Astorino: Cuomo may have broken state law with Moreland Commission

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino held a news conference on July 30, 2014 to call for an independent special state prosecutor to look into allegations Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo interfered with the Moreland Commission. (Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware)

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Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino said Wednesday that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo "likely" broke state law by not forwarding evidence collected from his disbanded anti-corruption commission to state law enforcement agencies.

At a news conference in Mineola, Astorino, the Westchester County executive, called for the appointment of a state prosecutor to investigate Cuomo's handling of the Moreland Commission on public corruption.

Cuomo's involvement with the commission has come under scrutiny following a New York Times article last week that said the governor's office "deeply compromised" the panel's work, "objecting whenever the commission focused on groups with ties to Mr. Cuomo or on issues that might reflect poorly on him."

When Cuomo ended the commission in March, the investigations already underway were turned over to Southern District U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has vowed to pick up where Moreland investigators left off. Bharara also has subpoenaed other commission documents.

But Astorino pointed to a section of the state's Executive Law that says if the commission "obtains evidence of a violation of existing laws such evidence shall be promptly communicated" to the state attorney general's office and "other appropriate law enforcement authorities," including the State Police superintendent.

"Where is all this evidence?" Astorino asked. "Did he follow state law? Did he hand everything over to state law enforcement?"

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Cuomo, speaking to reporters in Freeport, disputed that he should have turned over findings to State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. Cuomo noted the Moreland panel was composed of local prosecutors, including Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice and Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick.

"On top of that, I told the commission that any information they had -- any files, any documents -- should all be turned over to the relevant prosecutors," Cuomo said. "So, that's been done."

Meanwhile Wednesday, Tim Wu, a Columbia law professor who is seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, said the actions by the Cuomo administration as reported in the Times, if true, could translate to state crimes. He asserted those could be criminal solicitation of official misconduct, conspiracy to perform official misconduct, obstruction of governmental administration and hindering prosecution.

Wu and Zephyr Teachout, who is running against Cuomo in a Democratic primary for governor, said a state investigation should begin in addition to the Bharara probe.

Wu also called on State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to make a referral for an investigation and for Schneiderman to investigate because he deputized commissioners to give them broad subpoena power. Like Cuomo, both are Democrats.

Schneiderman declined to comment, citing the federal investigation. DiNapoli's spokeswoman Jennifer Freeman said: "As is always the case, we will provide any support and assistance requested. But the comptroller's office will not take any action that might interfere with . . . [Bharara's] review."

Also Wednesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio criticized Astorino for likening Cuomo to a "Mafia boss" this week.

"I was personally very offended by the comments of Mr. Astorino when he described the governor as a quote-unquote Mafia boss. I thought that was inappropriate in every way," de Blasio said. "I found it particularly inappropriate as an Italian American."

Astorino, also Italian-American, said he was quoting from "The Godfather," "one of the most famous movies" and said "the phony indignation has got to stop."

With Michael Gormley

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and Matthew Chayes

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