Surrender your cellular phone and BlackBerry. Send your personal effects on a conveyor belt that spirits them off to the X-ray machine. Sign on the dotted line. Accept a numbered metal chit, reminiscent of a dog’s rabies tag, to be returned in order to reclaim mechanical gizmos upon exiting, and presto, you are in the clear: not for takeoff, but for admission to 1 St. Andrew’s Plaza and the well-protected office of Michael J. Garcia, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Who decides if John A. Gotti will be prosecuted a fourth time, or whether Jeanine F. Pirro will be prosecuted at all? Mr. Garcia.
Feeling like an interloper hereabouts, and an underequipped one at that, is guaranteed. The upper hand belongs, no contest, to Mr. Garcia, who turned 45 on Tuesday, which accounts for the out-of-context, crumpled bag of Cheetos in his otherwise immaculate office anteroom. Not his bag, he explains, just a leftover from a birthday get-together held for him by his fellow feds. The party evidence thrown away, it’s back behind closed doors in the leather-themed office that belonged, when he was an incorrigibly eager rookie here in the early 1990’s, to Mary Jo White, a tough cookie. “You’d come into her office and say, ‘O.K., I’ve done these 11 things,’ and she’d say, ‘O.K., that’s great; what about No. 12?’ ”
George W. Bush appointed Mr. Garcia, a prosecutor whose expertise in antiterrorism led to a post-9/11 role at the Department of Homeland Security, to this post with a thumbs-up from Ms. White and both sides of the aisle. “I’m just a career prosecutor,” he says. “And obviously this is not a career job; this is finite.”
Nice ascent for a nonpolitical youngster — he is a registered Republican now — who grew up in a nonpolitical — though both parents were Democrats — household in Valley Stream on Long Island, majored in American literature, wrote his master’s thesis at William and Mary on Mark Twain, and unwinds with 1,400-page classics like “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
Big challenges, like big books, don’t rattle him: Unfulfilled by odd jobs in publishing (he edited scientific books, or tried to) and newspapers (he was the Boswell of Malverne, N.Y.), Mr. Garcia whizzed through the LSAT’s after cramming for a weekend and earning a scholarship to the Albany Law School of Union University.
After a lucrative year of corporate work for a Wall Street firm, he took a 60 percent pay cut to clerk for Judge Judith S. Kaye at the Court of Appeals from 1990 to 1992, then joined the United States attorney’s office. First big case? It is a favorite, and career defining, moment immortalized in an oil painting on his wall: “That’s a very young me calling my first witness in a federal trial — a female F.B.I. agent hurt in the 1993 trade center bombing.” Mr. Garcia wormed his way onto the prosecution team by volunteering to deliver a crack-of-dawn search warrant and wound up calling 25 witnesses in the trial.