The abrupt firing of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bahara sent a shudder through Queens, where his prosecutions of corrupt politicians seems to have halted the long parade of lawmakers found guilty of illegal dealings.
Bahara, who spent eight years as the head of the most powerful prosecutor’s office in the country, earned his stripes for rooting out corruption in politics, white collar crime on Wall Street, terrorism and big bank fraud.
Appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009 and asked by then President-elect Donald Trump to stay on, Bahara was fired last week after he refused to resign as part of a mass housing cleaning of 45 attorney generals across the country. It was ordered by the Justice Department, which under earlier administrations had followed the same practice.
But Bahara’s ouster raised disturbing questions since Trump Towers in Manhattan is in his office’s jurisdiction, the venue for possible investigations into the president.
Three days before his firing Bahara, known for his independence and bipartisan prosecution of lawmakers, was asked by watchdog groups to investigate foreign money flowing into Trump’s companies. Sources say the FBI has been looking into whether Trump entities have received funds or payments from Russia, which is suspected of trying to influence the U.S. presidential election.
Bahara, who has assiduously avoided politics, also may have had a number on his back as the former chief counsel for New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, now the Democratic minority leader, who has tangled with Trump on his agenda.
But closer to home in Queens, Bahara left his mark on three high-profile cases that sent state Sen. Hiram Monserrate to jail in 2010 for using nonprofit funds to pay staffers for his failed Senate run. In 2013 he indicted state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Jamaica) and City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Bayside) in a corruption case in which Smith tried to bribe his way onto the GOP line in the race for mayor. Both men are still serving long sentences.
His reach shook the halls in Albany last year, when Bahara won corruption convictions of Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Brooklyn), and Republican Senate majority leader Dean Skelos. Both men have appealed.
Bahara’s unexpected departure leaves his yearlong investigation into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s political fund-raising hanging in the balance.
But in this borough his legacy is quite clear: No elected official has faced federal corruption charges since the crusading prosecutor brought down Smith and Halloran back in 2013.