Mulino’s restaurant in downtown White Plains is bustling at lunch time. The tablecloths are white, the flowers fresh, the black ink linguine-gently kissed with hot peppers and calamari-sublime, and not cheap. Once, the silver-haired, olive-skinned attorney and power-broker Albert Pirro, husband of Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, dined here frequently. Now, the waiters say, they don’t see him around any more.
Since his conviction on June 22 on 34 felony counts of tax evasion and conspiracy, Mr. Pirro’s life is much changed. In his old life, a jury found, he illegally reduced his federal tax bill by charging Mercedes and Ferraris and vacation homes to his 32 businesses. In her old life, the lovely and warm Jeanine Pirro, whose political skills have been compared to President Bill Clinton’s, was on everyone’s lips as a possible gubernatorial or Senate candidate.
Now, awaiting sentencing Nov. 1, Mr. Pirro and the brown-eyed D.A. Pirro, who make a handsome, glittering couple, are more likely to be seen in their neighborhood church than at any of the many parties they once graced. Their $5 million home remains on the market, its vital statistics posted on a realtor’s Web site.
“I haven’t seen them around much,” former Westchester County Executive Andrew O’Rourke, now a federal judge, told The Observer . “I feel very sorry for their situation and the changes it is going to cause. I haven’t seen them-I haven’t seen them even to tell them I’m sorry.”
Mr. Pirro, it seems, is preparing to go to jail.
He has resigned from his law practice. He has quietly left his lobbying business, turning over his clients to partner Jeff Buley and placing his share of the firm in trust, with his wife as trustee. And, friends say, he is seeking a deal with federal prosecutors, promising not to appeal in exchange for a reduced sentence. The sentencing, which had been set for Sept. 28, has been pushed back to Nov. 1.
Exactly why prosecutors would agree to a deal with Mr. Pirro, whom they ferociously pursued-even comparing him in closing arguments to former President Richard Nixon-is unclear.
“He seems to be a person they very badly wanted to convict. They felt he was involved in all sorts of shady situations for a long time,” said Pace University law professor Bennett Gershman, who attended most of the trial of Mr. Pirro and his younger, more awkward brother, Anthony, an accountant. “I’m not sure they would be interested unless they thought [Albert Pirro] could hand over somebody very big in government and politics, and I guess you can just speculate who those people might be.”
Over the years, Mr. Pirro had sat before many a planning board and city or village council in Westchester County, representing clients like Donald Trump in enormous and divisive development deals. Indeed, there is plenty of whispers in the county about Mr. Pirro and what could be said to federal prosecutors.
And that, said a source familiar with Mr. Pirro’s thinking, is all it is: whispers.
“This has zero truth to it. Just because the sentencing has been postponed, there’s all this speculation,” the source said.
Other sources said the sentencing delay merely reflects a request by the Probation Department for more time to prepare its sentencing report. The Probation Department did not return calls for comment.
But several present and former prosecutors said the court record is consistent with a man who is seeking a deal. On July 5, an order was filed requesting a motion for a new trial by July 14, but no such papers were ever filed. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District wouldn’t comment on the case, nor would Mr. Pirro’s attorney, Robert Giuffra.
One motive for a post-conviction agreement might be the prosecutor’s fear that Mr. Pirro might appeal. But, said a prosecutor not affiliated with the case, “If you spent all that time and he makes you go to trial, and you have a slam-dunk case and the jury totally validates it, I would see that as a very strange deal.”
There is also, the prosecutors said, very little leeway under federal sentencing rules for a prosecutor to reduce a sentence-unless there’s an offer of cooperation. “We’re talking about a sentence that’s required, under the federal guidelines, of 36 to 48 months,” said Mr. Gershman, “and there’s no parole in the federal system anymore.”
The court file contains very little else since the June 22 conviction-just an order from Judge Barrington Parker asking for motions on the pending sentencing. And a handwritten notation from Anthony Pirro, the accountant, that shows him with assets of $449,000 and liabilities of $683,223, supporting his assertion that he can’t afford to pay the balance of his attorney’s fee’s, $360,000. Anthony Pirro, Albert Pirro’s co-conspirator, also faces considerable jail time.
Albert Pirro, friends say, has spent more than $1 million on his defense, and more than that in back taxes and fees paid when he learned of the investigation. His family, accustomed to living a lavish lifestyle that was revealed in painstaking-almost painful-detail at the trial, is now reliant on Jeanine’s $136,700 income. The enclosure for the pet pigs, the enormous gates for the home off of Flagler Drive, the private planes to his daughter’s summer camp, the artwork, the Oriental rugs, and of course, the cars-all seem off the “buy list.”
Instead, the grandiose Pirro home, with a soaring, glass-enclosed central hallway, has been reduced to a Web site listing of Julia B. Fee Real Estate: “custom built-ins, many extras, oversize pool/Jacuzzi … all fenced and very private in back.” The special features include a powder room, alarm and three-car garage. The house, which sits in a cul-de-sac on Flagler Drive, a circle at the top of a hill with enormous, recently built homes, was listed several weeks ago for $5.2 million and reduced by Sept. 25 to $4.995 million to help speed up sale, said realtor Adrienne Lipman. “We haven’t sold it yet; we’ve had tremendous interest, but it’s still available,” she said.
According to friends, Mrs. Pirro is looking for a more modest home, but intends to keep her children, 11 and 15, in private schools. Her office has issued a steady patter of press releases, and the District Attorney spent four enthusiastic days at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. “This is like a vacation, after everything that’s happened,” Mrs. Pirro said at the time.
Shortly before that, however, as she faced a period as a single parent in a one-income family, Mrs. Pirro had discussed with friends the possibility of stepping down as District Attorney to seek a more lucrative job in the private sector. Friends now say she is preparing, at the moment, a race for re-election in 2001.
“Jeanine Pirro is intent on re-election and will run and win handily,” said Kieran Mahoney, Mrs. Pirro’s political consultant.
She will likely be doing it without her husband at her side. In fact, the top prosecutor of Westchester County may be running for re-election with her husband in jail.
And without his income. A convicted felon cannot serve as a lawyer, and Mr. Pirro, had he not voluntarily given up his law practice, automatically would have been disbarred. There are no such rules for lobbyists, however, and Mr. Pirro, especially under Governor George Pataki, has been one of the state’s most successful ones.
In 1999, according to an annual report compiled by the New York State Lobbying Commission, Mr. Pirro’s lobbying firm earned an average of $99,704 a client, the highest average client fee in Albany.
Now, Mr. Pirro has changed the name of his firm from Pirro Buley & Associates to Buley Public Affairs. At the end of August, Mr. Pirro and Mr. Buley filed forms with the lobbying commission, turning over the firm’s clients-among them, Coca-Cola Bottling, the Greater New York Hospital Association and Trump Hotel & Casino Resorts-to Mr. Buley. Mr. Buley has changed the company’s business cards and its sign. Filing those papers and restructuring the firm has absorbed much of Mr. Pirro’s attention since the conviction.
Sometime this year (or next, if Mr. Pirro is able to give federal prosecutors what they need), he will almost certainly go to jail for some period of time. His wife and children will move to a smaller, more modest home, and she may run for re-election as District Attorney-but most political observers believe that her career ends in Westchester County.
The Pirros have made many enemies, but they have many loyal friends whose children, if they are the same ages, share outings with the Pirro children-or who, if they have younger children, rely on the Pirro son or daughter to baby-sit.
Still, the Pirros’ lives, said one friend, “are terrible, terrible, tragic.”
Theirs is, perhaps, an Icarus story.
Or maybe, as family friend Andrew O’Rourke said, an Aeschylus drama. “The Aeschylus thing is the hardest, the fatal flaw. I don’t think in Jeanine-maybe in Al. I knew this guy; he was always on the run. I could have well believed he didn’t pay enough attention [to his taxes]. But the jury found otherwise, and I believe in the jury system.”