Cuomo: 'Total confidence' in Janet DiFiore after ethics allegations

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday said he has Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday said he has "full confidence" in Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore, a fellow Democrat, who will chair a meeting of the state's Joint Commission on Ethics in Albany Thursday. (May 30, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore will chair a meeting of the state's Joint Commission on Ethics in Albany Thursday, a spokesman said, even as she fights off allegations that she pulled strings to get her housekeeper disability benefits.

On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he has "total confidence" in DiFiore and stood behind his decision to appoint her as chairwoman of the commission. He said there were "political overtones" to the allegations against her.

"It's clear there is some political contortions to all this," the governor said in Albany. "So I will leave that to Westchester County to sort out and I'll stay out of the county's process and stay out of the local politics."

Commission spokesman John Milgrim confirmed that DiFiore is expected to attend Thursday's regular monthly meeting.

In a yearlong DSS investigation, Westchester County's Department of Social Services has been examining why DiFiore's ex-nanny/housekeeper was approved for food stamps and Medicaid benefits after having been rejected three times, the New York Post reported. Allegations have also surfaced regarding the citizenship status of DiFiore's housekeeper and if proper taxes were paid on her income.

The Post cited several internal emails from Dhyalma Vazquez, a county anti-fraud investigator, alleging that the application by Maria Buchanan, 58, a Bronxville housekeeper and Jamaican immigrant was given the benefits due to DiFiore's political clout.

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Vazquez also is the vice-chair of the Westchester County Independence Party, which backed DiFiore's 2006 campaign but has clashed with her since then over appointments she has made and her decision to switch parties to a Democrat.

DiFiore maintains the allegations are part of a politically motivated attack.

"I've done nothing wrong in any respect," DiFiore said Tuesday in a statement. "The person quoted in this illegally leaked email has a well known political agenda that she has been carrying on against me for at least a decade and this appears to be more of the same."

Vazquez denies that the investigation was a political smear campaign.

"I am doing what the taxpayers paid me to do," she told News 12 Westchester. "Whether you are the D.A. or President Obama, if you steal from the taxpayers you must be prosecuted."

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JCOPE member Mitra Hormozi, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney who also chairs the state's Commission on Public Integrity, said she has the "utmost confidence" in DiFiore's leadership.

"We have a lot of work to do to get this organization up and running and this is a sideshow," the Manhattan-based attorney told Newsday. "Hopefully she will be vindicated, and I'm sure she will, and we can move past this to the substantive work."

The 14-member ethics commission DiFiore heads is also under fire over its handling of an inquiry regarding Sen. Tom Libous (R-Binghamton), the second-highest ranking senator in the state Legislature.

Earlier this year, Libous' name came up in a tangential way at the Westchester County corruption trial focusing on Yonkers Republican Party chief Zehy Jereis and Democratic Councilwoman Sandy Annabi. At the trial, a political operative said that Libous sought a position for his son at the operative's law firm and offered to help direct business its way. Libous' son was hired, but later left the firm. The senator denied any wrongdoing and said he made no promises to the firm.

Within days of the testimony, Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan filed a complaint with JCOPE, asking it to investigate. Ryan, a Democrat, briefly considered running against Libous this fall but decided against it.

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Earlier this month, word leaked that JCOPE had begun a Libous inquiry.

On Wednesday, Cuomo signaled his unhappiness about the handling of the investigation by the DiFiore headed commission.

"The constant dialogue that is coming from the commission, I find troubling," Cuomo said. "I think there is a running commentary that is coming from the JCOPE commission and it was not supposed be a running commentary. It was supposed to be a process that protected an individual's right to privacy."

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