Cuomo Probe Turns to Questions on Referrals

Image: Cuomo Probe Turns to Questions on Referrals New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (Christopher Gregory/Stringer/Getty Images)

Friday, 08 Aug 2014 03:34 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Federal prosecutors are trying to determine if New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo or his staff encouraged members of an anti-corruption commission to withhold cases from two of the district attorneys who were among the panel's 25 members, sources told The Wall Street Journal. 

Cuomo formed the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption last year, announcing that it would conduct an 18-month investigation of the state's government. He abruptly disbanded the unit in March, however, amid complaints and an investigation into whehter he and his administration interfered when the commission when its investigations hit too close to home.

The commission turned up potential evidence of wrongdoing from six to 12 lawmakers, according to reports, and sent some files to the U.S. attorney for the Northern District, as well as to the state attorney general.

The investigation has turned to whether Cuomo or his staff discouraged commission members from referring cases to Albany District Attorney David Soares or Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson, both of whom Cuomo had named to the panel.

Cuomo's office has refused comment on the latest news, and the governor has said his staff only advised the commission, which he insisted operated independently of him or his administration.

Soares' spokeswoman told The Wall Street Journal that he would not comment in light of the investigation, and Johnson's spokeswoman said he has "no knowledge" of the latest part of the federal probe.

"If there is something that relates to my jurisdiction, I have expressed such an interest and I am still willing to accept referrals," Johnson said in a statement. "Everything appears to be on hold while the U.S. attorney reviews the material."

The investigation, being conducted by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office, has three parts: deciding if it can take up the cases the Moreland Commission left behind; to determine if the Cuomo administration was interfering in the group's work and why it was disbanded; and whether commissioners were pressured to issue statements denying Cuomo's office interfered with the group's investigations.

Even if Cuomo did instruct the commission to avoid making referrals, federal prosecutors admitted privately to The Wall Street Journal that they did not know if that was illegal behavior.

Initially, the commission wanted Soares to review the potential cases, along with the state attorney general's office and decide if they should be kept.

However, Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick and fellow commission leader Milt Williams decided to refer the cases to Bharara, the newspaper reports.

The ongoing controversy is already causing some political problems for Cuomo. According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC 4 New York/Marist College poll released this week, the Democratic incumbent's favorability rating has dropped to a new low of 53 percent.

Sixty-two percent of the voters polled said Cuomo's staff should not have had input into the Moreland Commission, and 52 percent said they believed Cuomo's staff was unethical for being involved.

However, the controversy isn't helping challenger Republican Rob Astorino's numbers as the November election nears, as his rating fell to 22 percent, reports the newspaper.

Last month, a similar survey tagged Cuomo's rating at 59 percent and Astorino's at 24 percent. Astorino also suffers from a recognition problem, however, as 53 percent of the voters polled had no opinion of him or had never heard of him.

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