As a young lawyer, Nicholas Gravante made an unusual choice: he left Cravath, Swaine & Moore, one of the oldest and most prestigious American law firms, to go to work for Gerald Shargel, a New York criminal lawyer whose clients they included mob bosses and drug traffickers.
Working for Shargel has helped make Gravante one of the city’s top litigants and lawyers. In a roundabout way, he also landed in the middle of one of the biggest cases of the era: the investigation of Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance of former President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization.
That investigation escalated this month with the grand jury accusation of Allen Weisselberg, the longtime financial director of the Trump Organization, for alleged tax fraud.
Weisselberg, who once described himself as Trump’s “eyes and ears,” is accused of accepting free rents, cars and school fees for his grandchildren from the company without paying taxes for those benefits. He said he is not guilty, although prosecutors hope he may be induced to turn against Trump and make a deal to help his investigation.
Meanwhile, according to people informed on the poll, they are now investigating another member of the Trump Organization’s executive series for similar violations: Matthew Calamari, the head of operations.
Calamari retained Gravante to represent him. It was based on the recommendation of Alan Futerfas, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, who happened to be one of the young associates of “Jerry” Shargel when Gravante went to the law firm in 1990.
“It came full circle and now we’re kind of a spotlight on a very high case while in the old days it was our boss, Jerry, who was in the spotlight every day,” said Gravante, 60. “I like it a lot, I must say.”
Vance’s office gives Gravante the opportunity to argue why his client should not be charged – as they had done for Weisselberg. Gravante is not reluctant to predict his defense arguments, but has made it clear that he intends to argue that there are clear distinctions between Trump’s two lieutenants.
While Weisselberg was an accountant for training, and the CFO, Refreshing Squid is a former American football player who came to Trump’s attention after dealing with a heckler at the 1981 U.S. Open tennis tournament while working as a and security guard at the event. He joined Trump as a bodyguard and while accompanying the boss around construction sites over the years he learned the ins and outs of project management before eventually growing into the organization.
“He’s not even a college graduate – he’s a security guy,” Gravante said. “He has no financial sophistication!”
Calamari had a Trump apartment in Manhattan and a company car, but they were essential to his work ensuring safety for the family and their property, Gravante said, and the cost was deducted from his salary.
He will make his case for Mark Pomerantz, another veteran New York defense attorney who left private practice earlier this year to help Vance’s investigation. Pomerantz taught Gravante’s contract law and criminal defense at Columbia Law School. “It’s a small world,” Gravante said.
Part of the media attention – and the meeting with old friends – Gravante sees the case as a vital precedent for the possible persecution of a former president by political opponents.
“When you go down this road, it’s a really dangerous path for the country,” said Gravante, who also represented Hunter Biden, and is close to several New York Democrats, including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
He added: “That’s why it’s a really interesting case – not just because of the players, not just because of the press attention, but because I don’t think we’ve ever experienced a situation like this before, and it will be. interesting to see how it goes. “
Vance and Letitia James, the New York attorney general, both Democrats who were elected to their seats, argue that the investigation concerns the confirmation of a different precedent: that no one – even a former president – is above the law.
Gravante grew up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the son of a local real estate lawyer who prepared taxes for, among others, convicted mobster Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano.
Prior to the Trump case, Gravante made headlines for his role in Boies Schiller Flexner, the litigation firm founded by the super lawyer. David Boies. Gravante, a Boies protégé, was elected co-managing partner in late 2019 to try to stabilize a company that bleeds talent after a series of false steps, including the portrayal of Harvey Weinstein by Boies, and his involvement with Theranos, the allegedly fraudulent blood test start-up.
Gravante campaigned for a merger with Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, and then decamped himself when that effort failed. “I thought Boies Schiller should be merged with Cadwalader. I fought for that to happen. It didn’t happen,” he said, calling his new job the opportunity to work with a team of “all-stars” who has a roster. impressive financial services clients.
While praising Boies as “the greatest litigator of our generation,” Gravante may end up drawing more on his Shargel experience if prosecutors accuse Calamari. “Jerry taught me everything about being a trial lawyer,” Gravante said, recalling how hard it was to come to terms with the courtroom experience in a large firm. “During the two years that I worked for him, I lived in court.”
Shargel’s company was a long way from Cravath, where Gravante had worked on extended corporate cases like the Texaco-Pennzoil litigation of the 1980s. “We had organized crime cases, there were drug cases. The customers who entered the office were people who were accused of crimes. Many of them were convicted. It was a very very different atmosphere. It was like night and day. ”
Among the Shargel lessons taught at Gravante: Read All. While other criminal attorneys had assistants in preparing filing summaries and other trial documents, Shargel himself poured out the underlying materials. It was the only way to be prepared in the event that a witness could say something unexpected during a controversy.
Shargel, who famously won the acquittal of New York mafia boss John Gotti in 1990 (he was later convicted on separate charges), also stressed the importance of credibility.
“You can say 20 points in an opening statement, get one of those that ends up being wrong that you have to be hammered on the head with that during the process,” Gravante said. “So you know what? Stay with the 19 safe things. Don’t exaggerate anything. Because once your credibility is shot, it’s a disaster.”
Other lessons were more subtle – like how to grab the podium, how to respond to a judge, and the need to embrace a client at all times, even one you don’t particularly like.
“Everyone looks and makes impressions,” Gravante observed. “If you come back with your client from lunch – if it seems like you don’t really like your client, and there’s this perception that you don’t agree, why would anyone on the jury like it?”
If you see Gravante smiling next to the Squids in the days to come, it can be a real affliction. Or, it may be the wisdom of Jerry Shargel.