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Private eye in Taconic crash probe has felony record

Still image from the Oprah Winfrey Show, showing

Still image from the Oprah Winfrey Show, showing Thomas Ruskin, the Schuler family's private investigator. (Oct. 27, 2009) Photo Credit: Oprah Winfrey Show

The prominent private detective hired by the wrong-way Taconic State Parkway driver's family was convicted of felony conspiracy in Louisiana after resigning from the New York City police force, court records show.

The revelation came the same day as an attorney for the family of two Yonkers victims announced that a wrongful-death lawsuit would be filed Thursday.

The private investigator, Thomas Ruskin - the most vocal defender of Diane Schuler, appearing on programs like "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and "Nancy Grace" - pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy in federal court in Louisiana in May 1999. He was indicted on 12 counts in 1996, accused of conspiring with another defendant who posed as a travel agent to defraud airlines of tickets.

Ruskin, 55, who has homes in Manhattan and Fire Island, was sentenced to 5 years' probation.

Ruskin resigned as a New York City police detective about three months before his conviction, police officials said, making him ineligible for a police pension.

Reached Monday, Ruskin declined to comment.

Diane Schuler's family hired Ruskin shortly after toxicology reports showed that the July 26 crash was caused by her being drunk and high on marijuana.

Schuler, 36, was driving a minivan full of children home from an upstate camping trip when she went the wrong way on the Taconic and smashed head-on into a sport utility vehicle in Westchester County. The collision killed Schuler, 36, and seven others - her 2-year-old daughter, three nieces and three Yonkers men in the SUV.

Ruskin took to the airwaves for the Schuler family, arguing it made no sense that the West Babylon mother of two and Cablevision manager would put children at risk by drinking and driving. His investigators created a timeline that Ruskin said showed Schuler would have had to drink 10 shots of alcohol in less than an hour, which he said was unlikely. His investigators also found a video of Schuler at a convenience store that showed her appearing to be sober. The video was turned over to New York State Police.

Irving Anolik, a spokesman for the family of Michael and Guy Bastardi, the father and son killed in the SUV, said Ruskin's claims about the crash should now be taken "with a grain of salt."

"If a person has a past felony record that would impact upon his credibility," Anolik said.

Bastardi family attorneys have said they plan to sue the estate of Diane Schuler and her brother, Warren Hance of Floral Park, the owner of the minivan. Anolik said the announcement of the suit would come at a 1 p.m. news conference in front of the Westchester County courthouse on Thursday.

Ruskin started his private investigation company, CMP Group, in November 1999, about eight months after his conviction, state business records show. The company is licensed by the New York Secretary of State.

According to Dun & Bradstreet, the company has 23 employees and annual sales of $4.1 million.

Dominic Barbara, a Garden City attorney for Schuler's husband, Daniel, did not immediately return a call Monday.

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