William Cahn, ex-DA who busted mobsters, dies at 90

Nassau County's former chief prosecutor, William Cahn, who Nassau County's former chief prosecutor, William Cahn, who busted mobsters but later went to prison for double-billing his travel expenses, died on Dec. 27. (Oct. 2, 1977) Photo Credit: Jim Nightingale

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Nassau County's former district attorney William Cahn, who busted mobsters but later went to prison for double-billing his travel expenses, died Friday.

The 90-year-old suffered a stroke shortly after Thanksgiving and died at a hospital, said his fiancee, Marianne Baker of Hempstead.

Cahn was appointed to Nassau County district attorney in 1962 by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller to fill the term of Manuel Levine, who was appointed to the State Supreme Court.

He held the job until he was defeated in 1974 by Democrat Denis Dillon. His legal troubles followed not long after the loss.

A federal investigation of Nassau County politics led to Cahn being charged in a seven-count indictment. His first trial ended in 1976 with a hung jury. Later that year, after a second trial, he was convicted on 45 counts of mail fraud and making false statements in double-billing the county and law enforcement groups for travel expenses.

Cahn admitted that he doublebilled the travel expenses but said he did so to get money for a secret fund he created to make payments to an underworld informer he called "Sam Houston."

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After losing appeals that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Cahn served 5 months in prison. He became a private investigator after his release. Cahn was disbarred and unable to work as a defense attorney.

"He did regret having done it that way. He thought he was doing things legally," said his fiancee.

"He was the kindest, gentlest person, generous to a fault, and a good friend," she said. Cahn, whom she met playing bridge, was especially proud of his groundbreaking anti-drug program for youths.

Cahn rose to prominence in 1953, when he was the sole Nassau prosecutor to volunteer to lead a raid on the Uniondale offices of labor racketeer and GOP kingmaker William "Big Bill" DeKoning. Later, asked about the experience, Cahn, who was 6-foot-2, said "I was never so scared in my life."

The Bronx native and lifelong Republican graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School and attended the University of Illinois and Illinois Law School. At college, he met his wife, Marilyn, another Bronx native. They were married for 55 years until her death in 2003.

Cahn's education was interrupted by World War II, and while serving as a U.S. Army corporal, he helped denazify Germany, Baker recalled.

He chose his legal career over the officers' commission he was offered, said editor Carol Hoenig, who worked with him on his memoir and his novel, "Murder Among Friends."

One of Cahn's trademarks was his sense of humor, and last spring he published "I Was in the Army On Our Side But We Won the War Anyhow!: A Memoir."

Cahn is survived by three sons -- Neil, Lawrence and Jeff -- five grandchildren and one great grandson, Baker said. A longtime resident of Long Beach, he later moved to Hempstead.

Funeral services will be held Monday at 11 a.m. at Long Beach's Temple Emanu-El.

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