Former Miss America Bess Myerson sat quietly today as the prosecutor in her divorce-fixing trial called her and her boyfriend a “millionaire sewer contractor and his mistress” and accused them of using their wealth and power to buy off a judge.
The federal courtroom was packed for opening arguments in the scandal, which tabloid newspapers have branded the “Bess Mess.”
Myerson, the city’s former cultural ambassador, is accused of giving a job to the daughter of Judge Hortense Gabel, who is now Myerson’s co-defendant, so that Gabel would go lightly in fixing alimony in the divorce trial of her boyfriend, construction executive Carl (Andy) Capasso, who is serving a prison term for unrelated tax violations.
The three defendants sat quietly as Assistant U.S. Atty. David Lawrence opened his case by describing it as a tale of “secrets and deception . . . the use of wealth and power for personal gain . . . in a conspiracy to commit fraud.”
“The purpose of the scheme was to corrupt the courthouse” of Gabel, 75, a state Supreme Court justice until retiring recently, who was handling Capasso’s divorce from his wife of 11 years, Nancy, the prosecutor said.
Myerson, 64, wearing glasses and in a blue-and-white striped suit over a bright red blouse, listened intently, without reaction. Capasso, in a blue suit, also was impassive.
The frail Gabel, legally blind, sat in a blue-and-tan print dress straining to hear the soft-spoken prosecutor.
The trial is expected to last at least two months.
Myerson, who faces up to 30 years if convicted, and the two co-defendants are charged with conspiracy, mail fraud and violating bribery-related laws.
U.S. District Judge John F. Keenan has imposed a gag order on lawyers in the corruption trial, but when Myerson pleaded guilty to shoplifting charges this summer, her lawyers claimed that she was under emotional stress.