By SAM ROBERTS
NOVEMBER 22, 2017
Thomas D. Thacher II, who as a public prosecutor, independent monitor and private investigator was instrumental in curbing corruption, fraud and waste in the construction industry, died on Oct 30 in Bedford, N.Y. He was 71.
The cause was heart failure, his daughter, Chessie Thacher, said.
In all three roles, Mr. Thacher created enduring strategies to uncover and contain the systemic kickbacks and racketeering that had become an accepted cost of doing business — a cost that was often passed along by developers to taxpayers and consumers, or hurt workers who were sold out by their union leaders.
Mr. Thacher, who was known as Toby, was named executive director of Gov. Mario M. Cuomo’s Construction Industry Strike Force, which delivered a groundbreaking investigative report in 1990. He was also inspector general of the New York City School Construction Authority from 1989 to 1996.
After leaving government, he founded a risk-management consultancy for public, corporate and nonprofit construction projects. He was hired to monitor compliance with anticorruption procedures imposed at the World Trade Center site.
Mr. Thacher’s firm was acquired in 2013 by K2 Intelligence, the investigative company started by Jules and Jeremy Kroll. At his death, he was chief executive of Thacher Associates, K2 Intelligence’s construction and real estate practice.
After serving as an assistant prosecutor in Manhattan and a deputy assistant state attorney general working with the state Organized Crime Task Force, Mr. Thacher was named inspector general and vice president of the School Construction Authority, which was established by the State Legislature late in 1988 after the scandal-plagued Board of Education was stripped of its power to build new schools.
Mr. Thacher introduced a prequalification process that examined the background of potential bidders before, rather than after, they were awarded construction contracts. He also enlisted independent private-sector inspectors general as watchdogs for suspect companies.
“Some public agencies have an informal process of reviewing companies with suspicious records,” he told The New York Times in 1991. “But no one else imposes the extensive scrutiny that we require before a company is allowed to bid.”
Mr. Thacher said his approach could be duplicated by private companies “because it deals with solutions, not just with exposing scandals.” To reduce corporate corruption, he said in 1996, “you have to reduce both the incentives to cheat and the opportunities to cheat — and that can never be done externally. It has got to be done from within.”
Mr. Thacher investigated mismanaged and fraudulent asbestos inspections that delayed the opening of schools in 1993. He also uncovered corruption in the Board of Education’s program to lease additional classroom space.
“Corruption cannot be prosecuted or monitored away; it can only be controlled through a combination of sustained prosecutions, research and analysis, and institutional reform,” he wrote in a Times Op-Ed essay about reforming the Police Department.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance said in an email that Mr. Thacher, “through his work on organized crime and in the construction industry, pioneered and literally invented the use of court-ordered monitors to ensure a company which had engaged in misconduct was not able to commit new offenses.
“Equally important,” Mr. Vance added, “in the construction industry, Toby’s work changed industry practice, and he was doing so right up until his death.”
Thomas Day Thacher II was born on Sept 21, 1946, in Manhattan. His mother was the former Barbara Auchincloss, a writer, editor and educator. His father, Thomas, was a former federal judge, son of a founder of the law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and a descendant of a Founding Father, Roger Sherman of Connecticut.
After graduating from Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., Mr. Thacher received a bachelor’s degree from Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., and a law degree from the Fordham University School of Law.
In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his wife, the former Frances Fell Tower; his son, Thomas III; a grandson; two sisters, Barbara T. Plimpton and Elizabeth Hawn; and three brothers, Hugh, Peter and Andrew.