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Amid the storm of sexual misconduct allegations against Andrew Cuomo, one New Yorker says the soon-to-be-ex-governor has helped him and his peers bring to light the actions of their childhood sexual abuser—Cuomo’s former law partner, Michael Blutrich.
Blutrich was a member of the wired Park Avenue firm of Blutrich, Falcone and Miller—nicknamed “Cuomo’s firm” and made up of allies and administration veterans of Gov. Mario Cuomo during the 1980s—before founding the Gambino family-controlled strip club Scores in 1991.
When the FBI caught on to what the mob was doing at the celebrity hot spot, Blutrich became an informant who achieved infamy—and likely dodged prison time in the process—for snitching on John Gotti Jr. A few years after that, he landed in prison for helping to orchestrate a $450 million insurance fraud scheme, the largest in U.S. history.
But Blutrich’s most egregious crimes, say his alleged victims, were the ones he committed as the longtime basketball coach at the Shorefront YM-YWHA in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, in an unlikely act of volunteerism from a man one former player described as “the worst basketball player I have ever seen.”
In claims filed in 2020, during the just-closed two-year lookback window in which victims could file civil suits against long-ago abusers under the Child Victims Acts or CVA that Gov. Cuomo signed in 2019, survivors describe how Blutrich preyed upon vulnerable, impoverished kids from broken homes. They recount the lawyer plying them with cash, clothes, jewelry, concert tickets, trips, and expensive cars, and then sexually abusing them throughout the 1980s—including when he was partners with Cuomo, who did not return requests for comment for this story.
Blutrich “spent millions of dollars on the ‘Blutrich Boys’,” says Jason Breska, 50, one of nine complainants who filed in Brooklyn’s Kings County Supreme Court. “That’s the name everyone called us.”
Blutrich, who also did not return requests for comment for this story, is not named as a defendant in the suit, which rather is aimed at the Shorefront YM-WMHA of Brighton-Manhattan Beach where he allegedly groomed boys to abuse while working as a volunteer coach in the 1980s, and at the major Jewish charities that supported the Y and, it alleges, allowed him to operate there even though “Blutrich’s propensity to sexually abuse underage boys was well known.”
The groups, which all declined requests for comment for this story, have submitted court papers arguing that they did not take part in, direct, or have knowledge of any abuses that may have occurred at the Y.
Breska still lives blocks from the Shorefront Y, but hadn’t set foot in that building—a “house of horrors,” he calls it—in 25 years. Days before the special window for child victims to file suit closed and, as it happens, at almost the same time that Cuomo announced he would step down as governor, Breska ventured back into his old neighborhood haunt.
“Here’s the gym where he picked out and groomed his victims,” says Breska, wandering through the halls, pointing, “and this room used to be the library. It’s where he first molested me when I was 11. It went on for seven years.” According to Breska’s complaint, Blutrich “sexually abused and molested” him “on over 500 occasions.”
He paused and looked down the hallway as if it was a row of forgotten paupers’ graves.
“The souls of a lot of children died here,” he says, eyes welling up.
The community had an ominous nickname for Blutrich, too, says Breska. “We called him The Bogeyman.”
His reign of terror went on for years, say witnesses, and was the worst-kept secret in immigrant-populated Brighton Beach.
“The abuse was generational,” says Keith Betska, who grew up with Breska and played on the Y’s basketball team.
“All these 13- and 14-year old kids were running around with gold credit cards and riding around in Porsches and Mustangs,” recalls Betska, who is now retired after serving as the police chief for a private community in the Poconos.
“The Y was supposed to be a safe haven for kids, but instead it was Blutrich’s breeding ground,” says Breska’s sister, Stephanie.
Blutrich was aided and abetted by the head of the basketball program, Irving Bilzinsky, according to the suit, which alleges “Blitz” was paid and gifted handsomely by Blutrich to procure underage boys.
“He was his pimp,” Breska says of Bilzinsky, who died in 2013. (A few years before his death, Bilzinsky had been named “enemy number one” by the New York State Tax Department for owing over $15 million in back taxes, much of it going back to what he made as a partner of Blutrich’s at Scores.)
Around 1993, Stephanie, who says another friend of hers had also been a victim of Blutrich, and a Y employee went to the police and filed a report about the ongoing abuse. An investigation ensued but, she recalls, “everyone turned away” even after she showed the feds all the cars owned by underage teens parked outside of the Y.
Blutrich’s alleged predations had hardly been a secret. According to a comprehensive article that journalist and retired NYPD Detective John Connolly wrote for Penthouse in 1998, the investigation instigated by Breska’s sister, Stephanie, begat a two-year probe into Blutrich that involved Brooklyn’s 60th Precinct, the FBI, the NYPD Special Victims Squad, and Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes and that ended in 1995 with a thud and a sweetheart plea deal.
One Special Victims detective involved in the case told Connolly that a higher-up called him and told him to make no written records since “that guy (Blutrich) is hung”—meaning connected—“like a Mexican bull, so be careful.” The detective also recalled Blutrich buying boys cars, and flying some of them to Europe.
As that investigation went on, “I was told to give my sister a message,” Breska recalls: “Tell her to shut up or she’s dead.”
Jason says he delivered the message, and it shut her up good; the siblings didn’t talk to each other for a decade after that.
“She tried to help me,” says Jason, “but I’d been seduced and intimidated.”
According to Sholam Weiss, a fraudster whom Blutrich brought into the insurance scheme, Blutrich, who’d been facing decades in prison, donated $250,000 to two of Brooklyn’s most powerful Hasidic sects and another $200,000 to a “Grand Rabbi” before pleading guilty and agreeing to pay a $100 fine and undergo a year of counseling. The records in Blutrich’s case were then sealed.
(A remarkable sidenote: Weiss, a regular at Scores, was sentenced in 2000 to 845 years in prison after fleeing the country in the midst of his insurance fraud trial.
It wasn’t his first time trying to escape punishment: After an earlier conviction on mail fraud charges, which came after Blutrich had unsuccessfully tried to save his partner by feeding false information to prosecutors, Weiss asked for and received a four-day furlough from a halfway house to spend Passover with his family. But, The New York Times reported, Weiss “had something besides bitter herbs in mind. He persuaded Donald J. Trump’s Atlantic City Hotel and Casino to fly him and a 23-year-old woman companion by Learjet to the gambling resort, where they stayed in a complimentary $700-a-night suite and wagered $70,000. He was initially charged with escape for the four-day romp, but the charges were dropped.”
This January, Weiss was freed, 824 years ahead of schedule, after receiving a commutation from President Trump in his final hours in office.)
About two years after Blutrich’s plea deal (which is when he confessed to crimes including lying to prosecutors to try and get Weiss off the legal hook), Breska suspected his old tormentor was still abusing boys, so this time it was he who called up the FBI.
At their suggestion, he says, he spent a year working as an informant (codename: “Point Guard”) and provided “a mountain of evidence” to confirm Blutrich’s crimes, including handwritten notes, secret recordings, and a sketched map directing them to Blutrich’s bedroom safe packed with cash and child porn videos—some capturing Breska’s own assaults, he says.
But the investigation “disappeared,” says Breska, once Blutrich flipped on Gotti and became an informant himself. The day before Gotti’s trial was to begin, the reputed mob boss pleaded guilty to being part of a conspiracy involving robbery, extortion and threats of violence.
One of Breska’s FBI handlers, Jack Karst, was later demoted for shredding hand-written documents related to Blutrich—who in the course of pleading guilty to his role in the insurance fraud while agreeing to testify against Gotti admitted in a closed court proceeding to downloading “30 depictions of minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct” as well as failing to report $262,000 in income, filing false tax returns and helping a friend commit bankruptcy fraud, leading to the memorable Daily News headline: Gotti Witness: I’m Liar, Kiddie Porn Fan.
While Blutrich would finally be sentenced to 16 years for his role in the insurance scam, the connections that protected him to that point had centered around the Cuomo family. By the time that Breska alleges that he was being molested in the library, 25-year-old Andrew Cuomo had joined Blutrich as a partner at “Cuomo’s Firm,” where name partner Lucille Falcone was both Mario’s chief fundraiser and Andrew’s girlfriend at the time. The firm, which provided legal services to some of New York’s biggest property developers, served as a way for the governor’s friends and family to make money while he was in office but also, Mario wrote in his diaries, to set himself up with a landing spot should he lose that office.
While fellow Queens natives and sons of powerful men Donald Trump and Andrew Cuomo may be frenemies today, Cuomo’s firm did promotional and legal work for Trump in the 1980s during his attempts to build a new football stadium on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and create “Television City” (later renamed “Trump City,” natch)—a vast $4.5 billion complex intended to include new digs for NBC and other television studios along with and a 150-story skyscraper. (Full disclosure: 20 years later, Trump pushed me against a wall and forced a kiss when I was at Mar a Lago on assignment for People Magazine).
— Harry Siegel (@harrysiegel) August 22, 2021
It was right around then that a 14-year-old Breska met Andrew Cuomo at the Park Ave. office of Blutrich, Falcone and Miller. They shook hands.
“Blutrich introduced me as his nephew,” recalls Breska. “I was one of many ‘nephews’ introduced in that office over the years.”
According to Connolly, citing “sources close to the situation,” Cuomo’s decision to leave his $225,000-a-year position at the firm for a $60,000-a-year job building houses for the homeless came in part because “he was worried about the parade of underage boys”—like Breska—”going in and out of Blutrich’s office.”
Looking back, Breska says he had no idea then that the hand he shook of his abusers’ partner would end up signing legislation 34 years later that would finally give him a chance to bring the dark past into the light.
“Maybe it was fate,” he says.
Since filing his own complaint last year, “my car has been broken into several times,” Breska says, and he’s received anonymous, threatening phone calls in the middle of the night.
But he won’t let any intimidation or bullying stop him from speaking out this time:
“I’m not a scared little boy anymore.”
Breska is adamant that the Blutrich Boys can finally expose the Bogeyman of Brighton Beach.
Blutrich was released from prison in 2013 and has been frequently seen since walking nearby the Shorefront Y. He reportedly refused to enter a witness protection program despite warnings there is a $1 million bounty on his head from his testimony against Gotti and the Gambino family.
“I see him on the street, but he doesn’t see me,” says Breska, standing at the back of the Y’s gym, watching kids toss a ball, as he tells me about the COVID-caused delays in the court system.
“There are so many of us—lost souls, desperate to find peace after so many years,” says Breska.
“How much longer must we wait?”