ALBANY - Gov. David A. Paterson Wednesday staunchly defended confidant David Johnson after a New York Times story publicized felony drug charges Johnson faced as a teen and recent allegations of "altercations" with women.
"Mistakes committed during one's youth are determined by law to be kept sealed for a reason - to give a young person a second chance at a productive life," Paterson said, referring to the drug charges.
Johnson, 37, of Manhattan, is one of the governor's closest advisers, helping to determine who meets him. Johnson has been director of executive services since October, earning $132,000, according to payroll records obtained by Newsday.
As a teenager, he was twice arrested on felony drug charges and pleaded guilty to trying to sell drugs to an undercover officer, the Times reported on its front page, citing people familiar with the case. Records were sealed because Johnson was a minor, but the paper said he served 5 years' probation without incident.
Paterson offered Johnson a second chance in 1999, with an internship in his then-State Senate office. A year later, payroll records show Johnson was hired as a $25,068-a-year constituent services specialist.
Johnson, known as D.J., also served as Paterson's driver and security guard. "They became friends and David grew to trust and depend on D.J.," a senator who requested anonymity told Newsday.
Johnson was unavailable to comment.
Citing unnamed sources, the Times said Johnson, as an adult, had "on three occasions been involved in altercations with women, two of which led to calls to the police." In 2001, Johnson punched a girlfriend outside Paterson's Harlem office, a witness told the Times. The girlfriend claimed Johnson was violent, a charge Johnson denied to the paper.
Paterson said in a statement Wednesday: "There is no independent evidence presented that would substantiate any claims of violence committed by David Johnson against a woman, a fact underscored by the absence of a single judicial finding."
Times spokeswoman Diane McNulty said, "we believe the story is important, accurate and fair." She wouldn't say if the article was the one that's sparked weeks of speculation of damaging information about Paterson.
Paterson has said repeatedly he is the subject of a Times profile but that he had not been asked about allegations of personal misconduct during his 23-month tenure. He has denied acting improperly.
Political experts doubted Paterson's election campaign would be undercut by the Johnson article. Marist College pollster Lee Miringoff said "this is a distraction . . . but I don't see much harm to him if this is the only story The New York Times has."