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Andy Who? The Forgotten Defendant in ‘Bess Mess’ Trial

December 12, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ In 10 weeks of testimony at the Bess Myerson divorce-fixing trial, little has been said about the former Miss America’s lover, Carl ″Andy″ Capasso, whose bitter divorce allegedly touched off the ″Bess Mess″ scandal.

Miss Myerson, Miss America in 1945, is accused of plotting with Capasso, who is more than 20 years her junior, and former state judge Hortense Gabel to cut Capasso’s alimony payments.

The city’s former cultural affairs commissioner, Miss Myerson is charged with trying to influence Mrs. Gabel’s rulings by giving a $19,000-a-year city job in 1983 to her daughter, Sukhreet Gabel.

Miss Myerson, 64, Capasso, 43, and the 75-year-old former judge, who made interim rulings in Capasso’s divorce, are all charged with conspiracy, mail fraud and bribe-related charges. They face up to 25 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

On Tuesday, prosecutors are expected to begin their closing arguments to the jury, which could start deliberations early next week at federal court in Manhattan.

There are no eyewitnesses to any bribe agreement, however, so prosecutors have presentened a case of largely circumstantial evidence against the three defendants.

Witnesses testified that Miss Myerson made secret phone calls to the judge’s chambers, sometimes using an assumed name. Jurors and spectators heard how she suddenly became socially close to the judge and her family after some 20 years of distant professional acquaintance.

There was also evidence about Ms. Gabel’s hiring in August 1983, only a few months after meeting Miss Myerson for the first time, and how Capasso’s temporary support payments to his estranged wife, Nancy, were cut the following month from $1,850 a week to $850 a week.

But there hasn’t been a lot said about Capasso, a onetime multimillionaire city contractor, in the courtroom.

The main evidence against him was testimony by his former housekeeper, Shirley Harrod, who said that during the summer of 1983, Miss Myerson and Capasso were ″very upset″ about the payments Capasso had to make to Nancy, who had named Miss Myerson as a co-respondent in her divorce suit against Capasso.

Mrs. Harrod testified that she later saw Capasso throw down documents that looked like Capasso’s divorce papers and say to Miss Myerson: ″Isn’t there something you can do about this?″

The housekeeper, who later was fired by Capasso, also said that after Capasso’s weekly payments were cut, he and Miss Myerson celebrated at his Long Island beachfront estate.

But on cross-examination, Mrs. Harrod conceded that she did not know for certain what Capasso and Miss Myerson were discussing and that she only surmised what Capasso threw down was his divorce papers.

There was other testimony that Capasso and Miss Myerson paid $100 to a former Myerson aide to do some minor rewriting of a press release. But even the witness said he didn’t consider the money a bribe to fix his testimony.

In addition to appearing to be the forgotten defendant inside the courtroom, Capasso also isn’t being photographed or interviewed entering and leaving the building each day.

That’s because Capasso is serving a three-year prison sentence for tax evasion, and is escorted back to jail by federal marshals at the end of each day’s court session.

Capasso’s lawyer, Jay Goldberg, asked U.S. District Judge John Keenan last week to acquit him, claiming the government’s case was held together ″by nothing more secure than a rope of sand.″

But Keenan refused to dismiss the case against Capasso before it goes to the jury.

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