Longtime Nassau County Assistant District Attorney Peter J. Mancuso, who spent the majority of his nearly 40-year career at the district attorney’s office specializing in financial crimes, will soon be retiring to serve as president of Kiwanis International.
A native of the Lower East Side of Manhattan whose family moved to Freeport when he was young, Mancuso earned his B.S. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early 1970s. Just before graduation, he faced a choice that would affect not only his professional life but also his personal life.
“When I was about to graduate from college, I was choosing between two paths,” Mancuso said in a phone interview. “One was to go to business school, which I could have done at the Sloan School at MIT. The other was to go to law school, and I made the choice of law school because I thought I could do more good for more people while at the same time having a good life for myself.”
Choosing to attend Cornell University Law School “turned out to be a good decision,” Mancuso says, because he met his wife, Karen, while attending.
“If I don’t go to law school, I don’t meet my wife,” Mancuso said. “We don’t have two children, we don’t have our grandchildren and life. The avalanche of life would roll in a different direction from that decision.”
Shortly after his graduation from Cornell and passing the New York bar exam, in 1978 Mancuso attended a series of interviews with the Nassau County district attorney’s office, with the final one taking place with then-District Attorney Denis Dillon on a morning following a massive ice storm, during which Mancuso’s home had lost power.
“When I changed into the one suit that I owned to meet the district attorney for the first time, my goosebumps had goosebumps,” Mancuso said. “I was freezing to death while I was changing my clothes, and I was right pleased to be in a nice, warm office being interviewed by the district attorney.”
Mancuso said that his first year on the job involved “all the things that a newbie does.”
“At that point, we didn’t have a parking and traffic violations agency in Nassau County, we had all traffic matters going through the District Court,” Mancuso said. “One of the things you did when you first arrived in the office was to try cases in traffic court, and you had an opportunity to learn a little bit about trials in an environment in which failure amounted to very little by way of consequences. So you really learned what you were doing.”
Mancuso’s economic background from MIT would later be called upon, resulting in an invitation to join the DA’s Commercial Frauds Bureau, where he later served as deputy chief. He also served as chief of the environmental protection unit, where he prosecuted the first successful hazardous waste felony case in New York state that would not be reversed on appeal.
After eight years with the DA’s office, in 1986 Mancuso turned to private practice, a time during which he first became acquainted with the Kiwanis Club of East Meadow, a community service organization focused on improving the lives of children. Mancuso said he “fell in love with the mission,” serving in numerous officer positions in the club before being elected lieutenant governor and leading 16 clubs across Long Island.
“Service has always been a component of who I am,” Mancuso said. “When I was in the district attorney’s office, I was engaging in public service as a full-time job. When I left the office in 1986 I was kind of looking for something I could do to be involved in a service sort of way in the community. Both gave me the opportunity to do that.”
Following a short period as general counsel to a gasoline distributor “that turned out not to work for the liking of anyone concerned,” Mancuso says, in 1994 he was invited to return to the DA’s office and accepted.
In the next 25 years, Mancuso worked on various cases, with the most high-profile being the 2004 Roslyn school district embezzlement scandal. He dealt with Assistant Superintendent and scandal bookmaker Pamela Gluckin, who he said was willing to cooperate with the investigation.
“[Gluckin] retained a lot of documents that supported her allegations against [then-Roslyn superintendent] Frank Tassone that Tassone had encouraged her to destroy,” Mancuso said. “Through her attorney she began producing documents for us that gave us a road map as to where to go next in the case. And we asked, why did you retain all this stuff? I mean, Tassone told you to get rid of it. And her response to us was because ‘I thought it might come in handy someday,’ and she was right.”
He said the cooperation led to Gluckin being “treated more leniently than she would have been,” resulting in a plea deal for a 3-to-9-year sentence and being made to repay the more than $4 million she had embezzled.
Throughout the following decades, Mancuso also stayed involved with the Kiwanis, being elected a trustee on its international board in 2016. In July, at a special meeting held in lieu of the 2020 Kiwanis International Convention, Mancuso was elected the next president of Kiwanis International, with his term set to begin on Oct. 1, 2021. His elevation partly led to the decision to retire, he said.
“I just reached the point where I couldn’t adequately do what is required in order to do my job here in the office, and at the same time do all the things I will need to do as president of Kiwanis,” Mancuso said. “I couldn’t do all of those things at the same time. It’s been in my head for a number of years that if I was successful in getting elected as an officer, then I should retire at the end of the year and getting ready to do what I need to do to be a good president. Put together, it made sense.”
Under the three administrations where he worked – Dillon, now-Congresswoman Kathleen Rice, and current District Attorney Madeline Singas – Mancuso said the DA’s office was “a very warm, family-oriented atmosphere” where people respected each other. He also praised the leaders, Dillon as a passionate “man of integrity,” Rice as “very focused, very uncompromising,” and Singas as “just a wonderful human being.”
“Everything about [Singas] shows her level of devotion to family and her care for people who are in unfortunate situations,” Mancuso said. “And it’s just a real pleasure working for somebody like that.”
Mancuso and his wife, a practicing elder care attorney and estate planner, live in North Bellmore and have two adult children, Stephen and Cathy, and two grandchildren, Sam and Henry.
He is also a past president of the Nassau County Bar Association, the East Meadow Chamber of Commerce and the MIT Club of Long Island, and previously served as dean of the Nassau Academy of Law.
“I tend to look forward. I don’t tend to look backward,” Mancuso said. “I do appreciate the fact that I was treated with respect by the people at the DA’s office. And I hope that I’ve returned it to them.”