Mar 23rd - 10:23 am
A defiant Robert Ortt on Thursday morning pleaded not guilty to three charges of felony filing a false instrument in Albany County Court and vowed to fight the charges.
Ortt, a western New York Republican first elected in 2014, insisted he would not step down from his state Senate seat.
“I am not guilty,” he said after a 10-minute court appearance with his attorney, Steve Coffey. “I am not resigning. I believe I will be exonerated and vindicated.”
The charges unsealed in court stem from Ortt’s time as the mayor of North Tonawanda. Prosecutors allege Ortt’s wife was given a no-show job, being paid $21,500 between 2010 and 2014, in order to make up for a $5,000 reduction in his annual pay as mayor.
“No show jobs and secret payments are the lifeblood of public corruption,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. “New Yorkers deserve full and honest disclosures by their elected officials-not the graft and shadowy payments uncovered by our investigation. These allegations represent a shameful breach of the public trust – and we will hold those responsible to account.”
Ortt faces up to 1-1/3 to 4 years on each count.
Ortt and Coffey both blasted Schneiderman following the court appearance.
Ortt, in a statement to the press after the appearance, insisted he is the victim of a partisan witch hunt.
“I haven no doubt the only reason why I am involved in this case, part of this investigation, is to further Eric Schneiderman’s partisan agenda,” Ortt said. “The people of the 62nd district know me. They know what kind of person I am and they know what kind of public servant I have been.”
He added: “I am guilty of nothing. I will fight these charges and I will prevail.”
Schneiderman, a former state senator and a Democrat, has prosecuted cases involving members of both parties, including Democratic political operative Steve Pigeon and former state Sen. Shirley Huntley, a Queens Democrat.
Former Sen. George Maziarz is due in court later today and is expected to be charged as well. Coffey said he did not know how Maziarz’s case was related to Ortt’s charges.
Ortt would not respond on Thursday when asked if he had spoken to Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flangan. In 2015, Ortt had called on then-Majority Leader Dean Skelos to step down from his leadership post following corruption charges.
One of Ortt’s GOP colleagues in the Senate, Fred Akshar, tweeted his support for the embattled lawmaker, posting that he is a “dedicated and distinguished public servant who has proudly served our country and the people of SD62.”
The indictments come as state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are negotiating a state budget that is due to pass by the end of next week.
Senate Democrats in the mainline conference used the news of the indictment to call for ethics reform.
Mar 6th - 12:28 pm
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in a statement Monday said he is ready to once again challenge President Donald Trump’s effort to limit immigration to the United States.
Trump on Monday issued a revised ban on travel from Middle Eastern countries, designed his aides say in an attempt to withstand the legal scrutiny that faced the previous executive order.
Schneiderman, along with Democratic attorneys general across the country, challenged the ban in federal court.
“Courts across the country have made clear: President Trump is not above the Constitution,” Schneiderman said in today’s statement.
“While the White House may have made changes to the ban, the intent to discriminate against Muslims remains clear. This doesn’t just harm the families caught in the chaos of President Trump’s draconian policies – it’s diametrically opposed to our values, and makes us less safe. My office is closely reviewing the new executive order, and I stand ready to litigate — again — in order to protect New York’s families, institutions, and economy.”
Schneiderman over the last several weeks has challenged a variety of Trump administration directives, including efforts to rollback Obama-era regulations on the environment.
Mar 2nd - 3:59 pm
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Thursday in statements called for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to step down from the top law enforcement post in the country after it was revealed he spoke with the Russian ambassador while he was a senator.
“It’s clear that Attorney General Sessions gave false testimony under oath at his hearing. This should disqualify him from leading the Justice Department,” Gillibrand said. “Between Attorney General Sessions’s false testimony and the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman working with the White House to kill stories about Russian contacts, we need to get all of the facts.”
Schneiderman, meanwhile, also called on Sessions to resign, echoing a call made this morning by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“Attorney General Sessions – our nation’s top law enforcement official – appears to have lied under oath, which in and of itself is disqualifying,” he said, adding, “For the good of the country, Sessions must immediately resign.”
Republicans have generally refrained from calling for Sessions’s resignation, but are asking that he step aside from overseeing an investigation into Russian’s alleged involvement in the U.S. election.
Mar 1st - 1:40 pm
Rebuffing a suboena from a congressional panel reviewing his investigation into ExxonMobile’s climate change claims, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman pointed to federalism and the separation of powers in justifying the rejection.
“We had hoped that with the start of a new Congress, the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology would turn its attention exclusively to authorized and legitimate legislative activity,” Schneiderman’s office wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to Rep. Lamar Alexander, the committee’s chairman. “Your Subpoena does otherwise. I write to inform you that the NYOAG cannot and will not comply with the Subpoena as presently composed.”
House Republicans are investigating whether Schneiderman’s investigation into the energy company and its claims of impacting the climate was influenced by environmental groups.
But Schneiderman’s office says the Republican investigation of the state probe is only serving to disrupt the state-led effort.
“An inquiry into the alleged effects of the NYOAG’s state law fraud investigation on the research of climate scientists does not require a trove of confidential communications about ongoing law enforcement matters,” the letter states.
Feb 15th - 4:17 pm
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman celebrated the withdraw of businessman Andrew Puzder as labor secretary on Wednesday, a development that is also be feted by organized labor.
“I stand with millions of working men and women across America in cheering Andrew Puzder’s decision to withdraw his troubled nomination for Labor Secretary,” Schneiderman said. “Puzder had no business running the Labor Department — an agency that uncovered wage theft at a number of Puzder’s own restaurants — and it remains baffling that President Trump even nominated him in the first place. President Trump’s next nominee for Labor Secretary must be committed to protecting workers’ rights, rather than seeking to undermine them at every turn. Whoever that nominee is, I stand ready to use the full force of my office to ensure that workers are treated fairly.”
The nomination of Puzder, a former fast food executive who had led the company that owned Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., had previously come under the scrutiny of labor groups for his support for automation. Support for his confirmation further collapsed following revelations that he had employed an undocumented immigrant and had assaulted his wife.
Democrats had previously sought to scuttle the nomination of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to no avail.
“Fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder should have never been nominated to lead a department once headed by Frances Perkins, a true working-class hero,” said Héctor Figueroa of 32BJ SEIU. “That’s why today, as we celebrate Puzder’s withdrawal, we should also honor Perkins and the many men and women who dedicated their lives to fight for the minimum wage, equal pay, the 40-hour week and the right to have a voice at work. It’s because of them and the millions of hardworking Americans who continue to fight for what’s right that we will prevail.”
Feb 10th - 3:54 pm
The long running fraud suit against former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg has been settled after 12 years, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office on Friday announced.
The securities fraud case first began under the tenure of then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in 2005 as he undertook an aggressive pursuit of Wall Street malfeasance that redefined the scope and ambition of the office.
As part of the settlement announced on Friday, Greenberg will pay $9 million — most of the money he was paid in bonuses during a period of questionable transactions that under scrutiny by prosecutors.
The settlement also includes the case of AIG’s former chief financial officer, Howard Smith.
“Today’s agreement settles the indisputable fact that Mr. Greenberg has denied for twelve years: that Mr. Greenberg orchestrated two transactions that fundamentally misrepresented AIG’s finances. After over a decade of delays, deflections, and denials by Mr. Greenberg, we are pleased that Mr. Greenberg has finally admitted to his role in these fraudulent transactions and will personally pay $9 million to the State of New York.”
AIG had previously settled the fraud case in 2006, paying $1.6 billion, but both Smith and Greenberg had refused.
The case stemmed from two deals Smith and Greenberg executed known as GenRe and Capco, which prosecutors said misrepresented losses and misstated the results between 200 and 2004.
Feb 9th - 2:08 pm
The Democratic National Committee on Thursday praised the bill introduced by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman this week that aims to expand voting access in New York.
“Once again, Democrats are making a difference. The 2016 election was our first since the Supreme Court decision that gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act,” said the party’s interim chairwoman, Donna Brazile, in a statement.
“But instead of working to restore the voter protections we lost, President Trump and the Republican Party have been making false claims about voter fraud, and sowing seeds of doubt about our elections. They’re doing it for one reason: they want fewer Americans to vote on Election Day, especially in communities that have been historically disenfranchised.”
The measures backed by Schneiderman this week would provide for a system of early voting in the state, consolidate the two federal and state party primaries in a single date and allow for same-day enrollment, among other provisions.
The bill, similar to what is being pushed for by Democratic lawmakers in the Legislature, faces an uncertain path in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Still, the measures may resonate for Democrats in New York (and nationally) amid a wave of concern from the party’s base over President Donald Trump’s administration.
“That’s why it’s so important for Democrats to take action like Attorney General Schneiderman is doing in New York today,” Brazile said. “We cannot stand idly by while Republicans attack the sacred right to vote. We must continue fighting to protect voting rights and expand access to the ballot box so every eligible citizen will have his or her voice heard.”
Feb 8th - 11:25 am
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Wednesday unveiled a package of measures aimed at overhauling and making it easier to vote in New York.
The measures, called the New York Votes Act, would create a system of early voting, automatic and same-day registration, consolidate state and federal primaries and shorten the deadline for registering in a political party.
“Any law that makes it easier to vote is a good law; any law that makes it harder to vote is a bad law,” Schneiderman said.
“New York has long been a bastion of democracy, but our state’s current system of registration and voting is an affront to that legacy. The New York Votes Act will help our state become a national leader in protecting and expanding voting rights for New Yorkers.”
The legislation, broadly speaking, is similar to efforts backed by Democrats in the state Senate as well as the Assembly. Senate Democrats this week unveiled their own voter reforms this week as part of a response to Donald Trump’s administration.
Schneiderman’s legislation comes after his office conducted a review of voting in New York, identifying issues with registration and participating in party primaries.
Similar measures have stalled over the years in the Republican-controlled Senate. Lawmakers remain at odds over unifying the state’s primary dates for federal elections — held in June by court order — and state and local party primaries, held in September.
Feb 3rd - 11:40 am
The environmental organization that is trying to counter President Donald Trump on issues like climate change has released a video giving Attorney General Eric Schneiderman a starring role.
The video from the group, NY Renews, features Schneiderman urging organization on he issue.
“It’s time for New Yorkers to take the lead in the battle against climate change,” the ad declares.
The video also comes as Schneiderman was profiled by Politico this morning, which touted him as a liberal counter to Trump’s presidency.
Feb 2nd - 4:47 pm
During a press conference in Buffalo, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman discussed his office’s decision to join the America Civil Liberties Union in suing the Trump administration. The lawsuit seeks to overturn the president’s executive order suspending the U.S. refugee program and temporarily banning immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim states.
Schneiderman said it was pretty clear to him the intent of the order was to discriminate against immigrants based on religion which is unconstitutional. The administration says the order was not specifically aimed at Muslims.
“Five courts have looked at this,” Schneiderman said. “All five very quickly said this order contains constitutional violations. This is not a close call.”
The attorney general said the executive order has caused a chaos at New York airports and his staff has been working with the U.S. Attorney’s office to make sure nobody is being improperly detained. He said the order affects millions of New Yorkers who aren’t detainees too.
“All of the business that are affected suffer and we’ve had huge support for our efforts from people in the finance committee, in the tech committee, in the healthcare community where we’re very dependent on immigrants for a variety of different services,” he said.
Schneiderman said he’s confident the order will eventually be struck down but in the meantime he’s trying to mitigate the harm it causes.