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For the Good of All

During my first year of umpiring in the Smithtown slow pitch softball league I came to know Mike Kwalik, a successful accountant and the softball league commissioner who scheduled games and assigned the umpires.

A former football player at Ohio State, Kwalik had rugged good looks and a pleasant manner. He had his hands in virtually everything in Smithtown, an old manufacturing town on the Ohio River originally settled by Eastern Europeans.

Once a gritty place linked to steel production, and for many years on life support after the mills closed, Smithtown has experienced a renaissance in recent years due to high tech and light manufacturing. The pride and dedication of the descendants of the town’s founders had held it together in its bleakest days and was the driving force in its survival.

Since Mike Kwalik had steered clients to my law practice, I couldn’t turn him down when he invited me to join the board of Feed Our Families (FOF), a charity dedicated to helping the homeless. Mike, who chaired FOF’s audit committee, told me, “We need young blood like you on the board, Paul. It’s a good group, but too club-like. It’s doing good work, but it needs fresh ideas.” I had other reasons to give back, my own history.

That was in the fall of 2008 when the “Great Recession” arrived in Smithtown. The complicated financial instruments created by the large banks and the bogus mortgages on which they were based crashed along with the stock market and consumer spending. Wall Street’s reckless behavior devastated Smithtown. People lost their jobs, homes, and in some cases, their families. Good decent people were living in cars, vacant houses, and tents in regional parks, and searching for food in dumpsters and in trash cans in the back of restaurants. Women and their children were positioned at busy intersections with small buckets pleading for donations.

I felt privileged to be part of FOF. It was a cause close to my heart, since my father had lost his job in the fall of 1977, when the regional steel mill, hit hard by foreign imports, closed throwing 5,000 men and women out of work. I was barely three-years-old when it happened. Dad was devastated and had a breakdown. Mom was cleaning two houses a day to keep us going and my two older sisters were waiting tables after school to help ends meet. We were soon on food stamps after we lost our home. We ended up living in a deteriorating public housing project – a virtual war zone peopled with families without hope. Though never homeless, we came close to it. I survived that experience thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of my mother and sisters.

Dad was lost and never recovered. This once proud man was reduced to a dim figure in an old sweat shirt, sitting in a scruffy chair in a haze of smoke, sipping canned beer between coughs and drags on his Camel cigarettes. Perpetually watching television, the remote control gave him the freedom to watch the world change without leaving his seat. He had little to say. He had given up on life, which eventually gave up on him. When I was twelve, I came home from school one day to find him dead in his chair.

Dad’s death gave us a new freedom. Mom and I moved out of the project and into a basement apartment down the street from my older sister’s place. Possessed with Mom’s drive, I went on to Ohio State and then to Dayton for law school before finding my way to Smithtown to work with a single practitioner before I joined the DA’s office.

All in for FOF, I soon learned that when you join a charitable board, it’s not necessarily about your experience or compassion. Sure, that’s important, but you’re expected to contribute money to the cause and solicit your friends, clients, and business associates to do likewise. I was more than happy to do so and I did it with a passion. My law practice was doing well. I was glad to lend my energy towards raising money.

What bothered me was the looseness of the oversight by the board. Mike was spot on – the board was like a club. I read everything that was sent to me and searched the internet to learn what similar organizations were doing around the county. I was disappointed to discover that reading and research was not expected and sometimes not appreciated. I was one of the few who questioned recommendations from senior board members or staff. Mike would smile at me, when I’d be asking questions. He would pull me aside at times, and we would joke about my futile efforts. Simply put, the board placed a premium on avoiding tension and disagreement. I didn’t mind though, I was grateful to Mike for getting me involved. It was a great cause and our efforts were helping solid people – good families – survive until they got back on their feet.

I guess you could say that this is a story of good people and bad people, but oftentimes in life it’s difficult to tell the good from the bad. That’s what happened to me.

Things were going well at FOF. According to the reports presented to the board by our treasurer, Jacob “Jake” Gruber, we were feeding almost a thousand families a week. Gruber, a quirky guy, would soon be arrested for having child porn on his computer. His arrest cast a pall over everything. Gruber was from a prominent and well-established family in the region that sold office supplies and equipment. He was a long-time fixture in Smithtown’s civic affairs and one of the founders of FOF.

I had always found Gruber’s reports to be too lengthy, boring, and somewhat inconsistent. He was like a peacock spreading his feathers when he presented his reports. When questioned he affected a “How dare you look,” before he proceeded to explain what you didn’t know about accounting practices.

I hate to say it, though I was repulsed, I had a sense of satisfaction, schadenfreude as the Germans say, when I read about Gruber. Something had to done, but what?

My wife, Katie, was equally concerned. “I’m so creeped out about this. Don’t you think he has to resign or take a leave of absence from the board until his personal situation is resolved?”

I closed my eyes in thought. I fully agreed with her, but given the composition of the board and its operational inertia, I decided to test the waters. “I’ll make a few calls.”

“Be careful, don’t go too far out on a limb,” she cautioned. “You’ve seen the papers. His lawyer said someone hacked his computer. Gruber has five married children. The guy’s a great grandfather. He’s a pillar of his church. How many boards is he on?”

“True, but they found child porn – naked children on his computer. I guess I’m conflicted. He might not be the creep I think he is.”

“Just be careful. Don’t act like a prosecutor, act like you’re his lawyer – give him the benefit of the doubt.”

“You’re right. I don’t like the guy, and I’d find it unpleasant to represent him under other circumstances. I know what he’ll do at our board meeting next week. He’ll raise his head thrusting out that firm Prussian jaw of his and claim innocence. He’ll dare anyone to challenge him.”

“Paul, if you call those people, all you’ll get in response is total silence.”

“At least I’ve got to try it.”

“Good luck.”

My first call was to Nell Schiefer, the widow of a prominent judge. She listened in total silence. When I was finished, all she said was “I wish Manfred were alive. He’d know what to do.”

“Don’t you think he should step aside, Nell?”

“That’s probably the right thing to do, but I’m reluctant to force him to do so. You know, there’s a lot of this computer hacking going on. Look at this Sony thing.”

“That’s different. Those hackers were working for North Korea. It was payback for that crazy movie Sony produced about assassinating their young nut-case leader, Kim Jong-un. They were just turning over information and destroying files.”

“Well it’s going on, that’s all I know. How did the police come to find this stuff on his computer? What led them to seek him out?”

“That’s a good question, Nell. From what I’ve read in recent years, they run these sting operations where they entice people who visit these web sites.”

“Web sites. I just don’t understand this stuff. Is that what my grandchildren are always looking at in these new phones?”

“Sometimes, but most of the times they’re texting – like sending messages to each other.”

“Why don’t they use the phones and talk?”

“I don’t know. They text each other in class and in the cafeteria at school in plain view of each other. It’s a new world, Nell.”

“I’ll say it is, and I don’t understand it. I’ve heard that these kids take pictures of their body parts and send them to each other.”

“That called sexting. The legislature just made it a crime.”

“I didn’t understand your generation, Paul. These kids now-a-days are beyond belief. Say, how old is Jake, anyway?”

“I think he’s 83.”

She made a gruff sound, sort of a subdued laugh. “Well, in my view, he’s way too old to be interested in any of the adult porn that’s out there. That I might understand, but even that’s a stretch. The child stuff, well, frankly I don’t understand that. How could anyone be interested in naked children? Besides, Jake is a family man, a church-going man. He’s a Korean War hero.”

“Well, I thought you’d share my concerns, Nell. I’m worried about Jake’s situation blemishing FOF’s reputation and impacting our fund raising efforts to feed the needy families out there.”

“What do you intend to do, Paul?”

Oh, oh. Katie was right about getting out on a limb. “I was thinking about raising the matter at the board meeting next week, but I wanted to talk to you about it before I did.”

“I don’t think you should. Let’s see what our chair thinks. Judith is probably worrying herself to death about this as we speak.”

“Well, it should be an interesting meeting,” I said to Nell as we concluded the call.

The reactions of the others I called were pretty much the same. Each of them were concerned about the situation, but were reluctant to act at this point.

When I reviewed my discussions with Katie, she said, “What did I tell you.”

I thought about her response for a few moments. “I had to reach out. They’re all in their own little world. It’s as if nothing had happened. It’s see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. They don’t know what to do, if anything.”

A few days later, Mike Kwalik invited me to lunch to discuss FOF’s dilemma over Jake Gruber. We met in a restaurant out at the lake on the edge of town. It was a simple place, sandwiches, burgers, and home-made soup.

“How do we ease Jake off the board without being too disruptive?” I said.

“That could be a problem. The old boy has strong ties to the board. Those ties go back decades.”

“Look, I admit I don’t have the history on the board members. You were right, thought, it’s like an old social club.”

“Well, we can play good cop and bad cop,” he said, explaining the strategy.

“You think it’ll work?”

“With some good acting on our part, it should work,” he said.

I liked Mike’s plan, the good guys playing Machiavelli.

In the days leading up to the board meeting I had received calls from a majority of the board members. Mike’s strategy was working away. People wanted to know what I was up to. Shouldn’t we give Jake the benefit of the doubt? That’s an accusation that’s yet to be proven. Give the guy his due. He was probably hacked or someone else in his office was using his computer. They were defensive. Their thinking was illogical.

The day before the board meeting I received a call from a reporter from a local weekly that I did not take. Mike was stirring the pot. Presumably, other board members had been called. I anxiously awaited the board meeting.

I greeted everyone cheerfully when I arrived at St. Luke’s Church for our meeting. There were glum faces all around. Surprisingly, Jake had the consummate gall, you might say hubris, to show up. Judith opened the meeting tersely. She was obviously uncomfortable in her role. “I’m going to request that someone move that we approve the reading of the minutes of the previous meeting.” I made the motion, and Nell seconded it, and it was unanimously approved.

Judith then looked over at Jake Gruber and then back down the table to the board members, all of whom were present. “Jake has a statement he wants to make.”

You could hear a pin drop. Jake swallowed hard as he placed his hand to his mouth and coughed before he began his monologue. “I’ll try to be brief. I’m embarrassed for FOF, for all of you, my family, and my church. But I beseech all of you to hear me out. My reputation has been ruined – ruined beyond repair. I have tried to lead a good life by strictly adhering to God’s moral principles and by being ever faithful to my wife and my extended family. I have worked hard to expand my business, and in doing so I have strived to give back to Smithtown through my civic and charitable involvement. All of that has been destroyed by someone who has hacked my computer – a computer that is used strictly for business reports and occasional correspondence. I barely use email. I’m old fashioned. I use the telephone or send a personal note by mail. This whole internet thing is confusing to me – I don’t use it. In a matter of days, it’ll be proven that someone hacked into my computer. I urge all of you to stand with me.”

There was no response to Jake’s statement. Most board members had their heads down. What was there to say? Mike Kwalik broke the ice. “I have a resolution for the board to consider in support of Jake.”

Mike read the resolution: “Feed Our Families expresses its support for its treasurer, Jacob Gruber, who has served it loyally, honorably, and generously. We believe the heinous charges against him are ill founded, unsupported by the evidence, lacking in merit, and not in character with this good God-fearing man we have worked with closely over the years.”

“Do I have a second for the resolution,” Judith said.

There was silence at first, before Ted Krundel said, “I second the motion and recommend its unanimous adoption.”

“Here, here,” someone at the end of the table said.

The plan was for me to say something, but I waited. “Hearing no objection,” Judith said. “The motion is …”

“Hold on Judith,” I said. “I, too, want to give Jake the benefit of the doubt, but the wording of the resolution presumes too much. I also question whether any sort of motion is appropriate. Why should we be publicly commenting on this matter?”

“Because the press has been calling around,” Mike Kwalik said.

“How many of you have received calls?” Judith asked.

We all nodded. “I received one, but I didn’t take it,” I said.

Most of the others said something similar. A few said that they took the call, but did not comment on the situation.

“Jake deserves our support,” Mike said in a strong voice.

“I can agree to the first sentence in principle. Jake has certainly been a valued member of this board,” I said. “But I cannot agree to opine on the efficacy of the charges. In fact, I don’t think we should make any statement.”

I was deliberately violating the “Rule of Holes” – that when you’re in a hole, stop digging, but it was all part of our plan to push Jake out the door. I thought it was going to work until Judith derailed our strategy by suggesting a five minute recess.

“I don’t think it appropriate that I be present during the discussion, but I appreciate your friendship and support,” Jake said. “I’ll excuse myself, and leave you with copies of the Treasurer’s report.”

I was coming out of the men’s room when Mike Kwalik confronted me in the presence of the other board members.

“We need this, Paul. We need it for Jake. We need it just as it’s worded. We need it unanimously.”

I feigned anger for those observing our discussion. “Look, Mike, Jake did say, ‘I appreciate your friendship and support.’ He might’ve assumed our moral support, but he didn’t ask us to support the specific wording of your motion. I was looking at him when I forced the discussion. His expression didn’t change. He had the same stoic expression as when he gave his statement.”

“Maybe he had too much class to comment on your objection. All you care about is how this reflects on you personally.”

I didn’t expect that from Mike, but I played along. “Don’t ever question my motives, Mike. I take exception to your comments.”

“I’m sorry. I misspoke,” he said. “I just want us to treat Jake fairly.”

When the board reconvened, the discussion went far and wide. Judith, much to her credit, went around the room from member to member asking them to express their views. Nell Scheifer opined, “This is totally impossible. Jake just couldn’t do such a thing. Not the Jake I’ve known for most of my life.”

Chester Bishoff said, “This is beyond anything I could ever imagine.”

Joe Oros attributed his confusion to the times we live in. “I’m totally disillusioned. I read about people I know being tax cheats, adulterers, or their children coming out as trans-sexual – another thing I don’t understand. This is way too much for me to comprehend. You might as well say that Jake is a serial killer for all I know. It just doesn’t fit somehow. I just don’t know what to say or do.”

In the end, a consensus developed to adopt a resolution limited to the first sentence in Mike Kwalik’s proposed language. When the vote came Mike abstained because the language came up short, and I did because I didn’t believe it appropriate for the board to take any action on a matter outside the scope of FOF’s purview.

After the meeting, I met briefly with Mike. “Well, that was all for naught,” he said.

“Well, our strategy went out the door when Jake left. Had he been there, he probably would’ve resigned.”

The next day, I got a call from Tom Decker, a former colleague in the DA’s office.

“Hey, Paul, your colleague on the FOF board went big time.”

“Meaning what, Tom?”

“I just left the boss man’s office. Judge Frank Lewin is now representing Jake Gruber. He’s coming in this afternoon for a meeting.”

Wow, that’s big, I thought. Judge Lewin had just stepped down from the federal bench. He started out here in town. He was serving as DA when President Reagan named him U.S. Attorney. Following that, he was appointed by Reagan to the U.S. District Court in Cleveland. I reminded Tom that Lewin had served as one of the federal judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the special court in Washington overseeing requests for wiretaps and surveillance warrants against suspected foreign intelligence agents and terrorists.

“That’s like God coming home. You know, Judge Lewin is one of the foremost legal experts on electronic surveillance. The word is he’s a computer wizard,” I said.

“We know that. He also owes a lot to Jake Gruber. Jake’s father helped pay his way through college and law school from what I understand.”

“No doubt, he’s going to want to have outside experts come in to analyze Jake’s computer. You best make a deal with him on that – he’s likely to prevail on that issue in court.”

“I know I shouldn’t be telling you this. I’ve suggested to the boss that we give Judge Lewin’ experts the opportunity to work with the tech team from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation in Columbus. He’s going to speak to the Attorney General before he meets with Judge Lewin.”

“I bet you that Lewin already has that agreement with the Attorney General.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me. We feel real awkward about this case. It’s awful stuff. If we can expedite a disposition everyone will be better off. Stay tuned.”

I started to rethink my opinion of Jake Gruber. Loyalty is one thing, but would Judge Lewin risk his reputation on a matter like this unless he was absolutely convinced that something was amiss.

Tom Decker called me that afternoon. It was another inappropriate call on his part. He had already imparted too much information. Our discussion could get us both in trouble, but that’s what former colleagues in the DA’s office often did. As I knew he would, Judge Lewin had made the request, and it was agreed to. “But listen to this,” Decker said. “Lewin was accompanied by a former FBI lie detector expert. The guy reported on the results of the tests they ran on Jake Gruber.” Just then, Tom coughed a few times. “I think I’m getting the flu.”

“Yeah, it’s going around, but come on. Tell me the results?”

“He passed with flying colors. The guy reviewed the questions he asked Gruber, who, believe it or not, doesn’t use the Internet. He barely understands it.”

“Yeah,” I mused. “It seems funny that a guy, who sells business equipment, doesn’t know how to use a computer.”

Tom laughed. “I know. It doesn’t seem plausible, but for the last 20-years his two sons have run the show. He’s sort of the honorary Chairman of the firm. His office is really a place to go to every day. Sort of like a daddy day care.”

I laughed. “It must be nice to be in that position. He seems to spend lots of time on church and community issues, including FOF.”

“Yeah, he had his secretary set everything up for him. He knows how to use the arrows on the keyboard to move from page to page and how to print something out, but the guy’s illiterate as far as computers go. I think Jake may have been set up, but we won’t know for sure until his computer is examined.”

“When will that happen?”

Tom laughed. “Judge Lewin wants it done yesterday. The computer tech guys in Columbus are backlogged, so the earliest it’ll be is sometime next week.”

That night, I confided in Katie what Tom had reported. After pausing in thought, she took a deep breath. Exhaling, she smiled. “It’s diabolical. It appears that someone has done something awful to that man. Who would do such a thing?

“According to Tom, we might never find out. These hackers operate mostly out of Eastern Europe. But, for all we know it could be someone right here in town.”

“We were probably wrong to doubt that poor man.”

“I feel bad about it. I got ahead of myself. As a lawyer, I should’ve known better. I’m going to send Jake a note and explain why I acted the way I did.”

She raised her right hand. “Wouldn’t that be getting ahead of things?”

“Yes, but I owe it to him.”

I wrote a note of encouragement to Jake asking him to understand the position that I took at the meeting and mailed it in the morning. The next day, Jake called me at my office and thanked me for the note. I didn’t let on that I knew about Judge Lewin or his passing a lie detector test. When I put down the phone I didn’t feel good about myself. Mike Kwalik and I had misjudged Jake and played the wrong cards.

Almost two weeks later, the local ABC affiliate reported a break in the Gruber case indicating that there was evidence to believe that Gruber’s computer had been infected by a virus allowing an unknown person or persons to virtually control his computer, implant the child pornography, and in the process, while trolling the child porn sites, connected with a site operating as a law enforcement sting.

The report made me feel better. I was happy that I had sent Jake the note and had talked to him. He was a gentleman, fully composed while going through a devastating experience.

The day following the news report, the Ohio Attorney General issued a press release announcing the findings of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation that Gruber’s computer had been hacked. Following that the Smithtown District Attorney announced that the charges were being dropped, and because of the presumed interstate nature of the hacking, the FBI was launching its own investigation.

I called Tom Decker the next morning. “I’m puzzled about the FBI involvement. How come now, they usually make the bust since the internet is federal jurisdiction. Is it not?”

“Well, yes and no. It was a state sting. We cooperate on these things. The hack is a federal offense. They have the resources to track the hack. Judge Lewin has talked to the FBI Director. This has gotten personal. I look for quick action, but quick action in tracking hackers is measured differently. It’ll take some time. At best, we might have something in four to five weeks.”

Who could it be? Who would do such a thing? Katie is right. It’s diabolical. I went about my practice and continued raising money for FOF. The U.S. economy was improving, but it was still lagging in the eastern area of Ohio. Families were still suffering and our efforts were helping to make a difference. At FOF’s next board meeting, Jake Gruber was a new man. He was less formal in his approach, you could say relaxed and more patient in his presentation of the financial data. He was re-elected treasurer on Mike Kwalik’s recommendation. Judith Kramer agreed to stay on as chair. There was perfect harmony on the board.

Summer rolled around. Families were still in crisis, and FOF’s programs were expanded by sending many children to day camp out at the lake. I was vacationing with the family on Mackinac Island when I got an e-mail from Tom Decker suggesting that I call, which I did.

“Paul, between you and me they’ve nailed the hacker, a guy in Chicago working with his brother in Lodz, Poland.”

“Wow. What next?”

“He’ll talk. There’ll be a deal, no doubt. I’ll keep you posted.”

“When will his arrest be announced?”

“I don’t know. Not my call. If it were up to me, I would sit on it until the guy talked. That would give us a chance to bust whoever put him up to it.”

“I agree. I guess we’re close to finality on this.”

“I hope so,” Tom said.

Two hours later, Tom called me back. “The word is out that the Polish guy in Chicago is talking.”

“Thanks, Tom. Any word on who put him up to it?”

“Not yet, I’ll keep you posted.”

When Katie, the kids, and I were driving home from northern Michigan, we picked up the latest news on the case once we got within range of the local all-news radio station. The report said that according to law enforcement sources, the Chicago hacker was cooperating with authorities, and it was expected that additional arrests would be made.

After I unloaded the Suburban when we arrived home, I called Tom. “Expect another shoe to drop,” he told me. “Apparently, Penny Rostoski (FOF’s bookkeeper) is the hacker’s cousin. Stay tuned, Paul.”

I put down the phone and looked up. “Let me in on what’s happening,” Katie said.

I leaned back and clasped my hands behind my head. “It’s unraveling quickly. Penny, the bookkeeper, is related to the hacker. I guess that Jake uncovered some irregularity, was asking the right questions, and she decided to shut him up.”

“Are you sure it stops there?”

“What do you mean?” I said. I was too laid back after two weeks in Mackinaw Island. I wasn’t thinking like the prosecutor I once was. “Yeah, she was working with her cousin. Tom said he had an interesting rap sheet.”

We decided to take the kids out to dinner that night since they had behaved so well on the drive back. Well, it was really the electronic devices that kept them occupied during the trip. Poor Jake might take exception to the advantages of the new technology, but it sure keeps kids quiet on long trips. We had a fun time at Applebee’s and agreed that Mackinaw Island would be our vacation spot next year. What I didn’t tell Katie or the kids was that I had booked the same suite of rooms before we checked out that morning.

Tom Decker called me late the next afternoon. “Are you sitting down, Paul?”

“Yeah, why?”

“There’s an arrest warrant out for Mike Kwalik.”

I began to feel nauseous. “Mike Kwalik? For what?”

“He was working with Penny Rostoski.”

All of the air went out of the room. The bad guy is the good guy and the good guy is the bad guy. I felt diminished as I tried to comprehend what could have happened. I was lost in thought when Tom yelled into the phone, “Are you still there?”

“Yeah, I’m here, but barely. This is a real punch in the gut. It just doesn’t figure.”

“Yeah, and neither did Gruber’s situation. I just want to tell you that Kwalik didn’t turn up at the office this morning. His wife has no idea where he is.”

“He’s got a place out at the lake.”

“The police are out there now.”

“Thanks, Tom. Keep me posted.”

I called Katie and she too was stunned. I was about to hang up when my assistant rushed into the office telling me that Tom Decker was on the other line. “Hold on, Katie, Tom’s calling back.”

When I picked up he told me that they had found Mike’s small boat out in the middle of the lake.

“You think he’s in the lake?”

“That’s what I figure,” Tom said.

Two days later, Mike Kwalik’s body surfaced in the lake. The presumed cause of death, a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. In the coming days the full story began to unfold.

Penny Rostoski admitted that for a few years, she was skimming $100 a week from FOF’s cash contributions that went unnoticed. But when she decided that she could get away with taking more, Jake Gruber got suspicious. He came in one Sunday night at the end of the month, and having access to the office safe, he counted the cash collected that weekend. He called Penny the first thing on Monday morning and asked her if she had counted the weekend’s cash donations from the boxes at the local strip malls and shopping centers. She told him she would have it done by noon. He asked her to call him with the amount since he was doing a preliminary month end report. She called later that morning and her number was $500 less than Jake’s count. He mulled the situation over and decided to inform Mike Kwalik, who agreed to look into it. According to Penny, Mike called her later that day and requested that she come to his office after the close of business. When she arrived he offered her a drink, which she accepted. Penny admitted that she and Mike were always friendly in a professional manner when they spent time together at year end preparing the books for the annual audit. She found Mike attractive and thought his interest that night was more personal in nature. She admitted that she was open to a possible relationship. After a few drinks, she agreed to dinner, and after that they made love out at his lake house. The next day, he called her again, and said he had to discuss a business matter with her. When she arrived at his office he reported on the trap that Jake had set for her. She broke down and told him everything.

Mike told her that there would have to be restitution. She would have to come up with the money she had taken. He promised her that if she did, he would straighten things out. It turns out she was a smart cookie. She had purchased a number of CDs at different banks around town. She turned over $10,000 to Mike and he in turn went to see Jake Gruber. Mike told Jake that he had confronted Penny and she broke down crying claiming that it was all a mistake – one of the envelopes had slipped out of the pile on her desk and was wedged into the open end of a file folder. Gruber seemed satisfied, and let it go. Mike in turn, while keeping the money, told Penny that he had turned the $10,000 over to Gruber to keep him quiet.

In the coming weeks, Mike made repeated sexual demands on her, and also said that Gruber wanted another $10,000. When she told Mike she didn’t have it, he told her to skim it from the cash collections. She turned over almost a $500 a week to Mike, before Gruber raised questions about the shortfall in collections. He told Mike that Penny should be fired, an immediate audit must be conducted, and that procedures had to be put in place at each cash collection point to immediately verify the amount of cash collected.

At that point, Mike decided that they had to find a way to get Gruber out of the picture. He reviewed the situation with Penny. “We have to find a way to make him look bad, so bad that he’ll be forced off the FOF board,” he told her. When Penny asked what he meant, he said that Gruber has to be made out to be a “moral leper” in the eyes of the public. It was Mike’s idea to get into his computer. At first they were going to have someone break into his office and load it up with all sorts of porn, and then send it around to people in town including people on the FOF board. She volunteered her cousin, a small-time criminal in Chicago. When she spoke with her cousin, he laughed, telling her that no one had to break into his office to access his computer, he could have his brother do it from Poland. Mike had Penny pay her cousin $1,500 to implant a virus into a draft income statement Penny e-mailed to Jake Gruber. As a result, Penny’s cousin in Poland took over Gruber’s computer and set things in motion leading up to Gruber’s arrest.

Smithtown was shocked by the revelations. There was an overwhelming outpouring of support for Jake Gruber, including editorials in the daily and weekly papers and testimonials to Gruber’s good morals and character on the radio talk shows and in the television commentary. The city leaders took every available opportunity to comment on the injustice that had been done to Gruber and his family.

The mystery to me was why Mike did what he did. One can only speculate about his conduct. Everyone who had known him was at a loss as to why he would risk his reputation, throw his life away, for a relatively small sum of money. Mike had money – he certainly didn’t need what Penny had skimmed from FOF, unless it was to keep control over her. But if it was a controlling relationship with Penny he was after, he could’ve let her keep the money along with her job. I know he didn’t like Jake Gruber. It had to be his need to have the upper hand. He had done that with me – his controlling nature had influenced me to be part of the failed plan to oust Jake from the board. I guess I’ll never really know, and neither will anyone else.

In a matter of months, the economy began to show more improvement. People were getting back to work and FOF’s activities slowed. The board was looking for new projects in the community. It was time for me to leave. I really didn’t fit into the dynamic of the board. I was younger than most of the members by some 20-years. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all wonderful people. They taught me a lot, especially about moving too quickly to judge someone, but that’s a problem I’ve had since my days as a prosecutor.

For the good of all, I decided to resign. I had been asked to join the board of my children’s school. It’s a far younger group – a cohort not afraid to ask the hard questions and stir things up. Maybe, this time around, I’ll be the mature one.

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