Relationship of wife, self, lover said to veil judge's alleged affair

November 09, 1992|By New York Daily News

NEW YORK -- New York Chief Judge Sol Wachtler's alleged affair, which prosecutors say became a criminal obsession, was obscured by the close ties among his wife, himself and his wife's stepcousin.

Intimates of the three said yesterday that Judge Wachtler conducted his dalliance with Joy Silverman, a socialite and wealthy Republican fund-raiser, under the guise that she was simply a friend, with decades of family and business ties to him and his wife, Joan.

Their well-known connections -- including the fact that Ms. Silverman and Joan Wachtler are stepcousins -- permitted the judge to appear publicly with Ms. Silverman without drawing suspicion, their friends said.

"She [Ms. Silverman] used to go up to Albany with her daughter," said a friend. "I believe they stayed at his house. They were seen together in public places."

It was when Ms. Silverman, 45, broke off her affair with Judge Wachtler for a new boyfriend, authorities allege, that he began a bizarre campaign of threats and extortion ending in his arrest Saturday by the FBI.

The details of their relationship, which emerged yesterday, sharpened the alleged portrait of Judge Wachtler, 62, as a man with double, even triple lives: husband of 41 years and philanderer, pillar of rectitude and vengeful blackmailer, respected jurist and disturbed criminal defendant.

The details came to light as:

* Well-placed sources said that if Judge Wachtler does not suspend himself from the state Court of Appeals, the court could take action against him as early as today.

* Ms. Silverman's new beau, named in court papers only as D.S., was identified by confidants of both as David Samson, a politically influential New Jersey lawyer.

* Friends and law enforcement sources, groping to explain what they called Judge Wachtler's erratic behavior, speculated that he may have a serious physical ailment.

The federal complaint filed against Judge Wachtler quotes Ms. Silverman as saying he was being treated for a serious condition as an outpatient at Long Island Jewish-Hillside Medical Center. At one point, a law enforcement source said, he checked into the hospital, but the FBI did not verify why for fear of "blowing the investigation."

* The judge continued to be held under psychiatric observation at the medical center, but he is expected at a federal court bail hearing tomorrow.

The judge, a father of four, was considered a star of the state Republican Party and often was mentioned as a possible opponent for Gov. Mario Cuomo. Joan Wachtler is a social worker and teacher at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University.

Ms. Silverman guards her privacy and is well known as a Republican fund-raiser and donor. She is separated from Jeffery Silverman, chairman of a Fortune 500 wood products company, and lives in a Park Avenue apartment with her daughter, Jessica, 14.

According to friends, Joan Wachtler's father and Ms. Silverman's stepfather are brothers. Ms. Silverman and her brother reportedly inherited "a lot of money" when their parents died, and Judge Wachtler served as the estate's executor.

The judge also served as executor of several Silverman family trusts and helped her prepare financial-disclosure forms during President Bush's failed 1989 bid to name her ambassador to Barbados. According to the federal complaint, the jurist and the socialite began their affair several years ago.

Even Joan Wachtler seemed to fall prey to the apparent deception. Interviewed by the New York Daily News Saturday, she said of her marriage: "No problems at all."

The complaint alleges that Ms. Silverman broke off the affair about a year ago.

After Judge Wachtler's arrest Saturday, prosecutors charged that he tried to blackmail Ms. Silverman by demanding $20,000 in return for sexually explicit photographs and tapes of her and Mr. Samson. The judge also was accused of threatening to kidnap Ms. Silverman's daughter and sending the girl lewd letters.

Officials said Judge Wachtler began sending threatening notes to Ms. Silverman in April and continued through last month. At least three phone calls were traced to locations close to Judge Wachtler. In September, reports say, Ms. Silverman called FBI Director William S. Sessions, who ordered an investigation. Friends said she must have felt very threatened.

"She must have really felt in danger to do this," said one. "She hates publicity."

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