(This story is true. All names have been changed to protect the people’s privacy.)
It was in the late 1980s. Retired FBI agent Tim McCarthy, Inspector General for the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, took the call in his office from Kevin Green, the head of the FBI-NYPD Inter-Agency Task Force investigating official corruption in New York State and City government.
“Tim, can you come down to the city ASAP?” Special Agent Green asked. “It’s something I can’t discuss on the phone.”
“Sure,” replied Tim. “I’ll see you tomorrow at the FBI office a half-hour after the train comes in from Albany.”
The next morning McCarthy and Green met in Green’s office in Manhattan.
“NYPD arrested Jose Rodriguez, a lowlife who was getting phony licenses and registrations in Brooklyn,” Green told McCarthy. “Rodriguez wants to cop a plea with no jail time. He told the cops that he could give them a ‘big guy’ at DMV, so they brought him to us.”
“Who’s he selling out?” asked McCarthy.
“Someone really big – the top civil servant in DMV in the City, the Director of Downstate Field Operations, a guy named Sam Goldberg, who he says is on the take.”
Green proceeded to tell McCarthy the whole story.
“Rodriguez runs an unlicensed private service bureau. For a fee, he brings people’s applications to DMV offices and waits in the lines. But he also deals in phony registrations for stolen or salvage cars and licenses for people who can’t get them legitimately. He collects a thousand dollars for each phony registration or license he gets. He has clerks in Brooklyn who take his paper – the fake birth certificates, phony passports, forged bills of sale, etc. – and issue good documents. They get about a hundred for each registration or license. To make sure he has no problems, he got hold of Goldberg and pays him off to look the other way and not investigate any of the ”ad paper’ he passes off on the clerks.”
“We’ve decided we’re going to pick up Goldberg and sweat him. Rodriguez gave us a lot of details and it sounds good,” Green said to McCarthy. “We want you there because you know Goldberg and can help us put pressure on him to make admissions.”
“Yes, I know Goldberg – very well, and that’s why I don’t believe this bull – story about him. He’s a religious man. He really believes that stuff in the Bible about honesty. He would never take a bribe,” McCarthy insisted.
“Well, Rodriguez told us exactly how he passes the money to Goldberg. With so many details, we have to believe him. He says he calls Goldberg around noon from the pay phones in the lobby of 80 Centre Street, where Goldberg’s office is. He gets Goldberg on the phone, using an alias they previously agreed on, doesn’t say anything, and hangs up. That’s the signal for Goldberg to come down. Rodriguez buys a hot dog from the corner hot dog stand, slips five folded 100-dollar bills between the hot dog and the napkin. Goldberg comes out of the building, goes to the hot dog stand, and Rodriguez unobtrusively gives him the hot dog with the money. Goldberg starts eating the hot dog and walks back into the building and goes to his office.”
At this, McCarthy started to laugh out loud. “You don’t know Sam Goldberg at all,” he said. “He’s 100% kosher – both figuratively and literally. He’s so honest he would never take a bribe nor would he even touch a hot dog from that hot dog stand. They’re not kosher. He doesn’t even eat just any kosher – it has to be glatt kosher. When he comes to Albany, he brings all his food with him. When we meet here in the city, all of us in DMV know this so we let him pick the restaurant for lunch.”
“You won’t sweat Sam Goldberg on this kind of bull—-. Not while I’m around,” McCarthy said.
“Pull Rodriguez in,” McCarthy insisted, tell him to make a payoff to Goldberg with marked money. You offer him complete immunity if Goldberg takes the money as Rodriguez says he does. I personally guarantee it won’t happen.”
After a lot of urging by McCarthy, Green finally agreed to the sting operation. Needless to say, Rodriguez couldn’t deliver. There was no way he could arrange for Sam Goldberg – who he hated because Goldberg actually had barred him from the Brooklyn DMV office for his illegal activities – to meet him and accept anything from him.
Years later, at my retirement party, Tim McCarthy told me this story. I had been at the press conference at which Rodriguez’s arrest was announced. Sam Goldberg was singled out for his cooperation with the investigation. Jose Rodriguez got no immunity – he pleaded guilty and went to jail as did a number of DMV clerks and others involved in the scam.