved away from New York. What I tried to do was create a character that combined autobiography with stories from other friends of mine who had been in similar situations. Obviously the relationship between the father and the son is very personal with me. My father is the Brooklyn District Attorney and has been since 1989. The way in which Frank and Sean interact is very true to the way my father and I interacted and do interact. That part is very autobiographical. I tried to take the things I knew and the situations I’d been in and extend them. How would Sean react to this? How would Frank react to that? And I think that’s where most of “Recovering Justice” comes from.
I also had the experience of being an Assistant DA in Westchester County for two years and saw how a smaller town deals with criminal justice and prosecution issues. That experience really opened my eyes to the potential for corruption. The potential for justice being done for the wrong reasons was always present. When Sean lands in Westchester and finds that it’s more complicated than what he thinks it’s going to be, a lot of that came out of my experience in the Westchester DA’s office.
Neely: What are some other autobiographical elements in here?
Kevin: Sean’s career tracks my career. Sean was a prosecutor early on, then opens up his own law firm. Much of what Frank says about Sean’s career is true of my career. For instance, when I opened my defense firm I had immediate success.
Neely: What kind of clients?
Sean: Criminal, all criminal. I represented everything from drug dealers to mobsters to political corruption targets to murderers, robbers, burglars and gang banger activity. As I worked to defend these clients, it became clearer to me that justice is not always what a prosecutor or cop thinks it is. It’s a lot more gray than what I thought it was when I was in the DA’s office. It helped me create characters that are not just black and white. I think part of the problem with a lot of the writing that I’ve read is that you have the good guys and the bad guys. I think if you try to write as true to life as possible, it’s important to create characters that are gray because I think we’re all gray, different shades of gray. I think that everyday I wake up a different shade of gray. Some days I’m better than others and I think most people are that way.
Neely: There’s both a Graham Greene quote and one by Andre Gide that express something similar. Greene said, “The world is not black and white; more like black and gray.” And Gide expressed a similar thought when he stated “The color of truth is gray.”
Let’s broach a more touchy subject. When you went back to the DA’s office, this time in Westchester County, did you have a substance abuse problem that needed to be addressed?
Kevin: I’ve been open about the fact that for a while I had a problem with alcohol. It was definitely addressed and I’m now sober 5 years. I’m very proud – it was February 11th this year – that I had my 5 year anniversary. I had a lot of issues that happened at once – especially the depression that overtook me when one of my sons was diagnosed with autism. I think after that happened, the alcohol abuse escalated. Thank God I had a very supportive wife and loving kids who stuck by me and helped me get through it and understand that I was using alcohol as a crutch. I needed to be there for my family, especially for my son who requires a lot of care and a lot of attention.
Neely: Going back to your stint in Westchester Country, did your father help you get back into the DA’s office? Was it his suggestion…
Kevin: Actually I had run into the DA of Westchester County, Jeanine Pirro, at a political event. In addition to my prosecution and criminal defense work, I also did a lot of political work. DA’s are elected officials and so, therefore, they’re always running every 4 years. If you’re close to any DA you do a lot of political work. Jeanine suggested that I come and talk to her about a possible job. I spoke to my father about it and he was supportive. He thought that getting back into the DA’s office would be a good thing for my career, especially since it would open up opportunities to potentially get a judgeship at some point. He was a little bit concerned about the fact that Westchester is small and that justice might be a little bit different than what I was used to in Manhattan as a prosecutor. I don’t think he had any specific understanding of what it was, but his instincts were correct.
Neely: Your criminal defense firm was in Manhattan?
Kevin: It was, yes.
Neely: So when you left you went to Westchester, working for Jeanine Pirro (Kevin nods). Is she reflected in the character of the DA of Westchester?
Kevin: Gina? I would say again that all of the characters I create are a compilation of people I know and I think that some of DA Fuccio is Jeanine Pirro and some of it’s not. I worked for Jeanine for two years and I can say that she ran a very professional office. She worked very very hard but she looked at justice in a different way than what I was accustomed to. That’s not to say that she had the wrong way to look at justice, it was just different. I think some of Gina Fuccio’s ideas come out of Jeanine. Jeanine was very big on using the press to try her cases. I think there is a school of thought that says that prosecutors should be more vocal in the press in order to level the playing field because, certainly, defense attorneys have always done that. So some of that was evocative of my experiences in Westchester.
Neely: When you were in the DA’s office, both in Manhattan and then in Westchester County, what kind of cases did you handle?
Kevin: I started in the Manhattan DA’s office handling misdemeanors, larcenies like shoplifting at Macy’s, simple assault cases, and criminal trespasses. I quickly worked my way up to felonies where we got a lot of drug possession and drug sale cases. I specialized in robberies for a while. During the early 90s there was a rash of robberies in Times Square where tourists were being ripped off by roaming gangs of kids, mostly from Brooklyn. They’d take the subway into Manhattan and do strong-arm robberies where they’d assault the victims in broad daylight and take the victims’ money and jewelry. As a result of some pretty successful prosecutions in those kind of robberies, I was promoted to second seat on homicides.
Neely: Second… what?
Kevin: Second seat. I was the second lawyer, or second chair as it’s called in a lot of jurisdictions, on the case. So I basically ran the gamut in the DA’s office. They were all street crimes for the most part. I did a little white collar crime here and there and some arson cases, but I wasn’t that interested in the “paper” cases. I was really interested in the stuff that happened on the street everyday. New York was a violent place back in the early 90’s.
Neely: Was this pre-Bratton?
Kevin: It was pre-Bratton and pre-Giuliani. Dinkins was the mayor.
Neely: What kind of cases did you handle out of the Westchester DA’s office?
Kevin: I was the investigative counsel to the DA, which was a position that was created just for me. I handled all the sensitive and long-term cases like organized crime investigations. We had one that started as a prostitution case – a brothel in Mamaroneck. Mamaroneck is a tony town and we found a brothel there that triggered a major investigation that turned up police corruption. The brothel was being protected by the town of Mamaroneck’s police department, which led to an organized crime investigation because one of the police officers was connected to a very high level figure in the Gambino organization. That was a 6 month investigation where we ended up partnering with the Federal government. The Feds took part of it and we took part of it. That was probably the most interesting case that I participated in. It was fun. And then anytime there was any kind of investigation that the DA thought would be sensitive, with political implications, I’d get it. We had a case in Yonkers where we found one of the assistant clerks selling birth certificates for $50 per certificate. You would think that this was no big deal, it’s just a birth certificate…
Neely: …No. Actually I think in this age of identity theft that everyone gets the tremendous implications of such a thing.
Kevin: Also, with a birth certificate you can get a United States passport. So non-citizens were buying their Yonkers birth certificates from the deputy clerk and then using those birth certificates to get U.S. passports that are the cream of the cream of identification. If you have a U.S. passport you can go anywhere and do anything. We found a lot of non-citizens with these passports that they got as a result of these $50 birth certificates.
So it was a lot of fun; two years of lots of fun. I had a good experience there.
Neely: Other than “Law and Order,” television shows are always skewed to the defense attorney. You’ve done both sides of the street, so who, traditionally, is more successful? Who wins more often?
Kevin: I’d say the prosecution wins about 90% of the cases. But it depends on what you mean by win.
Neely: I know. It doesn’t mean justice, it just means who gets the conviction or the acquittal.
Kevin: I had a friend of mine who I grew up with in the Manhattan DA’s office who used to say, “There is no justice, there’s just us.” It’s interesting because, like anything else, perspective determines your definition of justice. But I can tell you, from being on both sides, what I found is, that beyond a doubt, the truth of any case lies in the middle.
The cops will come in and tell you one side of the story with the victim. As a prosecutor, you question that story and if you believe it, then you continue with the prosecution, go to the grand jury and the grand jury votes an indictment. Then you take the case to court and explain it to the judge and the judge will make a determination if the case should go forward. Then if it does, it goes to trial without ever first hearing the defense side. Sometimes you’ll get the defendant’s lawyer calling you and saying “Hey! This isn’t really what happened. My client tells me something else happened.”
When I went to the defense side, I was really shocked at the stories I would hear from my clients. I knew that many of the clients were not smart enough to make up the story that would be the potential defense. I started realizing that either cops were misperceiving or lying; that victims were either misperceiving or lying. As a result, I started becoming very upset with the way I had conducted myself for 5 years as a prosecutor. “Wow! Was I really being lied to? Was I really getting it that wrong?” And then what I started to learn was that a lot of my clients knew the system even better than me because they had been through the system. I did start realizing that a lot of these guys were telling me stories too. But which ones do you believe and which one don’t you believe? Which cops do you believe and which ones do you not? I think that’s what’s really difficult from a justice system point of view because the truth always lies in the middle.
There were some really interesting scientific experiments done recently about retrieval of memory. What they’re now saying, I think, is that when you go back into your mind to retrieve a memory, that when you retrieve it, that the act of retrieving it will change it in some way depending on the circumstances you’re in at that time. That is very different from what we were told when we were prosecutors. We were told “keep the memory fresh in the victim’s mind” because when they testify at trial, 6 months, 9 months down the line you want them to be able to remember. Well, the new science is saying that every time you try to go over it with them again, depending on the circumstances of your brain during that retrieval, it’s a changed memory. I think that’s very interesting from a criminal justice standpoint because so much of our system is based on people’s recollections. Sometimes you have a video tape of the crime, most of the times you don’t. If what each witness, victim, defendant and police officer remembers about what they saw at the time is going to be questioned based on that research, then the criminal justice system is going to have serious issues. Then there’s the “CSI” explosion. Juries have started saying “Where are the fingerprints? Where’s the blood evidence? Where’s the hair evidence?” And the bottom line is that most cases don’t have fingerprints and blood evidence; they just don’t. There’s no need for it and also the resources aren’t there. When you have jurors who are looking for more information and more evidence, to prove someone guilty, it becomes more difficult for the prosecution side.
Having said that, 95% of cases don’t go to trial, they end in a plea. And those are the result of negotiations. So going back to your question, if you have a 95% conviction rate because every plea is a conviction, you’re doing pretty good as a prosecutor. The reality is that when you do a plea negotiation, you’re always pleading down from the top charge, so both sides say they won. The prosecution says they won because they got a conviction and the defense says they won because they were able to get a plea down from the charge. But nobody in TV land really wants to watch cases that are pled out…
Neely: …like the new show about arbitration. It was a snore when it was pitched ten years ago and it’s pretty much still a snore now.
I’ve heard it said that the mob is “dead;” something that was both confirmed and contradicted recently with the arrest of more than 100 organized crime figures. “Dead” from the standpoint that they don’t seem to wield any influence anymore? And yet 100 of ‘em were just arrested. What’s that about?
Kevin: For anyone to think that the mob is dead… I’ve heard that the mob is dead every year since I’ve been in law enforcement. Some FBI agent or U.S. Attorney says basically the same thing, which is “This puts a gigantic dent into the mob” or “This will cripple the mob” or “This means the end of the mob.” The bottom line is, if that was true, then every year we wouldn’t have the same statement about the end of the mob.
Neely: My husband feels the same way about the yearly statement by one research group or another that says, “We’ve found a cure for schizophrenia.”
Kevin: Organized crime is never ever going to stop until you start attacking the way they make money. And the number one way that organized crime makes money is through illegal gambling – your bookie on the corner. The amount of money that illegal gambling takes in funds everything else the mob does – 10 times over! When you have that kind of capital coming in on a weekly basis, you can go into ventures that are not traditional organized crime arenas, and you can pay your soldiers while things are rough. Are things rough right now? I’d say for the Italian mob it’s probably rough and it’s been rough since the conviction of John Gotti. But they’re still out there; you still have huge amounts of organized crime in illegal gambling.
Neely: And you’ve got the Russians now…
Kevin: …and then you have the different groups. The Russians in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn have become huge. You have the Armenians who have a huge New York influence. Every ethnic group under the sun has their own criminal elements. The Irish had the Westies on the Westside of Manhattan for a long time; they ran the theater unions. That was one organized crime group that was pretty much killed off in the 80s and early 90s through a major indictment at the U.S. Attorney’s office. But they’re back, at a lower level, but they’re back in organized crime. The Asian gangs in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan are huge with a lot of it in extortion. Extortion is a gigantic problem in New York, and probably here too. Store owners are not, for the most part, going to blow the whistle because they don’t want retaliation. They pay their tribute on a weekly or monthly basis. For a while organized crime was into the stock market; they’re still doing some stuff with penny stocks.
But it’s funny to hear somebody in the Federal government on a yearly basis say “The mob is dead.” Then the next year they have a hundred arrests and they say “The mob is dead.” And it’s not and it’s not going away until… My father always said that if you had legal gambling in New York and took organized crime out of it, you’d then put them in a position where they’d have to scramble to find other avenues of money. And the tax revenue that would be obtained by the state through a tax in gambling would be huge. Right now gambling is taxed (by the mob) but it’s called the “vig.” Every time you put a bet down, you’re paying a certain percentage to the bookie. But if the State got that percentage… Mario Cuomo, when he was governor, once called my father and said, “They’re telling me that if we made sports’ gambling legal and taxed it, that we could build a domed stadium in New York.” And my father said, “If you taxed legal gambling in New York State you could dome New York State.” That’s the kind of money we’re talking about and that’s the kind of money the mob makes.
Neely: What about drugs? I always thought that drugs were number one.
Kevin: Drugs is where they make the biggest spread. You can buy the drugs at “x” and sell them for 5 times “x” when you cut it up. Your smart organized crime folks understand that the drug laws are such that if you get convicted of a drug penalty in New York you’re going to jail for 10-20-30 years. You get convicted of bookmaking in New York, you go to jail for maybe 90 days.
So most smart mobsters and most higher level mobsters will stay away from drugs. The Chinese are very good at importing heroine, so they will always do that. The Columbians are really good at getting cocaine into the country, mostly through Florida and then driving it up. That’s what fuels the cocaine market in New York. The distribution for both of those drugs is generally through the African American and Latino gangs; so the gangs and organized crime work hand in hand in getting stuff supplied to those who need it.
That’s another issue. We spend so much money on the war against drugs when, in fact, if we did more treatment rather than warehousing the people with drug problems, we’d have a much better effect on the community. Traditional organized crime tries to be careful… All those stories and all those movies you see where the Don doesn’t want the mafia into drugs… well that was very perceptive because the downfall of Italian organized crime was guys who were flipping on other organized crime officials when they were facing 20 or 30 years in prison. Whereas in the past, with extortion, burglaries and lower level felonies, they could do like 3 or 4 years and be out. So if a prosecutor comes to you and says “you’ve got to come and tell me all about your bosses up the line or we’re going to give you 3 or 4 years,” most mob guys laughed at that because they could do their 3 or 4 years. But when they come to you and say they’re going to give you 30 years because you were caught with a kilo of cocaine, a lot of mobsters started flipping on each other. So that was the downfall of the Italian mob, but they’re certainly not dead.
Neely: This is a great place to break. We’re going to continue our conversation next week with more personal matters. So stay tuned.
To Be Continued.