Donovan seeks federal court trial to hasten his return to Reagan Cabinet post
New York — US Secretary of Labor Raymond J. Donovan, testifying in Federal District Court Wednesday, not only denied any involvement with a subway contract that led to his indictment last September, but also stated, ''I don't think any crimes were committed. In fact, I know no crimes were committed.''
On unpaid leave from his Cabinet post until the charges against him are cleared up, Mr. Donovan is seeking to have his case moved from the State Supreme Court to a federal court.
His attorneys argue that a federal official has the right to have a state criminal case charging him with crimes arising out of ''acts under color of his federal office'' removed to federal court. Some acts alleged in the New York indictment occurred after Donovan became secretary of labor in February 1981.
Charges of larceny and fraud were filed against Donovan and nine others by Bronx District Attorney Mario Merola. The indictment alleges that officials of two firms, Schiavone Construction Company and a minority subcontractor, Jopel Contracting & Trucking Corporation, overstated payments to Jopel on a city subway construction project between 1979 and 1984.
Donovan and his former business associates are accused of defrauding the New York City Transit Authority of millions of dollars.
The labor secretary was executive vice-president of Schiavone until he resigned to take his Cabinet post. He still is co-owner of the firm.
None of the other defendants in the case are seeking to join Donovan in federal court, and Bronx Assistant District Attorney Stephen R. Bookin opposes the move. He says that if the Donovan case is moved to federal court, so should those against the other defendants.
The secretary's attorney says his client seeks the move to federal jurisdiction in order to speed up action on his case and ''get him back to work as a Cabinet official.''
The state court trial in the Bronx is not expected to begin for three months or more.
Donovan has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He also maintains they are too vague. In response to a motion by his counsel, the Bronx district attorney was instructed to describe in greater detail, by Dec. 24, the charges against Donovan and his associates. A State Supreme Court justice told the prosecutor that specifics in the case were insufficient for preparing a defense.
Under questioning from Mr. Bookin, Donovan said that although he was familiar with the jobs under question, having visited the sites several times while he was still with Schiavone, he did not find out about the background of the 1979 contract with Jopel until much later. ''I did not even see the contract until your investigation,'' he said.
Although admitting that, as executive vice-president of Schiavone, he was deeply involved in organizing the joint venture that ran the subway tunneling project, Donovan testified that ''once the job was on the books, my participation became rather minimal.'' He said he co-signed a $200,000 check in 1979 for an interest-free advance to Jopel as a matter of routine - adding that he had signed 90 to 120 checks that day.
Arguments on the motion to move the case to federal court continued Thursday.