The expected ascent of veteran prosecutor Robert Capers, 44, to the position of U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York begins just as big federal corruption cases grab an unusual share of local headlines. Regional government officials -- perhaps a few, perhaps more -- may nervously wait to see where Capers will set his enforcement priorities.
Under the job's last occupant, Loretta Lynch, who is now U.S. attorney general, Capers, who is the office's senior litigation counsel, worked on cases from the office's public integrity unit, including the felony conviction after trial of ex-Assemb. William Boyland Jr. So Capers' nomination is regarded as imminent after Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer issued his endorsement publicly last week. The Eastern District covers Suffolk, Nassau, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island. Capers' nomination would be subject to Senate confirmation.
The role of the Southern District of New York office, which encompasses Manhattan, the Bronx and six counties to the north, has long tended to overshadow that of its neighbor. Just this year, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara knocked two of state's top three men -- leaders of both legislative houses -- out of the proverbial backroom without even convicting them. Bharara charged criminal schemes against Assemb. Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and his son Adam Skelos. All pleaded not guilty.
Much of the activity discussed in the FBI's Skelos complaint seems to take place in the Eastern District. But Bharara and his Southern District crew clearly made a mission of targeting Albany, especially after scooping up materials from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's defunct corruption commission.
Prosecutors' styles can differ sharply. Bharara has repeatedly deplored New York's "culture of corruption," for example, but the U.S. attorney based in Newark, Paul Fishman, said in a news conference earlier this month on the Bridgegate scandal: "I don't comment on culture. That's not my expertise. I leave that to other people."
Senior senators from the president's party typically get to recommend for these seats. Schumer did so in 2009 with his then-chief counsel Bharara. On Thursday Schumer called Capers someone who is "not flashy, but gets the job done, and gets it done superbly."
Assemb. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), a Lynch assistant until last year who knows Capers, said, "The fact that he has a public corruption background is important in the time in which are living. "