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Ethics panel: Guv broke law with free Yankees tickets

ALBANY - Gov. David A. Paterson broke state law when he solicited and used free tickets to a Yankees World Series game last year and then lied under oath about it, according to the state's ethics watchdog.

The Commission on Public Integrity Wednesday alleged Paterson directed his staff to request five free tickets from the Yankees for Game 1 of the World Series last Oct. 28.

Paterson never intended to pay for the tickets, but after an inquiry from a newspaper reporter, a Paterson aide wrote an $850 check for two tickets and backdated it, the commission charged.

In response, Paterson said Wednesday, "The facts of the testimony . . . are in dispute." He added, "We also dispute that I solicited anything from the Yankees and acted improperly."

Asked if he lied to the commission, he said, "No."

The commission has asked Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Albany District Attorney David Soares to probe the alleged false testimony and check backdating, said spokesman Walter Ayres.

Commission investigators pointed to conflicting testimony and e-mails from Paterson communications director Peter Kauffmann and others. Kauffmann testified that Paterson initially told him the tickets were free and that Paterson was invited by Yankees president Randy Levine. Later, when told the Yankees disputed his assertion, Paterson admitted he had never been invited and always intended to pay for the tickets used by his son and his son's friend, Kauffmann testified.

Paterson faces at least $90,000 in fines from the commission. He and other state officials are barred from accepting gifts beyond a nominal value from registered lobbyists, such as the Yankees. The five tickets had a total face value of $2,125.

State leaders also are prohibited from using their position to secure unwarranted privileges. Violations carry a fine of $10,000. Violations of the gift ban carry a maximum fine of $40,000 each, and Paterson is charged with two violations.

Paterson testified to commission investigators that he attended the game in his official capacity. But investigators found he did not participate in any of the ceremonies and his name wasn't announced to the crowd.

Accompanying Paterson to the game were his teenage son, Alex; a friend of the son; deputy state operations director Mark Leinung; and longtime Paterson aide David Johnson. Johnson also is at the center of a scandal over Paterson's alleged interference in an Oct. 31, 2009, case in which a woman charges that she was assaulted by Johnson.

Yankees representatives told the commission they didn't initiate conversations about the tickets. In a statement Wednesday, the team said it relied on Paterson's top lawyer Peter Kiernan for advice about abiding by state law.

With Elizabeth Moore

What New York State law says

A public official should not:

  • "solicit, accept or receive any gift having more than a nominal value . . . under circumstances in which it could reasonably be inferred that the gift was intended to influence him . . . "

(The Yankees and its executives who provided Paterson with prime tickets to Game 1 of the World Series - worth up to $1,200 each - are registered lobbyists.)

  • "incur any obligation of any nature, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his duties in the public interest."
  • (Paterson is "acting as a decision-maker and asking for a favor, and that creates a conflict," explained Russ Haven of the New York Public Interest Research Group.)

  • "use or attempt to use his official position to secure unwarranted privileges..."
  • (The commission said Paterson had no public role there. The Yankees had reserved the block of seats behind home plate just in case he decided to attend.)

  • "by his conduct give reasonable basis for the impression that any person can improperly influence him or unduly enjoy his favor."
  • "raise suspicion among the public that he is likely to be engaged in acts that are in violation of his trust."

    - Elizabeth Moore


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