Quogue and Calamity
New York City’s notorious “French Connection” case became a book, then a movie, and, in later years spawned a more spectacular crime.
The evidence, 97 lbs. of heroin with a street value of $70 million, had been stowed securely in the Property Clerk’s Office. The heavily guarded former Loft Candy factory was virtually impregnable. It had cast iron doors and walls that were a monstrous eight feet thick.
Seven years after its seizure the French Connection heroin and other drug evidence totaling 400 lbs. had disappeared, all replaced by flour and cornstarch.
When the theft was discovered, newspapers, radio and television were relentless in their coverage, it became an international media sensation. A massive investigation was undertaken when Special State Prosecutor Maurice H. Nadjari ordered the police commissioner to open his files, and demanded full jurisdiction over the investigative proceedings.
Three years later, after a $14 million investigation, Nadjari hadn’t arrested anyone for the crime and was dismissed by Governor Carey.
Immediately afterward, a zealous young United States attorney in the Eastern District of New York, Thomas Puccio (prior to the Abscam investigation and later defense of Claus von Bulow), assumed control of the case.
Retiring from the NYPD as a Lieutenant of Detectives, I had opened up a private investigating agency. One of my first assignments was acting as a bodyguard to a decorated Vietnam veteran. Unknown to me, his father was a suspect in the theft of the French Connection drugs. I now became a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation.
Meeting with U.S. attorney Puccio, I offered to take a lie detector test to terminate his harassment. The discussion ended badly, when I lunged across his desk and tried to punch him in the mouth. He subsequently brought charges against me for tax evasion. After a trial, I was found guilty of making excess expenditures of $78,000 — the majority of which had come from a prior inheritance and the remainder from loans.
The judge a somber Honorable Orrin G. Judd solemnly stated, “Defendant sentenced to imprisonment for a period of five years.” As I glanced at Puccio, he was smiling. My exasperated attorney Gerry Alch exploded. “I am going to file an appeal that has to reverse this travesty.”
I turned to my wife Tobe sitting in the first row. Her face was ashen as I said, “Look, we’re going to be OK. It’s not the end of the world.” “Time will go by fast.” The tears were rolling down her face. “Pat, this is unbelievable. They will kill you there.”
Alch prepared a very thorough brief, attacking the judge. “His prejudicial conduct,” “making remarks in the presence of the jury,” allowing the prosecutor to reopen the government’s case in order to present evidence allegedly establishing a ‘starting point’ which never was established. Negating assets available to the defendant prior to the years of indictments.” Alch ended, “Judd became an overzealous participant in the trial.”
Tobe rented a small house in Quogue near the beach. She knew I was agonizing on how to tell my eight-year-old son I was going away. “Pat, why don’t you take a ride out with him to Quogue to show him the house.”
The cottage was small but close enough to the beach on Dune Road, and Patrick liked it. “Patrick, let’s go down to the beach.”
As we walked barefoot the seagulls were circling and squawking overhead and Pat began to pick up large clam shells. “Dad may have to get a job in another state for a while.” He dropped the shells, “Can I come with you?” “Geraldine will be leaving for college soon. I need you to take my place, and look after Mom and Julie.” On the way back to Flushing he fell asleep with his head on my lap still holding on to his clam shells. I put my hand on his head, he needed me, and was he breaking my heart.
Returning to Quogue, the pounding surf was high and loud as I opened my newspaper. A large headline and familiar face stood out from the obituary page. “Judge Orrin G. Judd Dies, Cited Willowbrook Abuses” “He died of a heart attack in Aspen, Colorado. He was 69 years old.” “He presided over many highly publicized cases.”
One of the last publicized cases Judd presided over was mine. “Jesus.” Tobe’s first comment was, “Good.” I shook my head. “No, it’s not good.” “The guy was an institution.” The basis of my appeal was a critical attack on the judge and his prejudicial conduct, and the errors he made. If the Circuit Court granted me an appeal now, it would be a rebuke at the end of Judd’s illustrious career.
A few days later in the serene innocence of the Quogue Post Office the notice from the United States Attorney’s Office arrived like a time bomb.
Dear Mr. Intrieri,
The judgment of conviction having been affirmed by the Court of Appeals on July 21, 1976, you are hereby directed to surrender yourself to the United States Marshal for the Eastern District of New York, Cadman Plaza East, Brooklyn, New York, at 10:00 A. M. August 12, 1976. Upon your failure to appear, steps will be taken to forfeit your bail and a bench warrant will be issued for your arrest.
Tobe looked at me when I returned. “What’s wrong?” Tobe, usually very calm, became upset as she read . “Pat, all those people you put away, a lot of them are still in jail. Those kidnappers, the drug pushers, the Black Panthers. They’re serving long sentences. What if you are put with them? Even if you are not, and they find out where you are, they have friends.”
We started walking westward down the beach to the Surf Club. The waves crashing in a steady cadence seemed to be ticking off the time.
My lawyer had learned I was designated to do my time in the Federal prison in Minnesota, in the middle of the country. It was going to be a hardship for the family to visit me.
I had to be alone for a while and walked into the ocean. The cold rolling waves relaxed me as I swam out. Past anger, how did it all come down to this? Once I retired, I should have cut all ties with the past. I couldn’t undo anything. Now 47 years old could I handle prison? The confinement, maybe being put in with men, I put away? I kept swimming and the shore became a distant line seen only at the top of the waves.
For a brief moment I asked myself, ‘where are all the hungry sharks?’ This is wrong. The family needs me. I slowly turned back and swam towards the beach. It took me a while to return. Nelson Stewart a good friend had been swimming towards me. When he got close, he stopped and floated on his back. We swam back to the beach together in silence. He had been watching me become a speck and almost disappear in the waves.
Then Gerry Alch did something that might have saved my life. He wrote to Norman Carlson the Director of the Bureau of Prisons in Washington. He strongly pointed out the inherent danger of my being placed in general prison population, that “my former occupation might soon be common knowledge, and might result in inmate reprisals.”
In August Hurricane Belle with winds topping 100 miles per hour swept up the Atlantic coast headed straight for Long Island. The Quogue Police knocked on our door about 10:00 PM as drenching rain and high tides ate at the foot of the dunes. We were told to evacuate the house and go inland to the firehouse in Quogue.
Horizontal winds of 115 miles an hour struck in the early morning. Trees were uprooted, severed limbs snapped power lines. Poles lay across roads. Picture windows on oceanfront homes were blown in.
High tides reached 15 feet above normal. Power was out. The foot of the dune was carved out leaving walkways on top of the dunes suspended in the air with a 15 to 20 foot sheer drop to the roaring surf below.
The ocean now calmed, receded, the beach much shorter than before looked like a gigantic dump for miles in either direction. Stairways, broken timbers, heavy beams, piles, doors, sections of walkways, a refrigerator, it’s doors ripped off, all lay on a blanket of seashells, grass and marine life. Fish and vegetation churned up from the ocean bed. Now exposed, heating up, and starting to smell on the once pristine white sandy beach.
As the sun got hot the following day the salt water picked up by Belle’s screeching winds burned the southerly-facing side of all the deciduous trees. Green oaks, maples, birches had turned dark brown from top to bottom on the one side.
I was leaving in a few days, and the devastation seemed a precursor of my future.
virtually impregnable. It had cast iron doors and walls that were a monstrous eight feet thick.