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Queens Chronicle

John J. Santucci, 85, died Sunday

Former DA created Special Victims Unit, Second Chance Program

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Posted: Monday, June 27, 2016 2:48 pm

John J. Santucci, the former Queens district attorney, passed away on Sunday at Winthrop University Medical Center in Mineola. He was 85. 

Santucci, a key figure in the political realm in New York, served as the district attorney for 14 years, from 1977 to 1991 after being appointed at the end of 1976 and elected in 1977. He was then re-elected three more times.

“There was no competition,” said Santucci’s grandson, John T. Santucci. “People knew John Santucci worked for them,” he said.

Howard Beach resident and family friend Mitch Udowitch called Santucci a family man, a sentiment that is evident in his family’s remembrance of him. 

“My grandfather was the strongest man I knew, and he was someone that pushed you, challenged you, made you see the argument from all perspectives” his grandson said. “He made you a better person.”

With that strength, also came innovation. 

Despite a career sometimes wracked with controversy, Santucci is remembered for his commitment to making the Queens community a better place for all people. 

Along with being the first district attorney in New York State to use DNA evidence, his grandson said, he also created the nation’s very first Special Victims Unit.

Santucci also created the Second Chance Program, which was designed to give first-time offenders the opportunity to perform community service in order to clear their record and be given a second chance.

“He enforced the law but he also tried to make sure at all costs that the law was working for the people,” John T. Santucci said.

His grandson said that Santucci very much valued his community, and always encouraged his family to stand up for what they believed in.

“That’s really why our family is as strong as it is,” John T. Santucci said. “He was our patriarch, our champion; he was my hero.”

Santucci attended St. John’s University’s School of Law. He then went on to serve as an assistant district attorney in Queens from 1968 to 1964. He also served as a city councilman and state senator.

Former state Sen. Frank Padavan, who succeeded Santucci, said the two were very good friends, and called him a good representative.

“[He was] a state senator who really did his job well,” he said.

Santucci retired from the district attorney position in 1991, leading to the appointment of his sucessor, the current District Attorney Richard A. Brown.

Brown, in a statement Monday said, “I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my predecessor, John Santucci. John spent his entire career in dedicated service to the people of Queens County, serving as a prosecutor, a member of the City Council and the State Senate, and finally as District Attorney. John’s wife, Edna, and their entire family remain in our thoughts and prayers.”

Udowitch said the former district attorney was a “straight shooter.”

“In my opinion he was always fair,” he said.

Calling Santucci a “great guy,” Udowitch said, “It was a sad day in Queens when John retired.”

The former district attorney was involved in numerous charitable efforts according to his grandson, including the Boys and Girls Club of South Queens and Jamaica Hospital Medical Center. His family also created a scholarship at the Touro Law School, called the John J. Santucci Justice Scholarship. 

“I’m proud,” his grandson said. “I’m proud to be his grandson, I’m proud that my parents named me after him.”

Aside from his work in the community, Santucci is also remembered for his handling of high-profile cases, such as the fatal, racially charged 1986 attack in Howard Beach. He turned the case over to a special prosecutor, the future Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes.

He was criticized by 1984 Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro for his prosecution of her husband, John Zaccaro, on charges related to the bribery scandal surrounding then-Borough President Donald Manes. Zaccaro was acquitted; Manes killed himself.

Among hundreds of cases handled by Santucci, corruption and police brutality were two other issues that the former district attorney most notably dealt with. 

Santucci is survived by his wife of 62 years, Edna; six children, Mary, Thomas, John, Carol, Robert and Edna; and 12 grandchildren.

A wake for Santucci will be held on Tuesday and Wednesday at Fairchild and Sons funeral home in Garden City from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m.

A funeral will be held at St. Ann’s Catholic Church, also in Garden City, at 10 a.m. Thursday.

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