Carl Vergari: The Last Great Westchester DA
Carl Vergari was a remarkable man, a devoted husband and father, and a tireless public servant. I had the privilege of being touched by him at two points in my life, as a young Westchester County Probation Officer in the late sixties, and again, for the past four years, since authoring The Jeanine Machine. Carl was a ‘no nonsense’ kind of executive, who expected excellence from his attorneys and investigators, and led by example. Unlike the DA who would follow him, and who never saw a camera she didn’t love, Carl was so involved in his work, he never stood still long enough to catch a picture of him.
Born in Yonkers in 1921, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on his 20th birthday. A year later, upon graduating from Fordham University, he joined the Marines, and was sent off to face the enemy in the Pacific Theater of Operations. Compiling a brilliant record in service, he emerged from the war with the rank of Captain. He entered St. John’s Law School, going to work in the Manhattan DA’s Office in 1948, under the legendary
Frank Hogan. In ten years there Carl rose to become the head of the Rackets Bureau.
Carl’s innovativeness and work ethic landed him an appointment as assistant counsel to the State Investigation Commission, a newly formed state agency which would go on to tackle serious issues of public integrity throughout the state, including the City of Yonkers, for many years. By 1961 he had become Chief Counsel. I was already a County Probation Officer when in 1968 Carl Vergari was appointed by Governor Rockefeller to
succeed DA Leonard Rubenfeld, who had decided to run for County Court Judge.
Carl wasted no time reorganizing an office that had, as I seem to recall, some twentytwo assistant district attorneys. I shortly became aware of operational changes, a tightening of procedures, in my trips to the DA’s Office at the Old Courthouse, in White Plains, in search of case information needed for pre-sentence investigations for the County Court, and the Criminal Part of the State Supreme Court. He would go on to be elected six times, serving a total of nearly 26 years as the chief law enforcement officer of Westchester. In
the more than two and a half decades that he presided over the office hundreds of fine attorneys would emerge under his leadership to go on to assume their places in government, corporate, and private law practice, proud to have worked under Carl Vergari.
Carl was steady at the helm. He was respected by both, police, and public officials alike. He brought new and effective ideas and programs to a rapidly growing office. He understood the importance of solid criminal investigation, and put together an elite unit within his Investigations Bureau that was the envy of departments everywhere. State and federal law enforcement were constantly enlisting the assistance of his crack investigators.
District Attorney Carl Vergari left a huge footprint, a statement about excellence and integrity not seen since his retirement. He was very generous, and also very loyal to his party. His loyalty often kept him from speaking out publicly about the transgressions and misconduct of his successor. He was, however, delighted with the publication of The Jeanine Machine, expressing his appreciation that someone had finally spoken out, and
set the record straight. For four years he stood by tolerating his successor’s repeated false claims, taking credit for the innovative programs and units he had established, and attempting to discredit his performance.
Finally, on Feb. 28, 1997 no longer able to stand by as she self-aggrandized, Carl sent the following open letter to Jeanine Pirro, which was published in the Gannett Newspapers: