The distinctive letter "D" is one clue, a handwriting expert tells Newsday, that calls into question Gov. David A. Paterson's sworn testimony that he wrote an $850 check upfront to pay for prime tickets to the World Series last fall.
Paterson's insistence under oath that he'd filled out that check and carried it around the game with him was "not credible," the Commission on Public Integrity concluded, after comparing the check with other samples of the governor's handwriting - and with the handwriting of David Johnson, the top aide at the center of the scandals now engulfing Paterson.
The chances that Paterson filled out that check are "slim or none," agreed Dennis Ryan, president of Applied Forensics of East Meadow, who testifies regularly in check-forgery trials and estate probates. "There's no evidence to indicate David Paterson signed that check."
Instead, Ryan said, he found "substantial significant similarities" between the signature Paterson claimed was his and the signature on the check Johnson wrote to pay for his own ticket after the game.
The commission has asked for a criminal probe of whether Paterson lied under oath when he claimed he always intended to pay for the tickets. It concluded he changed stories the day after the game, when a Yankees executive contradicted Paterson's claim to a reporter that the governor had been invited to the game. Commissioners believe Johnson then wrote the check and backdated it to before the game.
Two top Long Island defense attorneys said the ramifications of a lie to the commission could amount to first-degree perjury - a Class D felony carrying a potential prison sentence of 21/3 to 7 years.
"It's obvious that felony-level perjury to a public commission is far more serious than accepting baseball tickets under any circumstances," said Joel R. Weiss, a former head of the Nassau district attorney's rackets and fraud bureaus.
What qualifies the accusations for the most serious count of perjury is that the alleged lie went to the heart of the tickets case, said attorney Ed Jenks, whose clients have included Roslyn superintendent Frank Tassone.
But perjury charges are rarely prosecuted, Jenks said, because it is so difficult to prove a defendant lied intentionally. And Paterson did give a few replies such as "I assume," "That may have been" or "That's my memory," that can prove to be helpful loopholes in a defense, Weiss said.
Still, it is hard to see how Paterson could be the author of check No. 911, Ryan said. Among the more striking indicators: The construction and size of the letter "D'' in "David.'' The distinctive way the "Y'' loops under the "T'' in "fifty.'' Both resemble Johnson's style, Ryan said.
"David Paterson, his signature's slow and shaky," Ryan said.
Some lawmakers familiar with the legally blind governor's spidery hand agreed. Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), who Wednesday received a proclamation from Paterson for the National Kidney Foundation, was skeptical of the bold and rounded script on the check. "This does not appear to be the handwriting I looked at just yesterday," Hannon said.
Paterson spokesman Morgan Hook yesterday reiterated that Paterson "maintains his innocence and intends to challenge the findings of the commission both with respect to the law and the facts." Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's office is reviewing the report, a spokesman said.