May 8th - 3:31 pm
In a statement released this afternoon, city Councilman Ruben Wills says he is not under investigation from federal authorities despite being secretly taped by then-Sen. Shirley Huntley, who was cooperating with prosecutors during her own corruptioncase.
Wills says his attorney has been told by federal law enforcement that he is not the target of an investigation.
“My attorney has been in contact with federal law enforcement authorities and he has been informed that I am NOT the target of any investigation arising from proceedings involving Shirley Huntley,” he said. “I have personally not been contacted by any law enforcement officials to date and I look forward to continuing the work of the people of southeast Queens that elected me.”
Nine people, including Wills, were named in a sentencing document from Huntley’s attorney unsealed today in federal court. The attorney for Huntley named nine people who Huntley secretly recorded while believing they may be involved in corrupt activity.
Six of the nine include sitting Democratic members of the Senate.
In court filings made public on Tuesday, federal prosecutors indicated that eight of the nine are under criminal investigation.
Two of the nine have already been arrested: Sens. John Sampson and Malcolm Smith.
Sampson is accused of embezzling $440,000 from escrow accounts under his supervision, while Smith allegedly sought to bribe his way onto the New York City Republican mayoral ballot.
May 7th - 4:45 pm
The names of those who spoke with ex-Sen. Shirely Huntley on a federal wiretap should not be revealed as eight of them remain under criminal investigation, federal prosecutors wrote in a letter to Judge Jack Weinstein that was released this afternoon.
At least six, possible seven, of the people Huntley, a Queens Democrat, spoke to are elected officials.
Weinstein ordered the names be released in a document on Wednesday unless the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District appeals the move.
The names are of those who Huntley spoke to while cooperating with federal investigators for own her own public corruption case. She is due to be sentenced on Thursday.
If the names are eventually released — two are believed to be non-electeds and one is not under criminal probe — the season of corruption that has hit the state Capitol and New York politics would take a new, more intense dimension and scruinty of those identified.
Already three corruption cases have landed in April and May, ensaring Sens. Malcolm Smith and John Sampson and Assemblyman Eric Stevenson.
Prosecutors say releasing the names could compromise their ongoing investigations. Attorneys also argued that releasing the names of those under investigation could attach an “unfair stigma” to officials.
A primary purpose of that rule is to allow law enforcement authorities to use specific, powerful investigative techniques, while simultaneously safeguarding the subjects of those techniques from the public stigma and opprobrium, with resulting negative personal and professional consequences, which often result from being identified as merely the subject of a criminal investigation, even if no charges are ultimately brought. Such stigma could be particularly damaging to an elected official for whom reputation is of grave professional importance.
But in his ruling to release the doucment with the names of those who Huntley spoke to, Weinstein argues that with being in public life comes scrutiny.
The argument that some may avoid lending their talents to public life in order to avoid itsslurs has slight weight. Since this country’s beginning, when Jefferson, Hamilton, Burr, andothers began developing the art of American politics, anyone who entered the arena of government has understood that his or her good name may be unfairly sullied. Yet, the honorand excitement of serving the public has not inhibited our best people from entering the fray of politics. To paraphrase President Harry Truman, “those who cannot stand the heat should stayout of the kitchen.” Decent public servants can stand the heat.
As for spoiling ongoing investigations, Weinstein writes that “there will be no surprises” for those who are named.
Every legislator who has conversed with this defendant will necessarily assume that he or she wasrecorded under the supervision of the FBI. There will be no surprises to the potentially accused by the revelations of their names. Interference with ongoing investigations will be of almost nosignificance.
Apr 18th - 4:49 pm
Sen. Malcolm Smith will be arraigned Tuesday on federal bribery charges, the U.S. Attorney’s office announced this afternoon.
The proceeding, scheduled at noon, will be before Judge Lisa Margaret Smith in White Plains federal court.
Federal prosecutors also released Smith’s indictment laying out the alleged plot for Smith, a registered Democrat, to bribe his way onto the New York City GOP mayoral ballot.
Smith allegedly sought bribes for Republican party leaders in New York City in exchange for a Wilson-Pakula waiver in order to run on the Republican line.
The scandal was the first of two back-to-back corruption cases to hit state government this month renewing calls for campaign finance and electoral reform.
Apr 5th - 2:34 pm
Ken Lovett had the drop on this earlier, but now it’s official: Gov. Andrew Cuomo has nominated Sheila Abdus-Salaam to fill a vacancy on the state’s highest court following the death of Judge Theodore Jones in November.
If confirmed by the Senate, Abdus-Salaam would be the first African-American woman to serve on the state Court of Appeals and would be the only black judge on the court following the death of Jones.
Abdus-Salaam is currently an associate justice of the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court and came “highly qualified” by the state Bar Association.
Abdus-Salaam has served as a Manhattan Supreme Court judge for 14 years and was a lawyer for the East Brooklyn Legal Services Corp and the city Department of Law.
“As one of our state’s most respected and experienced jurists, Justice Abdus-Salaam will bring a wealth of judicial and legal expertise to the New York State Court of Appeals,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Rising from working class roots to serve for decades on the bench of the New York State Supreme Court, Justice Abdus-Salaam has a deep understanding of the everyday issues facing New Yorkers, as well as the complex legal issues that come before the state’s highest court. Justice Abdus-Salaam’s respect for the law and commitment to making New York a more just place to live will continue to benefit all New Yorkers, and I am pleased to send her nomination to the State Senate.”
This is the governor’s second nomination for the state Court of Appeals. His first nominee earlier this year, Judge Jenny Rivera, was met with some concerns by Republicans in the state Senate who questioned whether she was qualified to serve on the high court. Rivera, a former CUNY law professor, was eventually approved by the full Senate.
The governor actually has the chance to remake the entire court if he is re-elected to a second term due to pending retirements.
Apr 5th - 11:52 am
A judge has declined to toss the lawsuit filed by disgraced former political consultant Hank Morris over wheter state parole officials followed proper procedures for his parole hearing.
Morris was the top political consultant to ex-Comptroller Alan Hevesi and was sent to prison for his role in a plot to sell faovrable access to the state’s pension fund.
Hevesi, also jailed for his role in the pay-to-play scandal and resigned in 2006 from the comptroller post over an unrelated scandal, was released Dec. 12 from Mid-House Correctional Facility.
Morris, however, has been denied parole multiple times and has several filed legal challenges to reverse the decision.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office had sought dismissal of the current Morris suit, charging that the decision was essentially moot at this ponit because of the parole board’s vote to keep Morris in prison.
But state Supreme Court Justice Richard Mott this week ruled that Morris’s claims are “substanial and novel” and effectively kept the legal challenge alive. Mott also ruled the state has a relatively short time frame to repsond in order to move the case along quickly.
Morris was denied parole in November 2012, with the board citing at the time his “inability” to understand his state of mind at the time he took part in a massive pay-to-play pension fund scandal.
At the heart of the challenge is the Parole Board not following a change to procedure approved by the Legislature in 2011. The amendment to the parole law required the board to have written procedures when making parole decisions with the goal of streamlining the process.
But the written procedures were not in place at the time of Morris’s August 2012 hearing.
Morris, an inmate at Hudson Correctional Facility in Columbia County, began his four-year prison term in March 2011 after pleading guilty to providing access to the pension fund in exchange for lucrative fees. Investigators accused him of taking more than $19 million, which was ultimately paid back.
Apr 2nd - 4:02 pm
The U.S. Attorney’s office today released this flow chart today explaining the alleged bribery scheme for Sen. Malcolm Smith to secure a spot on Republican primary ballot for New York City mayor.
The chart, along with the pull quotes from the federal complaint, played a supporting role in U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s news conference today outlining the case.
Mar 21st - 3:00 pm
As Gov. Andrew Cuomo prepares to make his second nomination to the state’s highest court, the New York State Bar Association today released its ratings of candidates as selected by the state Commission on Judicial Nomination.
All of the candidates selected by the commission were deemed “well qualified” save for Maria Vullo, a lawyer for the New York City firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, who was given the “qualified” rating.
Cuomo has between March 22 and April 6 to make his nomination to the state Court of Appeals.
The governor’s first nomination to the Court of Appeals, Jenny Rivera, was met with criticism by Senate Republicans who questioned her qualifications and whether her resume was extensive enough to sit on the bench.
Due pending retirements based on age, Cuomo has the chance to remake the entire court should he be re-elected to a second term.
Feb 11th - 4:54 pm
Jenny Rivera was confirmed today by the state Senate to fill a vacancy on the Court of Appeals after an unusually contentious process that brought accusations of social engineering on the part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and that Republican lawmakers were “playing politics.”
Rivera’s confirmation, which passed in a voice vote, was opposed by some Senate Republicans who said the CUNY law professor, a deputy attorney general under Cuomo and former clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor lacked the qualifications for the job.
Democrats, in turn, charged that Rivera was more than able for the job and pointed to other Court of Appeals judges and Supreme Court justices who had never served as trial judges.
Though Rivera’s confirmation was approved, the episode highlighted a growing rift between Cuomo and the Senate GOP after a two-year working relationship that has produced broad agreements on same-sex marriage, gun control and a compromise on keeping part of the millionaires tax.
Cuomo said last week the debate over Rivera’s nomination is part of the typical give and take in Albany.
But Senate Judiciary Chairman John Bonacic was particularly biting in his assessment today of Rivera.
“I find her writings to be confusing and unclear and overwhelmingly not reflective of the number of cases or subject matters that comes before a Court of Appeals judge,” Bonacic said, adding, “This governor is asking this body to make a leap from the academia world right to the highest court in the state of New York.”
It was Bonacic who last week said that Rivera and others were the product of “social engineering” of the court by Cuomo and past governors. Instead of backing down, Bonacic reiterated his views today, noting that Rivera replaces a Hispanic woman on the court.
Rivera is the second Hispanic woman to sit on the state’s highest court and replaces the first, Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, who retired in January.
There was also the underlying concern from Republicans that Rivera be a judicial activist on the court.
Sen. John DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, decried her lack of “broad experiences.”
“If the decision is made that this is going to be an Hispanic that is appointed by the governor and it’s obvious no one can deny that, they should be the best possible candidate for the state of New York and that is not this candidate,” DeFrancisco said.
Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, who surprised his colleagues last week when he said he would vote in favor of Rivera’s confirmation, has made an effort in the last several years to reach out to Hispanic voters, but his conference after this election cycle remains all white.
Democrats in both the independent conference and the mainline conference backed her credentials.
“She is highly qualified to field the needs and interpret the law for millions and millions New Yorkers who may not be as lucky to work in a white shoe law firm in Wall Street,” said Sen. Adriano Espaillat.
Democratic Sen. Bill Perkins took particular exception to the “social engineering” comment from Bonacic.
“Social engineering for me is another term for the old boys’ network,” he said.
Feb 11th - 2:13 pm
Manhattan Democratic Sen. Andriano Espaillat said he and other lawmakers were “offended” by the treatment of Court of Appeals nominee Jenny Rivera by Senate Republicans who questioned her resume.
Rivera, whose confirmation to fill a vacancy on the state’s highest court is exepcted to pass later this afternoon in the state Senate, was subjected to prolonged grilling by lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee last week who questioned whether the CUNY law professor had the appropriate experience for the job.
Committee Chairman John Bonacic went as far as to suggest that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his predecessors have engaged in “social engineering” to ensure that minority groups were represented in nominations to the court.
The debate over Rivera’s confirmation was also seen as a broader struggle between the governor and the GOP conference which he has worked well with over the last two years, but pushed them to take several politically difficult votes. The governor last week in a radio interview said the back and forth over the Rivera confirmation was part of the political process.
But Espaillat, who has good relations with both the five-member Independent Democratic Conference and the Senate GOP, said Republicans need to recalibrate.
“The demogrpahics of our state and our country are changing dramatically and they should adjust,” he told our NY1 colleague Zack Fink. ”We often hear a jury of your peers, why not a bench of your peers?”
Espaillat said the questioning of Rivera’s qualifications by the Senate GOP was unusual.
“I have never seen this type of reaction before with any nomination,” he said. ”There was some politicis, some partisan politics behind this and that’s unfortunate. Many of us were surprised, if not offended, by the assaults leveled against her.”
Senate Republican Leader and co-president Dean Skelos, who has made a point of reaching out to Latino voters, told reporters last week he will vote to confirm Rivera and expects the nomination to pass the chamber.
Feb 5th - 12:04 pm
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to send Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s nominee for the Court of Appeals to the full Senate for confirmation, but not before Republicans questioned the qualifications of Jenny Rivera.
Senate Judiciary Chairman John Bonacic decried what he saw as “social engineering” what it comes to gubernatorial appointments.
Rivera would be the second Hispanic woman to serve on the state’s highest court and replaces the first Latina judge, Ellen Beachamp Ciparick, who retired this year.
“It’s not this governor,” Bonacic said. “This has been going on for a while with other governors. They tend to be what I call social engineers of the court. Everything has to be racially balanced. We need a woman, we need a Hispanic. We need an Afro-American. We need some Caucasians. Maybe we need an Asian. I don’t necessarily adhere to those philosophies. If seven women happen to be the brightest, put them all on.”
Perhaps a blip, it is highly unusual that some GOP lawmakers are opposing the confirmation of Rivera, who also worked with Cuomo during his four-year term as attorney general, especially considering that the governor and conference have worked well together over the last two years.
Senate Democrats defended Rivera, saying that she was qualified, and pointed out that past judges, including former Chief Judge Judith Kaye had never served on the bench before her nomination.
“Certainly she has a judicial temperament that will serve her well on the Court of Appeals,” said Sen. Diane Savino.
The opposition, which arose during the Judiciary Committee meeting on Monday, angered the Cuomo administration and spurred last-minute lobbying.
Bonacic told reporters after the committee meeting today that he felt the administration could have handled the nomination of Rivera better.
“Basically they felt very strongly for their candidate and we expressed to them in the future before you put candidates forward like other governors have you consult with the Legislature as to number one the amount of nominees that are out there and the one that you want to pick,” Bonacic said. “And we will give a heads up as whether it will be a rough ride or an easy ride.”
Bonacic said that he didn’t think the episode damaged the Senate GOP’s relationship with the Cuomo administration.