New York Daily News

January 2, 2004

Ex-Fed's on PBA Side in Gray Case

By JOHN MARZULLI
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

Former federal prosecutor Mary Jo White, who once busted crooked cops, is now defending the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association against accusations it helped cover up a drunken officer's deadly crash, the Daily News has learned.

White, the former Manhattan U.S. attorney, is representing the PBA in a $200 million lawsuit filed in the case of four family members wiped out by drunken off-duty cop Joseph Gray in 2001.

"We have an obligation to provide police officers with the best possible representation available, and in this particular lawsuit Mary Jo White knows the terrain better than anybody," said PBA spokesman Al O'Leary.

During her nine-year tenure, White prosecuted two high-profile cases involving the PBA, winning convictions against two former union lawyers on corruption charges and a union delegate who killed a Bronx man with an illegal choke hold.

The union did not reveal how much it is paying the legal heavy hitter to fend off charges "the PBA and its agents acted to hinder the investigation and prosecution" of Gray.

Gray had been on an all-day drinking binge when he got behind the wheel of a van in August 2001 and plowed into Maria Herrera, 24, who was pregnant; her 4-year-old son, Andy, and her sister, Dilcia Pea, 16. Herrera's son, Ricardo, was delivered by emergency Caesarean section but did not survive.

After Gray was convicted of manslaughter, a Brooklyn prosecutor complained cops mishandled evidence and paperwork in the case. There also was trial testimony that an officer investigating the accident and union officials discussed giving Gray a "benefit" on a sobriety test.

But an internal NYPD probe found no evidence of a coverup.

The PBA could take a big financial hit if it loses the suit. In 2001, the union paid torture victim Abner Louima an unprecedented $1.6 million settlement of a similar lawsuit.

The union denies the charges in the lawsuit.

Other defendants include Gray, who is serving a five- to 15-year sentence, the Sunset Park topless bar where Gray went boozing before the accident, the city and more than a dozen cops and supervisors.

"My client has nothing," said Gray's lawyer George Repetti. "If they get a judgment against him, it's going to be like getting a judgment against a homeless guy."

White could not be reached for comment.