A special investigation has concluded that Gov. David Paterson’s testimony about his plans to pay for World Series tickets last year was “inaccurate and misleading” and warrants consideration of criminal charges by a prosecutor.
In a report Thursday, former state Chief Judge Judith Kaye noted four of five tickets to the World Series opening game between the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies were paid for shortly afterward, following a press inquiry from the New York Post newspaper. She said there’s a question whether Paterson gave “intentionally false testimony” to the state Commission on Public Integrity about having written an $850 check in advance for two tickets.
Commission staff recommended last week that Paterson should be fined more than $90,000 in civil penalties for soliciting and accepting the tickets in violation of ethics law.
However, Kaye said the perjury issue was “clouded” by the way Paterson’s testimony was given, with the entries read aloud to the legally blind governor. If Paterson had personally examined the check used to pay for two tickets, which was not in his handwriting, that “would have been obvious to the governor,” she said.
Paterson’s private attorney, Theodore Wells Jr., said Paterson didn’t lie when he testified. He noted Kaye’s report does not recommend bringing charges or conclude Paterson intended to give false testimony.
“We are therefore hopeful that (Albany County District Attorney David) Soares will ultimately conclude that no criminal charges are warranted,” he said.
Paterson has denied any wrongdoing. He eventually paid for two tickets, and staff members paid for two. He maintains going to the game was part of a ceremonial public duty as governor that entitled him to a ticket.
Soares is separately reviewing the possible criminal case. Spokeswoman Heather Orth said the DA’s office was aware of Kaye’s report Thursday and would have no further comment until the review is complete.
Paterson abandoned his bid for a full term shortly after this investigation began, saying he couldn’t let a campaign distract him from the state’s fiscal crisis. He also was and remains mired in low poll ratings.
This is one of the scandals facing Paterson in a rocky term since he ascended to the office in March 2008 when Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned over a prostitution investigation. Paterson has escaped calls for his resignation over rumors of sex and drug escapades that were never proved and over his role and that of state police in a domestic violence case involving one of his longtime top aides.
Shortly after Paterson took office, he made a public airing of past marital infidelities when he and his wife were separated and of some drug use in his youth. He said he made the disclosures to avoid having his past used against him as governor.
The 56-year-old Democrat spent more than 20 years in the state Senate as one of its most respected members even as he led the Democrats from minority status to the cusp of winning the majority, which Democrats did in the 2008 elections.
Kaye’s investigators also found “two apparently backdated checks and an apparently backdated cover letter” sent to the Yankees to pay for tickets but concluded that does not warrant consideration of criminal charges. The evidence indicated the letter and checks were written by Paterson aide and friend David Johnson, who declined to cooperate with investigators.
Paterson had told commission lawyers that he had staff call to request tickets and did not pay for his own.
“This was the first game of the World Series,” Paterson said. “It’s always a national event, like the Academy Awards or, you know, governor’s state address or something like that.”
He and his son also had attended opening day at the ballpark without buying tickets, as well as opening day at the New York Mets’ new Citi Field stadium, where he was introduced to the crowd, he said.
Kaye concluded that the policies of the governor’s office concerning tickets were “unclear and problematic.”