Monthly Archives: July 2014

U.S. Attorney Warns Cuomo on Moreland Commission Case

By Susanne Craig, Thomas Kaplan and William Rashbaum  July 31, 2014

In an escalation of the confrontation between the United States attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo over the governor’s cancellation of his own anticorruption commission, Mr. Bharara has threatened to investigate the Cuomo administration for possible obstruction of justice or witness tampering.

The warning, in a sharply worded letter from Mr. Bharara’s office, came after several members of the panel issued public statements defending the governor’s handling of the panel, known as the Moreland Commission, which Mr. Cuomo created last year with promises of cleaning up corruption in state politics but shut down abruptly in March.

Mr. Bharara’s office has been investigating the shutdown of the commission, and pursuing its unfinished corruption cases, since April.

In the letter, sent late Wednesday afternoon to a lawyer for the panel, prosecutors alluded to a number of statements made by its members on Monday, which generally defended Mr. Cuomo’s handling of the commission. The statements were released on the same day Mr. Cuomo first publicly responded to a report in The New York Times that described how he and his aides had compromised the commission’s work.
At least some of those statements were prompted by calls from the governor or his emissaries, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation who were unwilling to be named for fear of reprisal.

One commissioner who received a call from an intermediary on behalf of the governor’s office said he found the call upsetting and declined to make a statement.

The letter from prosecutors, which was read to The New York Times, says, “We have reason to believe a number of commissioners recently have been contacted about the commission’s work, and some commissioners have been asked to issue public statements characterizing events and facts regarding the commission’s operation.”

“To the extent anyone attempts to influence or tamper with a witness’s recollection of events relevant to our investigation, including the recollection of a commissioner or one of the commission’s employees, we request that you advise our office immediately, as we must consider whether such actions constitute obstruction of justice or tampering with witnesses that violate federal law.”

Reached late Wednesday night, a spokesman for the governor did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter from Mr. Bharara’s office. A lawyer for the commission declined to comment on the letter.

What an embarrassment to the executive branch of our state that the US Attorney has to browbeat our governor into avoiding a coverup.

The Times reported last week that Mr. Cuomo’s office had deeply compromised the panel’s work, objecting when it focused on groups with political ties to Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat who is seeking re-election, or on issues that might reflect poorly on him.

The Times’s article prompted condemnations from government watchdog groups and newspaper editorial boards. Mr. Cuomo, facing perhaps the harshest scrutiny of his three and a half years as governor, remained out of public view for five days as criticism mounted.
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Late Sunday night, Mr. Cuomo’s office announced that he would make an appearance in Buffalo on Monday morning, setting in motion what appeared to be a coordinated effort by Mr. Cuomo and his aides to present a defense for their conduct.

Just hours before Mr. Cuomo faced reporters, one of the co-chairs of the commission, William J. Fitzpatrick, released a three-page statement in which he asserted that “nobody ‘interfered’ with me or my co-chairs.”

Facing questions from the news media, Mr. Cuomo repeatedly cited the statement by Mr. Fitzpatrick, the Onondaga County district attorney. The governor called the statement “very helpful,” explaining that Mr. Fitzpatrick “knows better than anyone else what happened with the Moreland Commission.”

“Now we have facts that we can actually deal with, right?” Mr. Cuomo said.

There is a strong alternative to Andrew Cuomo for Democrats this primary season. Her name is Zephyr Teachout, and she is a professor…

Mr. Fitzpatrick’s statement seemed at odds with frustration he had expressed to colleagues last year; in one email reported by The Times, he wrote that Mr. Cuomo’s office “needs to understand this is an INDEPENDENT commission and needs to be treated as such.” Mr. Cuomo dismissed that email as “snippets of conversations.”

Mr. Fitzpatrick’s statement on Monday also appeared to contradict previous statements he made to federal prosecutors, according to three people briefed on the matter but not authorized to speak on the record.  Mr. Fitzpatrick did not immediately return a call late Wednesday seeking comment.

Also Monday, Thomas P. Zugibe, the Rockland County district attorney and a commission member, released a statement in which he asserted that the panel “did incredible work” and said, “At all times it was clear that all investigatory decisions were within the exclusive discretion of the Commission.”

Another commission member, Frank A. Sedita III, the Erie County district attorney, issued a statement that acknowledged there had been “rumors” that Mr. Cuomo’s office had sought to block the issuance of some subpoenas. But he said that Mr. Cuomo’s office ultimately “agreed not to interfere with our work.”

And in an interview with Gannett, Gerald F. Mollen, the Broome County district attorney, said he believed that he and his colleagues had “absolute independence to go wherever the commission wanted and the governor could not stop us if we choose to go somewhere.”

The letter noted “the commissioners and the commission’s employees are important witnesses in this ongoing investigation, and information from those with personal knowledge of facts of the investigation is highly material to that investigation.”

The letter warned that tampering with the recollections of commission members or employees could be a crime, and directed them to preserve any records of “actual or attempted contact” along those lines.

James Margolin, a spokesman for the United States attorney’s office, declined to comment Wednesday night.



Cuomo is Eliot ‘Steamroller’ Spitzer all over again

By Bob McManus     July 26, 2014

Andrew Cuomo is a f—ing steamroller. You gotta problem with that?

US Attorney Preet Bharara apparently does, judging from his reaction to last week’s remarkable, 6,400-word essay in The New York Times detailing gubernatorial interference with an investigating commission Cuomo very publicly imposed on Albany 13 months ago — only to disband it when it started putting heat on him.

Even Cuomo doesn’t dispute that he stuck his thumb in the soup. But he says it was his very own commission — and that he was free to compromise it, or to kill it, whenever.

So he did. So there.

But Bharara, every corrupt New York pol’s monster under the bed, takes exception: “If other people aren’t going to [fight official misconduct], then we’re going to do it. That’s our main mission.”

Cuomo’s legal pettifoggers are, well, pettifogging. But the governor clearly has poked a big stick into a bear cave, and he’s not likely to walk away from the episode with his reputation intact.

Just like the last self-designated avenging angel of Albany — the very much former governor Eliot Laurence Spitzer.

That is, just like the man who — three weeks into his abbreviated gubernatorial term — famously pronounced himself to be a “f—ing steamroller” poised to “roll over [Albany] and anybody else!” (History records that Albany was not amused.)

There are many differences between Spitzer and Cuomo, but the two men have this in common: They are bombastic, profane-in-private control freaks who rarely opt for persuasion when blunt-force trauma is available.

Spitzer’s arrogance is rooted in great wealth, steeped in the unshakeable conviction that he is — in every situation and all possible circumstances — the smartest man in the room. If not the world.

Cuomo is less scrutable. He’s never met the man he can’t stare down, or so he clearly believes. But sometimes the arrogance seems tentative — the product, perhaps, of the same outer-borough insecurities that often hobbled his father, Mario Cuomo.

No matter. The hubris is real, and therein reside the origins of his current problems.

Spitzer, for the record, accomplished precisely nothing during his brief term.

Always a slave to his instincts and appetites, his epic tirades generated first resistance, then paralysis. His effectiveness, such as it was, ended in July 2007, when The Post’s Fredric U. Dicker revealed that he had sent state troopers after political enemies. And when he left office nine months later, the central figure in a bizarre sex scandal, Albany was in near total meltdown.

Then came the surreal David Paterson interregnum — punctuated by the increasingly frequent corruption convictions won by Bharara. Meltdown descended into farce.

And so the scene was set for Andrew Mark Cuomo, who came to office pledged to reform Albany once and for all.

The low-hanging fruit was quickly plucked: Budgeting reform and peripheral tax relief were achieved, and a sense progress was real.

But friction always takes a toll. Cuomo proved to have no appetite for the heavy lifting real change would require — for truly taking on the Legislature, the public-employee unions and other left-leaning special interests — and presently stagnation set in.

And frustration, manifested in unguarded public moments with hectoring speeches characterizing dissenters from the company line — traditional Catholics, Orthodox Jews, Second Amendment supporters and so on — as “extremists” unworthy of intellectual engagement.

Ugly stuff, but par for the Cuomo course.

Meanwhile, Bharara’s federal gumshoes were hard at work. Their increasingly frequent indictments and convictions, from the governor’s perspective, simply underscored how little he himself had accomplished in that respect.

Fast forward to a year ago, after Cuomo’s third legislative session failed yet again to produce significant anti-corruption legislation.

Once more the governor reached for the bludgeon: He appointed a special anti-corruption commission under the state’s 107-year-old Moreland Act — properly employed, that’s Albany’s version of the nuclear option — and handed it a very clear mandate.

“Anything (the commission) wants to look at, they can look at — me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman,” declared Cuomo. [Members] have total control and ability to look at whatever they want to look at.”

Which Albany pol dared argue with that? Complain, yes. Obstruct, no. It was classic, naked Cuomo my-way-or-the-highway coercion.

Imagine Cuomo’s surprise, then, when he discovered that his handcrafted commission had taken him at his word. That it was indeed, according to the Times, looking squarely at his own campaign practices.

That would never do. Key Cuomo aide Larry Schwartz, a bludgeon of his own in hand, descended swiftly on the mutineers.

What happened next isn’t entirely clear — but this much is beyond dispute:

n  The Albany establishment was not at all intimidated by Cuomo and his commission, which he folded in less than a year. The entire exercise yielded nothing.

n  Preet Bharara, who swiftly confiscated the commission’s records, is now combing through them — methodically and ominously.

Spitzer proved that sometimes steamrollers pop gaskets. Too bad for Cuomo that he wasn’t paying attention.

Scandal exposes Cuomo as liar and phony

July 24, 2014 By Frederic U. Dicker  New York Post

ALBANY — The devastating New York Times story on Gov. Cuomo’s political interference with his Moreland Commission panel’s investigation of public corruption pulled the veil from one of the biggest open secrets at the state Capitol: The governor is a liar and almost anything he promises will turn out to be false.

Cuomo’s betrayal of major pledges is well known: the promise to cut taxes in a meaningful way, encourage job creation without government handouts, reduce local mandates, conduct public work transparently and have science — not politics — determine if fracking can be done safely.

But it wasn’t until it Cuomo violated his No. 1 pledge to rid New York of the “culture of corruption’’ that has dominated Albany for decades that the full extent of his betrayal of the public became clear.

People who have known Cuomo for years, including some who go back to the days he served as the thuggish chief enforcer of his father, then-Gov. Mario Cuomo, say they aren’t surprised Cuomo’s penchant for lying has finally exploded in full public view.

“What took so long?” quipped a Cuomo associate who has known the governor for more than 20 years.

These critics, who include several longtime Cuomo friends, described the governor as a master of what one called “making up narratives’’ — story lines that, whether true or not, become incorporated in a political or governmental strategy.

“Cuomo did this with Moreland as he’s done it with so many things: He creates a narrative, ‘crack down on corruption, we’ll get to the bottom of this,’ but it’s totally cynical, manufactured and never real or sincere from the start,’’ said a former public official who has counted the governor as a friend.

Cuomo once privately described himself as a “control freak’s control freak.’’ He selected the commission over a year ago in a move designed to deflect criticisms over his failure to get the Legislature, scarred with yet another round of scandal, to pass a package of ethics reforms.

He promised the commission would pursue all leads involving public corruption in the Legislature and, if necessary, in his own executive branch of government.

But earlier this year, with the heat largely off, Cuomo unceremoniously cut a deal with the Legislature and folded the commission, which had little more than a milquetoast report to show for its efforts.

This time he made a big mistake. While he thought the public would buy the “mission accomplished’’ narrative, Cuomo failed to consider that the handful of law-enforcement professionals employed by Moreland had reputations they’d seek to protect.

They started talking — to the media and to investigators for the Southern District US Attorney’s Office headed by Preet Bharara — about being muscled, about promises of independent investigations being violated, about being told to steer clear of investigating Cuomo’s friends and contributors, the Democratic Party and the law practices of state lawmakers.

The story has exploded and there may be more to come. Bharara has subpoenaed the Moreland Commission’s evidence and is believed to be investigating whether Cuomo and his aides — by their actions — committed any federal crimes.

Cuomo was elected attorney general and then governor pledging to end the corrupt culture that had come to define the Empire State.

Now he’s a symbol of it.

New York Governor Cuomo’s office intervened in corruption probe: NY Times

(Reuters) Wed Jul 23, 2014 4:57pm EDT

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office meddled with a commission he created to root out corruption in state politics, pushing back whenever it focused on groups tied to Cuomo, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.

The commission that Cuomo established in July 2013 to investigate violations of campaign finance laws and other matters was hobbled almost from the start by demands from the governor’s office, despite a public promise of independence, the Times said.

Within a year, it was disbanded by Cuomo, who had initially indicated it would operate for about 18 months.

Now the commission’s scrapped probes, which included hundreds of emails, subpoenas and internal documents from politicians and state agencies, are being investigated by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the Times said. Federal prosecutors also are looking into what role Cuomo and his aides played in the panel’s shutdown.

Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to calls about the Times story and a spokesman for Bharara declined to comment on it.

The bipartisan Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, more commonly known as the Moreland Commission, was created after the state capital was rocked by a series of scandals involving legislators, which Cuomo said had undermined the public’s confidence in state government.

The commission was granted the power to subpoena state officials, lawmakers and records from state agencies, such as the Board of Elections.

“Anything they want to look at, they can look at – me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman,” Cuomo, a Democrat, told reporters in August 2013.

But the commission soon encountered resistance from Cuomo’s office when it issued a subpoena to a media-buying firm, Buying Time, which unbeknownst to investigators happened to include Cuomo as one of its clients, the Times said.

The governor’s most senior aide, Lawrence Schwartz, directed the commission to withdraw the subpoena, which it did.

“This is wrong,” Schwartz was quoted in the Times as telling the commission. “Pull it back.”

Similar responses from Cuomo’s office had shut down several other investigative efforts whenever the commission focused on groups with ties to Cuomo or on issues that might cast him in a negative light, the Times said.

That included stopping a subpoena the commission planned to send to the Real Estate Board of New York, the trade group whose members have generously supported Cuomo, the Times said.

After he abruptly disbanded the commission in March and caught the eye of the U.S. attorney’s office, Cuomo downplayed the idea that he had interfered with its work.

“It’s my commission,” the governor told the editorial board of Crain’s New York Business in late April. “I can’t ‘interfere’ with it, because it is mine. It is controlled by me.”

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Additional reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Bill Trott)


July 18,2014, 11:12 a.m.



$237.5 million Figure Revealed only After Year of FOIL Requests;
State Comptroller Audit Announcement

Astorino Calls for Cessation of Spending in Election Season

New York–July 18…New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is spending $237.5 million — including almost $40 million in money intended for Hurricane Sandy victims — to run false television advertising, telling voters here and nationally that everything is coming up roses in New York under his administration, the campaign of New York gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino today said.

The shocking figure, which was obtained by Gannett news after a year of effort, is $87.5 million more than what was previously thought. New York ranks 50th among states in economic outlook, according to the American Legislative Exchange Council, and it has the highest taxes in America. It was ranked the worst state in America in which to retire, and its state government is ranked the most corrupt in America by the University of Illinois.

“This is a swindle of historic proportions,” Mr. Astorino said. “Andrew Cuomo has taken more than a quarter billion dollars of taxpayer money and put it into television advertising for his own political gain. People have been locked in jail for far less than that.”

Mr. Astorino said it should be illegal for taxpayer ads like Mr. Cuomo’s to run inside New York, especially in an election year, and he called on Mr. Cuomo to halt the television campaign immediately.

“Mr. Cuomo is literally taking money from homeless New York families on Long Island, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and elsewhere and put it on TV for his own political gain, three months before an election. He can’t be allowed to get away with that. This is what having the most corrupt state government in America looks like.”


Statement from Rob Astorino on today’s report of new subpoenas issued in the U.S. Attorney’s investigation of Governor Cuomo

July 18, 2014, 12:48 p.m.


Statement from Rob Astorino on today’s report of new subpoenas issued in the U.S. Attorney’s investigation of Governor Cuomo

“Andrew Cuomo rode into town saying he was going to tackle corruption.  But he’s only brought corruption to a new level. Between his nefarious Moreland and JCope deals, and his swindling of Hurricane Sandy dollars, this Administration may go down as the most corrupt ever.”