‘Not my choice’
ALBANY—U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is getting a trove of "unseemliness" in the truckload of documents he retrieved from Governor Andrew Cuomo's shuttered ethics commission, according to the commission's former co-chairman.
“We are not wasting the U.S. attorney’s time,” Onondaga County district attorney William Fitzpatrick told Capital on Thursday afternoon.
Fitzpatrick, the Republican who co-chaired the governor's Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, said it would be "not ethical" to suggest the commission's work product will definitely lead to criminal charges against any lawmakers. But, he said, there was "a lot of unseemliness."
In a fairly unmistakable rebuke to the governor, Bharara dispatched a truck this week to collect the findings of the commission, which operated for just nine months before Cuomo agreed to dissolve the panel as part of a state budget agreement that included some new ethics provisions. The U.S. attorney suggested that the commission's mandate had been bargained away prematurely as part of a larger agreement by state leaders.
According to a preliminary report in December of last year, the commission has "millions of pages of documents," resulting from its efforts with local law enforcement officials to conduct “undercover operations ... including surveillance, recorded calls, and meets,” and the roughly 200 subpoenas and requests for information issued by the commission.
The commission also conducted “dozens of interviews” with public officials, lobbyists and their clients, political insiders, whistleblowers and both “expert and lay witnesses,” and sought lawmakers' payrolls, timesheets, per diems and travel expenses, records of when they entered and exited official buildings, and any other records that could “potentially improper personal and political uses of public funds,” according to the report.
Asked if the findings constituted a full truckload for Bharara, Fitzpatrick said, "Yes." (Two truckloads, perhaps? “That I don’t know,” he said.)
Reporters have already deduced a few of the targets, who were accused of misallocating discretionary funds, and Fitzpatrick said there is a whole variety of evidence of embarrassing, if not criminal, activity.
"Spending thousands of dollars on a tanning bed with campaign money, probably isn’t criminal, because you could make the argument, ‘Well I wanted to improve my image with the electorate,’” he said, adding that the tanning bed abuses were “certainly not unique."
The evidence was collected despite stiff resistance from legislative leaders, who sued to block the subpoenas, much to the consternation of Fitzpatrick.
"I know that [Assembly Speaker] Shelly Silver is capable of looking his constituents in the eye and telling them he deserves his $400,000 salary from Weitz and Luxembourg, and then has the audacity to call the Moreland Commission a fishing expedition,” Fitzpatrick said.
“They are incapable of being embarrassed, "he said. “All they’ve done is spend taxpayers dollars in an effort to subvert us from getting things that are clearly within the public’s right to know."
Fitzpatrick said he would have liked to keep digging.
“Would I like to continue? Yeah, but it’s not my choice, it’s the governors choice,” Fitzpatrick said. “That’s his decision and I respect the governor.”
Fitzpatrick, who vouched early on in the commission's existence for the integrity of the process, declined to comment yesterday on reports that the administration interfered in the investigations, other than to point to comments from Bharara on Thursday morning that the U.S. attorney would not rule out looking at the governor's office.
And he pointed to the new independent investigators at the Board of Elections as a bright spot in the budget deal, even as he wondered about trading new reforms for the commission's work.
“That’s really the $64,000 question,” he said. “The governor can’t make laws unilaterally. He probably would have enacted the entire Moreland Commission report if it was in his power to do so, but it’s unique because you have potential targets making the rules. That's the world the governor lives in. That’s really for people to decide.”
As for the evidence, Fitzpatrick said it was in good hands.
"The guy who’s got the files right now, is, if not the best, then one of the best in the business, and I have complete faith in him," he said. "Preet Bharara.”