Upcoming Myerson Trial Potential Danger for Koch

Times Staff Writer

Three days after the selection of a new Miss America by judges in Atlantic City, one of the pageant’s most prominent alumnae, who once served as a role model for millions of women, will go before a jury of her peers.

The high-profile federal court trial of Bess Myerson, who was crowned Miss America in 1945, on charges that she tried to fix her millionaire boyfriend’s bitterly contested divorce case begins Wednesday. It promises to be personally and politically difficult not only for Myerson but also for Mayor Edward I. Koch, whose first campaign Myerson helped mastermind and shape.

At a time when opponents were dropping innuendoes about Koch’s long bachelorhood, the glamorous and ambitious former Miss America, a nationally known consumer advocate and corporate consultant, never left his side. She became Koch’s campaign chairman. Even the official poster showed Bess and Ed together.

Rumors of Marriage


The strategy was successful. Some reporters, seeing Koch and Myerson holding hands and whispering, even asked if marriage loomed just over the horizon.

The political coquettishness quickly ended when Koch reached City Hall. But a good measure of friendship and loyalty remained.

Years later, the mayor appointed Myerson cultural affairs commissioner in his Administration. She held the post until April, 1987, when she resigned after a commission appointed by Koch found she had engaged in “serious misconduct” in connection with her boyfriend’s divorce trial.

Last October, Myerson was indicted on charges that while she was commissioner, she gave a $19,000 a-year-job to Sukhreet Gabel, the daughter of Hortense W. Gabel, the judge handling the divorce case, and that Gabel then reduced alimony and child support payments for the boyfriend, contractor Carl (Andy) Capasso, 41.


Capasso is a defendant with Myerson in the federal court trial, as is Gabel, who resigned as a New York State Supreme Court justice, citing poor health.

Named in Civil Suit

On Friday, Myerson’s woes grew when she was named in a multimillion-dollar civil suit brought by Capasso’s ex-wife, Nancy, charging that Myerson and others conspired to deprive her of her rights to a fair and impartial divorce trial. The suit also charges the city with gross negligence.

Koch and at least one of his top aides are scheduled to be prosecution witnesses at Myerson’s criminal trial, and the mayor’s friends and advisers are pondering the potential for political damage as the mayor prepares to seek a record fourth term in office next year.


At the very least, they believe, memories of other scandals in the Koch Administration will be revived, though, they hope, very briefly.

“It ain’t chicken soup. It can hurt,” conceded one of the mayor’s longtime supporters. While none of the charges have personally involved the mayor, Koch has been put seriously on the defensive by the actions of some of his appointees.

Accused of Shoplifting

After her indictment last October, Myerson, 64, was arrested again in May. She was charged with shoplifting $44 worth of cosmetics and other merchandise from a department store in Williamsport, Pa., near the Allenwood Federal Prison Camp where Capasso is serving a four-year sentence in an unrelated case for tax evasion. Myerson did not appear in court in Williamsport. Through her lawyer, she submitted a signed statement pleading guilty, was fined $100 and paid $48 in court costs.


Interest has been high in Myerson’s trial in federal court in Manhattan. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Wednesday and because of the demand, seats for the news media have been rationed. Sukhreet Gabel is expected to be a major prosecution witness, adding to the drama by testifying against her 74-year-old mother.

But it is Myerson, who faces a maximum of 30 years in prison and $513,000 in fines on charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, obstruction of justice and using interstate facilities to violate state bribery laws, who will be the center of attention.

After serving as Miss America, she eventually became commissioner of consumer affairs in the Administration of former Mayor John V. Lindsay. At a time when the consumer movement was growing, Myerson became one of its stars. The former game show hostess and TV panelist appeared on the cover of Life magazine in her role as consumer advocate.

Myerson, who is twice divorced, unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate after leaving the Lindsay Administration.