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Criminal complaint filed against Cuomo, court official says

Former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at a press

Former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at a press conference at the Lenox Road Baptist Church in Brooklyn on July 10. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

ALBANY — A criminal complaint was filed Thursday against former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, accusing him of groping a former aide in the governor’s mansion last year, a state court official confirmed Thursday.

The Albany County Sheriff’s Department accused Cuomo of "forcible touching," a class A misdemeanor, according to the complaint, a copy of which was provided by the Office of Court Administration.

Sheriff Craig D. Apple, in a statement issued later Thursday, said a summons was issued ordering the former governor to appear in Albany City Court on Nov. 17.

A lawyer for the ex-governor said Cuomo "never assaulted anyone" and claimed Apple's "motives" were "patently improper."

Albany County District Attorney David Soares said he was "surprised to learn" a complaint was filed Thursday but said he wouldn't comment further.

Though it doesn’t reveal the woman by name, the complaint corresponds with details that Brittany Commisso, a former Cuomo aide, provided in an interview with CBS News in August and in interviews she gave to investigators with the State Attorney General’s Office.

Among other things, Commisso, 33, said the then-63-year-old governor grabbed and rubbed her buttocks, ran his hand up her shirt and cupped her breast and leaned in for a kiss on her cheek only to swivel at the last moment and kiss her lips.

Her complaint was one of many that led Attorney General Letitia James to issue a report on Aug. 3 concluding that Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women.

Cuomo repeatedly denied all the allegations. But facing a fast-moving impeachment process, Cuomo announced on Aug. 10 he would resign effective Aug. 24, allowing Gov. Kathy Hochul to succeed him.

Cuomo, a Democrat and son of late Gov. Mario Cuomo, had served as New York's 56th governor for nearly 11 years. Early on the COVID-19 pandemic, his televised briefings brought him national fame and mention as a possible presidential candidate.

But it came crashing down earlier this year when a series of women, including some current and former employees, went public with sexual harassment allegations against the governor.

Cuomo initially said there was "no way" he'd step down, despite calls to do so from dozens of his Democratic allies. But he switched course one week after James issued her report and less than 24 hours after state Assembly leaders met and outlined a schedule that would have likely culminated in the governor being impeached by the end of August.

"I think, given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing," Cuomo said Aug. 10 in a 21-minute address from his Manhattan office.

District attorneys in Nassau, Oswego and Westchester counties, as well as Manhattan, have asked for the attorney general's investigative materials to determine if any of the allegations could result in criminal charges.

Commisso is, so far, the only known woman who had pursued a criminal complaint against the governor.

The criminal complaint was filed by Amy Kowalski, an investigator for the Albany Sheriff’s Department.

In it, she said Cuomo "did intentionally and for not legitimate purpose, forcibly place his hand under the blouse shirt of the victim … and onto her intimate body part. Specifically, the victim’s left breast for the purposes of degrading and gratifying his sexual desires, all contrary to the provisions of the statute …"

"I accuse Andrew M. Cuomo, the defendant in this action, and charge that on December 7, 2020 between the hours of 3:51 o'clock in the afternoon and 4:07 o'clock in the afternoon while at 138 Eagle Street (The Governor's Executive Mansion) on the second floor, located in the City of Albany," Kowalski wrote, "the defendant, Andrew M. Cuomo, did knowingly, and intentionally commit the class A misdemeanor of Forcible Touching."

Kowalski said the "allegations of fact" were supported by numerous documents, including cellphone PIN messages, wireless phone messages, security badge swipes, State Police aviation records for that day and a text message from Cuomo’s own cellphone.

In her statement, Kowalski said a "person is guilty of forcible touching when such person intentionally, and for not legitimate purpose, forcibly touches the sexual or other intimate parts of another person for the purpose of degrading or abusing such person, or for the purpose of gratifying the actor's sexual desire."

A person convicted of a class A misdemeanor could face up to a year in prison.

Apple, in a statement, outlined his office's actions Thursday.

"On Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, sheriff's investigators presented Albany City Court with evidence for their review to determine the most appropriate legal pathway moving forward on the investigation," Apple said. "Sheriff's investigators have been conducting an investigation into former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo since Aug. 5, 2021, for a criminal complaint of forcible touching and have determined that there was enough probable cause to present evidence to the court."

James issued a statement Thursday afternoon, saying: "The criminal charges brought today against Mr. Cuomo for forcible touching further validate the findings in our report."

Thursday evening, Rita Glavin, Cuomo's lawyer, responded, attacking the Albany sheriff's motives and accusing him of leaking grand jury proceedings earlier in the investigation.

"Governor Cuomo has never assaulted anyone, and Sheriff Apple’s motives here are patently improper," Glavin said in a statement. "Sheriff Apple didn’t even tell the District Attorney what he was doing. But Apple’s behavior is no surprise given (1) his August 7 press conference where he essentially pronounced the Governor guilty before doing an investigation, and (2) his Office’s leaking of grand jury information. This is not professional law enforcement; this is politics."

Law enforcement can move on a complaint with or without the complainant, one expert said. But just because a complaint is filed doesn't necessarily mean Cuomo will be arrested or formally charged with the allegations in the complaint.

Cuomo "doesn’t have to be arrested, but there will certainly be a time when he will have to come before a judge and go through the formalities of the charge and that he has a right to an attorney," Vincent Bonventre, a professor at Albany Law School of Union University, told Newsday.

"Ultimately, what will happen is the former governor’s attorney who is going to handle this will meet with the district attorney and they will discuss things," Bonventre said. "It’s certainly unknowable at this point whether this would get to trial."

Cuomo could seek a preliminary hearing, Bonventre said. He could seek a plea agreement. But also his lawyers could present evidence that ultimately results in prosecutors reducing the charge, seeking merely a fine or dismissing the case altogether.

With Michael Gormley

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