Cuomo critics charge illegality after Times' Moreland expose

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Regina Calcaterra (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
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ALBANY—Critics of Governor Andrew Cuomo are pouncing on a lengthy front-page New York Times expose describing in detail how he and his top aide, Larry Schwartz, meddled with the supposedly independent Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption.

The Times reviewed emails between commissioners and professional staffers and discovered that the commission's executive director, Regina Calcaterra, was felt to be the governor's eyes-and-ears within the supposedly broad-mandated investigatory panel. She clashed with Danya Perry, the director of investigations, and worked to have a subpoena sent to Buying Time—a media placement firm used by Cuomo as well as the Democratic State Committee—withdrawn. As reported previously by the Daily News, another subpoena to the Real Estate Board of New York was drafted but never sent.

The commission was also steered away from looking at the Committee to Save New York, a pro-Cuomo coalition of business groups, real estate magnates and private-sector labor unions that broke records for its spending in support of Cuomo's agenda in 2011 and 2012. Commission co-chair Bill Fitzpatrick wrote the Times that “Larry [Schwartz] made clear to me that he was concerned about the perception of subpoenas going to that entity so closely affiliated with the governor.”

Finally, the Times detailed how Cuomo aides edited the preliminary report that the Moreland Commission issued in December. The administration nixed attempts to hire an independent author, as had been reported by City & State, and also edited the document to remove quotes from a memorandum by REBNY's executive director talking about th eimportance of donating to Assembly Democrats to maintain positive legislative outcomes. A draft also made refrence to communications between Cuomo aides and real estate developer Extell, as they discussed how to use the so-called LLC loophole to direct donations to Cuomo related to his birthday party. These references were also excised.

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Cuomo's political rivals suggested his administration's actions were potentially criminal.

“The governor corrupted his own anti-corruption commission. It shows the arrogance of power here. It gets you into really deep trouble,” said Republican State Chairman Ed Cox. “If he interfered with these investigations, he's got a problem with Preet Bharara, assuming the deeply political Holder Justice Department doesn't put its thumb on the scales.”

Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham law professor who is challenging Cuomo in a Democratic primary, said in a statement that Cuomo should resign.

“This wasn't a one-off incident. The Cuomo administration aggressively interfered when the Commission started asking questions of the Real Estate Board of New York, the powerful trade group that has donated generously to Governor Cuomo, and forbade members from investigating the Committee to Save New York, a lobbying group created to support Cuomo,” Teachout said in a statement. “Ultimately Governor Cuomo dealt a death blow to the Commission by folding it entirely. In April he quietly announced he had disbanded Moreland.”

Cuomo agreed to shut down the commission in a late March budget deal, in exchange for a pilot system of public campaign finance, changes to the Board of Elections as well as the bribery statute. Cuomo has said that he created the commission, and had every right to steer its operations and disband it.

Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, publicly criticized that decision and is examining the circumstances of Moreland's operations as well as the evidence it uncovered in its nine months of operation.