Two Democrats are calling for changes to state law that would increase penalties for public corruption convictions and give local prosecutors some of the same tools as the federal government in investigating cases.
Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas and State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, of Long Beach, on Wednesday announced the proposals in response to what they said were the most-common roadblocks met during local corruption probes — ones that often result in charges not being filed, or filed instead by the U.S. attorney’s office.
Senate bills introduced by Kaminsky — and backed by Singas — would make official misconduct a felony rather than a misdemeanor, and would criminalize lying to a prosecutor or investigator from a district attorney’s office, much like lying to a federal agent.
“Our federal partners end up bringing most of the public corruption cases because they have better tools,” Singas said at a news conference at the district attorney’s office in Mineola. “It’s a felony to lie to a federal prosecutor. It’s not even a crime to lie to us.”
Kaminsky, a former prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said the federal statute covering lying to a federal agent was a key method used to break open investigations.
“When you tell someone at their door that they have to tell you the truth, they often do — and that leads to great cases happening,” Kaminsky said.
Just within the past two years, federal prosecutors have brought corruption cases against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat; former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Rockville Centre Republican; and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and former Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, both Republicans.
In the Mangano case, his wife, Linda, also faces charges of lying to a federal investigator. The couple has pleaded not guilty.
The Nassau and Suffolk district attorneys offices, on the other hand, have not brought corruption cases against any top elected officials during that time.
The proposed strengthening of the official misconduct statute would increase maximum sentences from one year to anywhere between 1 1/4 years and 15 years, depending on the class of felony.
“At this point, if you are a politician looking to do wrong, it’s sad to say, but you probably don’t really fear the DA’s offices right now,” Kaminsky said. “The penalties don’t mean very much and the tools aren’t there to catch you.”
Kaminsky said he hoped his bills would be considered this year along with other ethics reform proposals. A spokesman for the Senate GOP majority did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Good government advocates backed the measures.
“Local district attorneys know the public officials the best and can provide a more watchful eye than others,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a Manhattan-based nonprofit.