Maurice Nadjari, Crusading, and Criticized, Prosecutor, Dies at 95


Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller created the job and selected Mr. Nadjari, who had been a pugnacious, high-profile prosecutor for 18 years. Attorney General Louis J. Lefkowitz, Mr. Nadjari’s nominal superior, made the actual appointment over the objections of the local prosecutors, who were told to turn over their files on pending investigations.

Chasing corruption was tough. It was all hidden. Conspirators talked only when forced to. And to make cases hold up in court, rules had to be followed: no wiretaps without court orders, no trapping people into committing crimes, no exceeding jurisdiction or violating suspects’ rights. Experienced prosecutors said it needed a careful touch.

But Mr. Nadjari came on like gangbusters, ballyhooing indictments at news conferences, and his cases often led nowhere. He trumpeted pending action on $70 million worth of “French Connection” heroin, seized in a notorious international smuggling case, that had vanished from the police property clerk’s office, but no charges were filed. A 16-month inquiry produced a charge that a housing inspector had taken a $30 bribe, but he was acquitted. Hundreds of police sergeants were suspected of shaking down businesses all over town, but only a dozen were convicted.

And in major cases, Mr. Nadjari’s methods tripped him up more often than his suspects. In one, he staged a mock robbery to see if anyone would tamper with the case as it moved through the courts; in another, a federal judge, Paul P. Rao Sr., was indicted on charges of lying to a grand jury about a talk he had had with an undercover agent. But the indictment was dismissed, and an appeals court denounced Mr. Nadjari’s “illegal, outrageous and intolerable methods.”

Thomas I. Fitzgerald, a court official, was indicted for perjury, but an appeals court threw out the case, citing an illegal wiretap. Dominic Rinaldi, a State Supreme Court justice in Brooklyn, was also indicted for perjury but acquitted. The city Tax Commission president, Norman Levy, was convicted of fixing parking tickets, a misdemeanor that was reversed on appeal. Other cases led to similar results.

In December 1975, Gov. Hugh L. Carey, a Democrat, moved to dismiss Mr. Nadjari as special prosecutor, citing his poor record. Mr. Nadjari said the governor was trying to cover up an investigation, which later led to the indictment of Patrick J. Cunningham, the state Democratic leader, on charges of selling judgeships. Mr. Lefkowitz gave Mr. Nadjari six more months in office, and the charges against Mr. Cunningham were dismissed before trial.

After stepping down in 1976, Mr. Nadjari ran unsuccessfully for Queens district attorney against John J. Santucci in 1977, and practiced law for many years on Long Island. The special prosecutor’s office was not abandoned. Mr. Nadjari had six successors who achieved some successes, mostly in police corruption cases, despite smaller staffs and budgets. The office went out of business in 1990.

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