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Long before he became mayor of New York or the Republican front-runner for the presidency, Rudy Giuliani made a name for himself as a crime-busting federal prosecutor in Manhattan, taking on the mob and white-collar criminals in a manner that hinted of bigger things to come.
During a nearly seven-year stretch ending in 1989, Giuliani steered dozens of high-profile cases to completion, garnering more than 4,000 convictions. He tangled with mob bosses, Wall Street executives and corrupt politicians â€” and was never afraid to invite the bright lights of TV cameras to accompany his quests.
In 1986, he and then-Sen. Alfonse D’Amato wore disguises and bought two vials of crack in an undercover operation designed to illustrate the drug epidemic that was raging across the city. At a news conference later, Giuliani showed up wearing a black leather Hells Angels motorcycle vest over his white shirt.
Among those who worked with him or observed him then, there were fans and critics of Giuliani’s showy style, but little criticism of the results.
Stuart Abrams, an assistant U.S. Attorney when Giuliani arrived at the prosecutor’s office in Manhattan in 1983, said Giuliani was greeted with skepticism when he first took the job because he had just left the No. 3 position at the Justice Department in Washington.
He had been in Washington since 1975, when he joined the Justice Department in the Ford administration after switching to the Republican Party following a stint as a Democrat. He left for private practice when Jimmy Carter became president, but returned under President Reagan.
Normally, Abrams said, federal prosecutors were chosen from among prominent attorneys in New York, rather than from those holding public office in the nation’s capital.
But Giuliani quickly won over admirers after proving to be highly skillful at using racketeering laws to diminish the clout of the mob in New York City.
Abrams said Giuliani annoyed some judges with his penchant for publicity, but managed to overcome critics by pushing across ideas, even if they weren’t always his own.
“It wasn’t as though he invented these things,” Abrams said. “People who do have fresh ideas and don’t have the ambition to make them reality, you probably never hear from.”
Alex Michelini, a former Daily News reporter, said Giuliani was a media darling for making splashy announcements of major crime initiatives such as the arrests of two Wall Street executives who were handcuffed at work and paraded past colleagues. The charges were later dropped.
One federal judge hated Giuliani so much that he used to enter the courthouse press room to complain about what he perceived to be an exceedingly brash young prosecutor, Michelini said.
But Giuliani had learned the buttons and levers of power in Washington and understood the value of publicity, Michelini said.
“He started going after politicians nobody had gone after. His attack on the mob was unprecedented,” he said. “He went after the subjects with absolute passion and in many respects was ruthless, but a lot of good came out of it.”
One of his most famous exploits was the undercover crack deal with D’Amato. Giuliani and D’Amato went out with an agent and handed a crack dealer $20 for two vials of the drug â€” a transaction that was recorded by agents and news photographers in a nearby van.
The stunt drew criticism from Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau, who said the failure by the federal government to commit enough resources to fight drug dealers left local governments hopelessly outnumbered by drug dealers.
Giuliani went after mobsters and corruption with the same zeal. He prosecuted the leaders of all five of New York’s organized crime families, resulting in long prison terms for four of them, and launched the famous Pizza Connection case that broke up a Sicilian-run heroin operation.
Giuliani also launched probes resulting in the jailing of Wall Street titans like Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken, and ended the careers of several powerful but corrupt politicians, including bribe-taking Bronx boss Stanley Friedman.
Bruce Baird, another former federal prosecutor who worked for Giuliani, praised his old boss for his assault on organized crime and corruption and for expanding the number of prosecutors investigating Wall Street fraud from just a handful to about 25.
“He just took on one problem after another, was smart about it, and threw resources at it,” he said.
Baird said Giuliani’s success against organized crime “felt revolutionary.” Before Giuliani, few prosecutors used racketeering laws to lock up mobsters â€” a tactic that is commonplace these days.
“I had New York City cops coming up to me thanking me,” Baird said. “Breaking the stranglehold of organized crime in some areas felt like a new world.”
Charles Ross, a public defender during the 1980s, was critical of Giuliani’s effort to make federal crimes out of what normally were state drug cases involving buy-and-bust operations.
“I think it was a very ineffective policy. It’s a hard message to get out to low-level drug dealers. The drug problem continued unabated for years,” he said. “I think he genuinely believed it was an approach that would deter crime. I think his belief was misplaced.”
Randy Mastro, a former federal prosecutor who became one of Giuliani’s top mayoral aides, said one of Giuliani’s achievements included using federal forfeiture laws to evict drug dealers from low-cost rental apartments in housing projects.
“When agents showed up, the other residents of those projects literally stood and cheered,” he said.
But despite the turbulent times, Mastro said Giuliani never lost his sense of humor.
“He can quote line after line from ‘The Godfather,'” Mastro said.
Copyright Â© 2007 The Associated Press