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New York Parole Board Commissioner Convicted

Federal Inquiry Continues

by Julia Lutsky

In April of 1996 John Kim walked out of prison on parole; he had been sentenced four years earlier to four to twelve years for armed robbery. His father, Nam Soo Kim, pastor of one of New York City's largest Korean congregations, had contributed several thousand dollars to Governor George Pataki's campaign coffers in 1995. The families of two other Korean prisoners made contributions of $12,000 and $9,500 each to Pataki's campaigns. They were not so lucky, however; their sons were not released. The parents of one of these visited the offices of Zachary Carter, then federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, causing the initiation of a federal investigation which has resulted in the August 3rd 1999 conviction of New York State Parole Commissioner Sean McSherry. McSherry, 47, from Chester and a former Bronx prosecutor, had been the lead official on the three-member panel of the Parole Board that ordered John Kim's release over the objections of Queens prosecutors [PLN, May, 1999].

When McSherry was indicted for lying, perjury and obstruction of justice in October of 1998, Ronald Hotaling, then secretary to the Division of Parole Chairman, was arrested and charged with giving misleading information to a grand jury and to a deputy in the federal investigation. Hotaling, who had left the Division of Parole in 1996, pleaded guilty in August of this year after cooperating with federal prosecutors during McSherry's trial. It was he, according to Assistant US Attorney Anthony Macht, who transmitted instructions to McSherry. McSherry "deliberately lied when he told federal authorities that the early release of a violent gang member was not influenced by politics, [the] prosecutor said...'He invented whole conversations...In short, he told big fat lies.'"

McSherry was convicted by a 12 woman federal jury in Brooklyn of federal charges including perjury and obstruction of justice. He was sentenced to two years in prison. His lawyer, Diarmund White, said that he would appeal because he said his client "had been pressured into making misstatements, but [had] never intentionally lied." Pataki spokesman, Michael McKeon, accused the federal prosecutors of "using [the] trial to embarrass the governor."

During his own trial Hotaling suggested that the Pataki appointed chairman of the Parole Board, Brion T. Travis, "told him of 'the interest of the Governor's office in the release' of [a] felon." Travis had been chairman of the parole board panel that approved the release of two Israeli drug dealers in 1996 before they had completed their minimum sentences. The New York State Parole Board has been revamped in the past several months, several state officials reported to the New York Times, and Travis' role in day to day operations has been reduced. "Thomas Grant, a spokesman for Mr. Travis, would not comment on Mr. Travis' job."

Yung Soo Yoo, the Republican fund raiser for Pataki who had suggested the original $1,000 donation Nam Soo Kim made to Pataki's campaign in 1995, and Patrick Donahue, one of Pataki's top campaign aides and presently his campaign finance director, were also targeted for grand jury investigation but they have not yet been charged. The federal inquiry includes as well the case of Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, released in 1996 after being convicted in 1994 of kidnapping a teenager that same year. Prosecutors allege "that a parole officer 'took steps to facilitate the release' of Rabbi Helbrans because the official felt 'improper political pressure' being brought on the rabbi's behalf"; and that such pressure might have been exerted by Leon Perlmutter, "an influential rabbi, who has assisted the Pataki campaign in raising money from Orthodox Jews." [New York Times, 8/19/99]

There is no indication that the Governor was involved in any of the parole decisions, but he did meet Incha Chung, the mother of Boyoung Chung, who was convicted of murder. She had given $9,500 to Pataki's campaign to speed her son's release, so when she met the Governor at a fund raiser, she whispered to him that she was "waiting for news." According to the NY Times, "The governor ... replied that he did not know what she was talking about and walked away."

Sources: The New York Post, 8/30/99; The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, New York 8/3/99, 8/4/99; The New York Times 8/19/99

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