By George Capsis
“Croman’s going to court tomorrow. Want to come?” offered Nelly Godfrey of the now City Marshall-padlocked Christopher Street restaurant, Lima’s Taste, victim of the worst slum lord in recent City history, Steve Croman. According to Attorney General (AG) Eric Schneiderman, he is facing 25 years in prison.
At the entrance of the Criminal Court building, a group of about 25 Croman tenant victims stood waiting to jeeringly confront the owner of 140 Manhattan tenement buildings. Croman had hired an ex-cop, with the appropriate name Falconite, to harass the rent-controlled and rent-stabilized tenants into signing agreements to exit their apartments for token payments.
The sign indicating that “[t]he front aisle is reserved for attorneys” sent me to the second aisle where the first seat was occupied by a suited gentleman to whom I offered, “You have to be a lawyer.” He agreed, but I was waiting to meet Croman’s star defense attorney Benjamin Brafman who defended a rouge’s gallery of New York Post Page 5 miscreants and who lawyer scuttlebutt claimed was earning a one-million-dollar fee to keep Croman out of prison.
As chance would have it, Brafman arrived and came up to my next-seat companion, attorney Joel Cohen, and chatted with me. I concluded that they were both retained by Croman, so I offered to Brafman, “I understand you are being paid one million dollars to defend Croman,” which brought a wrinkled brow and hesitation. He blurted out “More, more.” Croman slipped in and sat behind Cohen and I turned to give him a smile of greeting; he returned it with perplexity.
The Croman case was called and the attorneys for the AG and Croman gathered in front of the judge’s desk for an inaudible conference. Then, the young female judge announced a postponement till November¾a classic tactic of Croman is legal delay to bleed his tenants who have to pay legal fees. Attorney Cohen offered that he had asked the AG for “some papers”.
I then confronted Brafman and asked if I could e-mail him questions and he offered, “It is better that way.” Our Joe Turco drafted a few but received “no comment”.
I went down in the elevator from the appropriate 13th floor with the anti-Cromanites when one confessed that he had confronted Croman. “What did you say?” came my quick question. “I told him I am Jewish and they say that the Jews killed Jesus and he had to behave better.”
For too long, the attitude has been that for-profit consultants or companies, with their money-making incentive and drive, could do a job more efficiently and better than City drudges.