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Feds take last of NY panel's anti-corruption cases

Thursday, April 10, 2014
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— Federal prosecutors are taking the remaining files of New York's anti-corruption commission as the panel shuts down, and they plan to complete the state investigations, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Thursday.

Bharara's Manhattan office will move aggressively to complete the Moreland commission's "important and unfinished work" investigating New York political corruption, he said. In a letter to commissioners Wednesday, he called the closing "premature," but noted that they have agreed to provide him the "investigative files and all relevant materials."

"The bottom line for us is we are prosecutors and care deeply about public corruption," Bharara said. "We just want to get our hands on the files."

In an earlier letter to the commission chairmen and top staff last week, he said his office brought many of the 19 prosecutions against state legislators since 1999 and is currently conducting criminal investigations into fraud, bribery and improper personal use of campaign funds "that overlap significantly" with those the commission started.

In a radio interview Thursday, Bharara declined to say whether his investigation will extend to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in light of a New York Times report that some top Cuomo aides meddled in the work of the supposedly independent commission, created by the governor. Bharara told WNYC's Brian Lehrer that he and his investigators will go wherever the facts lead.

In his letter to the two-dozen commissioners, many of them county prosecutors, Bharara indicated his investigation will be broad. "We ask that you too preserve all documents that may be under your control relating in any way to the work of the Moreland Commission, including materials received from third parties, work product and electronic communications," he wrote.

The Times cited a commissioner, unnamed because of concerns about antagonizing Cuomo, saying the governor's office criticized issuing certain subpoenas for information. In one case, Cuomo's office persuaded the panel to delay a subpoena to the Real Estate Board of New York whose leaders have donated to his political campaigns, according to the newspaper report.

The governor's office did not immediately reply to requests for comment on that report Thursday. Calls to commission chairmen — attorney Milton Williams Jr. and Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick — also were not immediately returned.

Fitzpatrick told a radio interviewer last October that the panel was independent, adding, "There's a big difference between interference and input." Commission spokesman Michelle Duffy said Thursday that he stands by those previous statements.

However, the chairmen, in a Thursday letter to Bharara, said the commission had "investigated numerous matters," collected "a large volume of information" and has already made "several referrals to federal and state prosecutors." They agreed to provide his office with copies of all documents in the commission's control relating to its ongoing investigative work.

Cuomo established the investigations panel last year and decided to close it two weeks ago.

"It was a temporary commission. I was not establishing a permanent bureaucracy," Cuomo told reporters in suburban Rochester on Thursday. "We needed laws changed, and that's what Moreland was about."

Its mission included reviewing the adequacy of state laws against official misconduct, campaign finance oversight, compliance with lobbying laws and adequacy of enforcement. Its formation last July came after federal bribery and embezzlement charges were filed against several state lawmakers.

Cuomo said he established the commission after the Legislature failed to pass reform legislation, and decided to shut it down because new anti-corruption laws were passed. The laws include provisions against bribery, a new enforcement unit at the state Board of Elections and requirements including spending and contributor reports from groups issuing public communications for or against candidates or ballot propositions.

Bharara said it was established last year with "a lot of fanfare" and a public impression of active an ongoing investigations, some of which would result in criminal charges. Then it seemed to be "unceremoniously" shut down, raising questions among thinking people, he said.

 
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