Cuomo Concealing Corruption?

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In a scathing article in the NY Times of July 23, 2014 Governor Cuomo is accused of having “hobbled” all State ethics inquiries that led to people associated with him or his office.

From Rockland County, whose District Attorney was part of the Moreland Commission, through Albany and to every region of New York State corruption appears to be rampant.

Governor Cuomo may no longer be prepared  or willing to change things in New York State;  whether the electorate will change him in November 2014 at the polls now remains to be seen.

A summary of what the NY Times has found reveals:

1) With Albany rocked by a seemingly endless barrage of scandals and arrests, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo set up a high-powered commission last summer to root out corruption in state politics. It was barely two months old when its investigators, hunting for violations of campaign-finance laws, issued a subpoena to a media-buying firm that had placed millions of dollars’ worth of advertisements for the New York State Democratic Party. The subpoena was swiftly withdrawn. The panel’s chief investigator explained why in an email to the two other co-chairs later that afternoon. “They apparently produced ads for the governor,” she wrote.

2) The commission developed a list of promising targets, including a lawmaker suspected of using campaign funds to support a girlfriend in another state and pay tanning-salon bills. The panel also highlighted activities that it saw as politically odious but perfectly legal, like exploiting a loophole to bundle enormous campaign contributions.

3) The governor’s office deeply compromised the panel’s work, objecting whenever the commission focused on groups with ties to Mr. Cuomo or on issues that might reflect poorly on him. Ultimately, Mr. Cuomo abruptly disbanded the commission halfway through what he had indicated would be an 18-month life.

4) Before its demise, Mr. Cuomo’s aides repeatedly pressured the commission to not investigate certain areas. Things got so bad that investigators believed a Cuomo appointee was monitoring their communications without their knowledge.

5) Mr. Cuomo said early on that the commission would be “totally independent” and free to pursue wrongdoing anywhere in state government, including in his own office. “Anything they want to look at, they can look at — me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman,” he said last August. Then Cuomo said it would be a conflict for a panel he created to investigate his own administration. “A commission appointed by and staffed by the executive cannot investigate the executive,” the statement said. “It is a pure conflict of interest and would not pass the laugh test.” Never far from the action was Mr. Cuomo himself, making the most of the levers of power at his disposal and operating behind closed doors in ways that sometimes appeared at odds with his public statements.

6) Many, including some of New York’s most senior prosecutors, believed they would have free rein to pursue investigations wherever they led and would be independent of the executive branch. What became of the commission left many of them disillusioned. “The thing that bothered me the most is we were created with all this fanfare and the governor was going to clean up Albany,” said Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director for the League of Women Voters of New York State and a special adviser to the commission. “And it became purely a vehicle for the governor to get legislation. Another notch for his re-election campaign. That was it.”

7) New York State government had always seen its share of scandal, but it had become nearly synonymous with corruption when Mr. Cuomo was elected in 2010, promising to restore integrity to Albany. But by early last year, the parade of handcuffed officials had not subsided. In little more than a month, three state legislators were arrested on federal charges; one of them was accused of trying to bribe his way onto the New York City mayoral ballot, and another had sold legislation for cash.   The investigators set up shop in an office building in Lower Manhattan. In their cross hairs from the outset were the pots of money that had long spawned scandals in the Legislature: campaign donations and spending; the easy-to-abuse expense reimbursements known as per diem payments; and the outside income that some lawmakers earned in lucrative part-time jobs, often at law firms representing clients with business before the state.  A consulting firm, K2 Intelligence, was hired to search databases for donations linked to the passage of legislation or to the awarding of state contracts.

8) The newly formed commission was advertised in a 30-second television spot paid for by Mr. Cuomo’s re-election campaign. “Trust is everything to me,” the governor said, looking into the camera. He said, “So I am appointing a new independent commission, led by top law enforcement officials from all across this great state, to investigate and prosecute wrongdoing.” “The politicians in Albany won’t like it,” he said. “But I work for the people.” But as investigators asked questions, they found themselves inquiring about matters related to the governor’s supporters. And this led to confrontations between the commission’s chief investigator, Ms Perry, and its executive director, Ms Calcaterra.

9) One of the first roadblocks Ms. Perry and her investigators encountered came when they sought to subpoena the Real Estate Board of New York, a powerful trade group whose members have been among Mr. Cuomo’s most generous supporters. According to a subpoena that had been prepared, investigators wanted to examine the real estate board’s political donations, its materials related to a valuable tax break for new housing, and its communications with public officials, including phone calls with lawmakers. Ms. Calcaterra repeatedly pressed Ms. Perry not to serve the subpoena, emails show. Yet the commission backed Ms. Perry, and on Aug. 19, she wrote to the co-chairs that she would be sharing a subpoena with them “shortly.” Whereupon Mr. Cuomo’s office stepped in to shut it down.

10) Around the same time, commission investigators also decided to subpoena a major retailer to see if its donations were linked to passage of a tax credit. This, too, was met with resistance from Ms. Calcaterra. The rationale? The tax credit had been included in Mr. Cuomo’s budget, she told Ms. Perry, so any questions raised about it could reflect poorly on him, according to several people apprised of the exchange.

11) Investigators began to suspect that Ms. Calcaterra was monitoring their activities and reporting back to the governor’s office. A sense of paranoia spread through the office, where, one staff member said, the mood began to resemble that of a prison camp. Ms. Perry told investigators to assume that Ms. Calcaterra was reading their emails. Investigators began keeping files on their laptops rather than on a shared drive, several staff members said, so that Ms. Calcaterra would not be able to gain access to them.

12) Independence and interference were, not surprisingly, on the agenda when the full commission met on Aug. 29 in a law firm’s Midtown Manhattan office. Ms. Perry and Ms. Calcaterra were seated near one another. The two were barely on speaking terms. Ms. Perry was asked to give an update on investigations. Prompted by one of the co-chairs, she began to detail some of the obstacles she and her investigators faced, attendees said: The governor’s office was editing letters, telling her what subpoenas she could not issue and dictating what investigative avenues she could not pursue. Her voice cracked with emotion. And Ms. Calcaterra typed away furiously on her BlackBerry.

13) That same day, Mr. Cuomo publicly affirmed that even his own political dealings would be fair game for the commission investigators. “They have total ability to look at whatever they want to look at,” he told reporters during a stop upstate. Yet at least four commissioners — including the district attorneys from Broome, Erie and Rockland Counties — began discussing quitting the panel to protest the interference from Mr. Cuomo’s office, commissioners said.

14) A top aide to Governor Cuomo, Mr. Schwartz, said the commission was examining conduct that was “understood” in Albany but might look “funny” to outsiders. “Things can be twisted against the governor by the Legislature,” the participant recalled Mr. Schwartz’s saying. “You are looking at places where there may be no wrongdoing, but people will twist it to make it look like there was.” Then, Mr. Schwartz drew a line: The Moreland Commission, he said, had been created to investigate the Legislature; it was not intended to scrutinize the governor’s actions.

15) When the commission held its first public hearing the lead-off witness was Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, who urged the panel to adopt a much more aggressive approach. Mr. Bharara encouraged commissioners to make full use of their subpoena power, develop cases worth prosecuting and avoid overlooking minor offenses. He asked them to consider recommending that politicians convicted of corruption be stripped of their pensions. And he left them with an admonition: Let no one be immune, “whether in the legislative or in the executive branch.” “In all things,” Mr. Bharara added, “toughness and independence will pay off.”

16) The governor offered a new suggestion: Rather than subpoenaing lawmakers themselves, the commission should subpoena their law firms and partners. Many legislators, including three of the most powerful — Sheldon Silver, a Democrat who is the Assembly speaker, and the Senate’s co-leaders, Dean G. Skelos, Republican of Long Island, and Jeffrey D. Klein, Democrat of the Bronx — work for law firms, some of which pay them high salaries. Mr. Cuomo, appearing energized, assured the co-chairs that he had never seen lawmakers so scared.

17) Two of the commission’s leaders expressed skepticism. But the governor pressed. So they agreed to give it a try. Investigators noticed that the state Democratic Party’s housekeeping account had begun paying Buying Time for television advertising in 2013. The payments exceeded $4 million, records show. Investigators wanted to know what sort of ads had been placed, and if campaign laws had been broken by the party in the process. But unbeknown to the co-chairs and commission staff, Mr. Cuomo was by far Buying Time’s biggest client in New York, spending some $20 million on ads since his ill-fated bid for governor in 2002. “We really didn’t anticipate any problems,” one commissioner said. The subpoena went out the next day, Sept. 20. Mr. Schwartz, the governor’s secretary, quickly found out and had it rescinded.

18) The commission decided to hold off on issuing new subpoenas until it was able to determine what the legislative leaders might agree to in terms of ethics reform. The answer was not much. On Sept. 30, the three co-chairs met with top Assembly and Senate aides in the governor’s Midtown office. Mr. Schwartz sat in. Mr. Cuomo did not. Heeding the governor’s advice, the three arrived with a list of proposals, including public financing of campaigns, beefing up corruption laws, and expanding disclosure of lawmakers’ outside incomes. Their proposals bombed, according to people in the room. “This is a witch hunt,” said Robert F. Mujica, chief of staff for the Senate Republicans. David L. Lewis, a lawyer for Senate Republicans, objected to a measure that would toughen the penalties for lawmakers convicted of corruption. “Are you suggesting a 30-year member of the Legislature be robbed of their pension because of one indiscretion?” he asked, attendees recalled. Mr. Fitzpatrick responded with one word: “Yes.”

19) In the past decade, more than 30 current or former state officeholders in New York have been convicted of crimes, sanctioned or otherwise accused of wrongdoing.

20) The commission gave up any hope of legislative cooperation. In his charge to the Moreland Commission, Mr. Cuomo had directed that it produce a preliminary report by early December. What resulted provided a grim assessment of state government as “a pay-to-play political culture driven by large checks”.

Read the complete article at

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/23/nyregion/governor-andrew-cuomo-and-the-short-life-of-the-moreland-commission.html

Picture Credit: http://statepolitics.lohudblogs.com/files/2013/04/cuomo3.jpg

 

 

About Michael N. Hull

Michael N. Hull has lived in Rockland County for 35 years where he writes articles on philosophy and political affairs. Hull has written over 300 articles for New City Patch and Rockland Voice. He is presently a senior editor of the Facebook page Clarkstown: What They Don't Want You To Know and a senior editor of Rockland Voice.

About the Author
Michael N. Hull has lived in Rockland County for 35 years where he writes articles on philosophy and political affairs. Hull has written over 300 articles for New City Patch and Rockland Voice. He is presently a senior editor of the Facebook page Clarkstown: What They Don't Want You To Know and a senior editor of Rockland Voice.

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