NEW YORK — Bess Myerson, a former Miss America who later became the city's cultural affairs commissioner, joined the list of figures in New York's spreading political scandals Wednesday when a federal grand jury indicted her on charges of trying to fix her millionaire boyfriend's divorce case.
The six-count indictment alleges that Myerson, 63, gave a $19,000-a-year city job to a judge's daughter and that, in exchange, the judge reduced Myerson's boyfriend's alimony and child support payments.
Myerson, a longtime member of Mayor Edward I. Koch's inner circle, was charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, obstruction of justice and using interstate facilities to violate state bribery laws. If convicted, she could be sentenced to a maximum of 30 years in prison and fined up to $513,000.
The indictment also charges Myerson's now-incarcerated boyfriend, businessman Carl (Andy) Capasso, 41, and former state Supreme Court Justice Hortense W. Gabel, 74, who presided over Capasso's bitter divorce case. The Supreme Court is the trial level court in New York. Capasso and Gabel face up to 25 years in prison and $263,000 in fines. Arraignment was scheduled for Oct. 15.
Myerson, who is twice divorced, denied the charges through her attorney. "Bess Myerson unequivocally asserts her innocence," Frederick P. Hafetz said in a telephone interview. He said she is "confident she will be vindicated."
Koch, whose administration has been rocked by more than 20 corruption indictments and resignations under fire, said the indictment of his once-close companion and political ally was expected. But Myerson's fall appeared a bitter personal and political blow for the embattled mayor.
"When such charges involve someone you know well, the fact that it was expected makes it no less sad," Koch said at a City Hall news conference. Earlier this year, he said Myerson was "no longer my friend."
Myerson resigned her $83,000-a-year job as commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs last April after a city investigation found she had engaged in "serious misconduct" by hiring Sukhreet Gabel, the judge's 37-year-old daughter, as her special assistant. Koch had ordered the investigation after Myerson invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify before a grand jury.
Judge Gabel cut Capasso's weekly alimony payments from $1,500 to $500 two weeks after Gabel's daughter was hired, according to the indictment, which also charges that Myerson wined and dined the Gabel family and that Capasso picked up the tab.
Judge Gabel, who was named judge of the year by the National Assn. of Women Judges in 1986, retired in July. Her lawyer, Michael Feldberg, said Wednesday she was innocent of any wrongdoing and had retired for health reasons, not because of the allegations against her.
Capasso, a wealthy contractor who is described in the indictment as Myerson's "steady and intimate companion," was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty last January to evading nearly $1.5 million in taxes.
Myerson won national fame in 1945 when she became the first college graduate and first Jewish woman to be crowned Miss America. She soon starred on TV game shows like "I've Got A Secret" and in 1969 was appointed head of New York's Department of Consumer Affairs.