Cuomo stands by ethics panel head despite 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) (Credit: AP)

ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday he had "total confidence" in Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore, despite allegations that she had arranged a political deal for her maid to receive welfare checks.

Cuomo, who picked DiFiore to head his new Joint Commission on Public Ethics, said there were political overtones to the allegation -- which were reportedly made by a county Independence Party official. The governor said he stands by his selection of DiFiore -- even though he later said he was troubled by information leaks about a separate JCOPE inquiry that has ties to Westchester County.

"Choosing a sitting [district attorney], Westchester County DA Janet DiFiore? I have total confidence in that decision," Cuomo said.

Cuomo indicated he's concerned about the allegation, reportedly made by Dhyalma Vazquez, a county investigator and local Independence Party official.

"It's clear there is some political contortions to all this," the governor said. "The [report is] that a county employee has made certain allegations. I don't know that there is an investigation under way. There are also political overtones to what's going on. 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."

But the commission DiFiore heads is also under fire, stemming from an inquiry regarding state Sen. Tom Libous (R-Binghamton), the second-highest-ranking senator in the State Legislature.

Cuomo signaled his unhappiness about the handling of the investigation by DiFiore's 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."

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

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