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NY bribery scandal: Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposes anti-corruption unit

After a series of scandals -- including an FBI sting that leveled corruption charges against two Rockland County politicians -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed a powerful new enforcement unit to crack down on campaign abuses and corruption.

Cuomo wants an enforcer with subpoena power to investigate schemes like trying to buy elections, abuses a federal prosecutor has said are widespread in Albany.

Those duties could fall to state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. But Cuomo said he wants an independent investigator instead, which he would appoint. The choice would be subject to State Senate confirmation and Schneiderman could be a fallback.

Cuomo also appeared willing Tuesday to accept further campaign reforms without a voluntary system of public financing for campaigns. Senate Republicans have been critical of the measure, which is strongly supported by Democrats in the Legislature.

A liberal national group is trying to pressure Cuomo on the issue by targeting presidential primary voters.

Cuomo's proposal follows an FBI sting that snared Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin and Deputy Mayor Joseph A. Desmaret, who are both accused of taking bribes for approving a community center in Spring Valley. That deal allegedly would have allowed several New York City politicians, including state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Queens), to funnel payoffs in a clandestine agreement with Bronx GOP officials to get Smith on the Republican ballot in the upcoming New York City mayoral race.

Another prominent local mayor, Ernie Davis of Mount Vernon, has been the target of several ongoing federal probes into his finances, real estate holdings and charities he founded. The FBI also is investigating possible links between Mount Vernon's police force and street gangs.

Those accusations are just the latest for Hudson Valley voters, who already have seen several former power brokers convicted of things like accepting bribes, evading taxes and using their positions for personal benefit. They include former state Sen. Nick Spano, a Yonkers Republican who pleaded guilty to tax evasion last year; former Republican state Sen. Vincent "Uncle Vinny" Leibell, the Putnam County power broker who was convicted in 2010 of bribery and tax evasion; former state Sen. Pedro Espada, who pleaded guilty last year of embezzling money from a taxpayer-funded health clinic he founded in the Bronx; and Joseph Bruno, the longtime Republican majority leader in the State Senate, who was convicted in 2009 of wire and mail fraud and is set for a retrial this year after his convictions were overturned.

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