Preet Bharara

Bharara Blasts ‘Three Men In A Room’

A day after his office charged Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver with five counts of corruption and fraud, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara mocked the power structure that Silver has been a part of for the last 21 years.

“When did 20 million New Yorkers agree to be ruled by a triumvirate in Roman times?” Bharara asked at a breakfast held by the New York Law School on Friday morning.

Bharara likened the “three-men-in-a-room” to a sitcom.

“Coming up after ‘Happy Days,’ it’s ‘Three Men in a Room,’” Bharara said.

Bharara’s office has made a point of prosecuting elected officials in the past, but Silver is perhaps the biggest fish he has ever sought to reel in.

As usual, Bharara said it was up to voters, as well as the press, to “demand more” from elected officials in positions of power.

“It’s up to voters and it’s up to people to get angry,” Bharara said. “People need to demand more. It’s enough to just be fed up.”

But he added this time that with Silver’s mounting legal troubles, the very system Albany runs on of having in essence the two top leaders in the Legislature, plus the governor, decide things strikes him as problematic.

“It seems to me, if you’re one of the three men in the room, and you have all the power, and you always have, and everyone knows it, you don’t tolerate dissent because you don’t have to,” Bharara said. “You don’t tolerate debate, because you don’t have to. You don’t favor change or foster reform, because you don’t have to, and because the status quo always benefits you.”

Silver’s arrest comes as lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo prepare to negotiate a $141.6 billion budget proposal made this week.

“That at least one of the proverbial three men in a room is deeply compromised, how can we possibly trust that anything gets decided in Albany and is imposed on the rest of us is on the level?” Bharara asked.

He added that Silver’s arrest could provide a catalyst for reform.

“This can finally be a turning point for reform,” he said. “If there ever was a moment for true reform, it’s now.”

Bharara: ‘You’re Assuming There’s One Investigation’

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara would not give a timetable on Wednesday as to when his office would complete its investigation of the Moreland Commission To Investigate Public Corruption and whether the governor’s office interfered in the panel’s work.

“We have some of the smartest people in law enforcement continuing that work,” he said.

Bharara also hinted there are multiple focuses when it comes to the inquiry into the commission’s work.

“You’re assuming there’s one investigation,” Bharara said in an interview with Susan Arbetter on The Capitol Pressroom this morning.

Bharara’s office in April took control of the records generated by the commission, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo closed following an agreement on ethics legislation with state lawmakers in the 2014-15 state budget.

Cuomo has defended his decision to shut down the subpoena-empowered commission, saying that it was always meant to exact a degree of leverage over lawmakers in order to trigger an ethics agreement.

But the governor’s handling the commission has come under scrutiny. Reports revealed that Cuomo’s office sought to direct or block subpoenas away from politically sensitive areas.

The interview with Susan Arbetter comes at a curious time.

Cuomo is set to debate his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, this evening on public television in Buffalo, along with Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and Libertarian Michael McDermott. Both Astorino and Hawkins are expected to bring up the controversy surrounding the Moreland Commission’s demise as well as the governor’s interference.

Arbetter, on Twitter, noted she had been trying to land an interview with Bharara for months and the timing was coincidental.

Bharara would not comment if he believes using an anti-corruption commission as a tool for passing legislation constitutes a crime.

Nevertheless, Bharara said any panel charged with going after public corruption should have a long shelf life and a degree of autonomy.

“Generally speaking, when you’re trying to solve a problem, you need some amount of longevity and you need the core of that institution is independence,” he said.

As he often does in interviews, Bharara criticized the culture of Albany and state government, including allowing lawmakers to received “unfettered outside income” which he said is “recipe for what we have in NY which is a little bit of a corruption disaster.”

He added the “precious little disclosure” allows public officials to take outside money from entities that have business before the state.

Bharara, asked whether he sees a connection between the Wall Street criminals he’s prosecuted and politicians, said there is a similarity.

“I have joked that sometimes it seems like Albany is at the intersection of ambition and greed,” he said.

Hochul Says Her Husband Is Staying Put

Kathy Hochul is hoping voters will send her to Albany as New York’s next Lieutenant Governor.  But she’s hoping her husband, U.S. Attorney William Hochul, stays right where he is.

“I like having him closer to home with me here, selfishly speaking.  But Bill’s doing a tremendous job I’m very proud of his work,” Hochul said.

With Eric Holder leaving the Attorney General’s Office, William Hochul’s name has been thrown around as a possible replacement.  Hochul joined the U.S. Attorney’s office as an assistant in the Western District in 1991.

He was promoted to U.S. Attorney in 2010.  While Hochul’s name has been brought up to head to Washington his wife says it’s unlikely he’s going anywhere.

“I think he’s very happy doing what he’s doing right here in Western New York he’s got 17 counties a lot of responsibility and I know he’s proud of the work he’s doing on behalf of the Government so I think he’ll stay right where he is,” Hochul added.

Hochul isn’t the only US Attorney out of New York whose name is reportedly under consideration.  US Attorney Preet Bharara, out of Manhattan, is being considered a possible successor as well.

Preet’s Embarrassment Campaign?

ICYMI, this was Item I from today’s Morning Memo:

There’s some fascinating stuff at the very bottom of today’s Wall Street Journal story on the latest in the Moreland mess, which offers some insight into what US Attorney Preet Bharara hopes to get out of this quest.

Consider the following:

“Mr. Bharara’s probe into the actions of the Cuomo administration with respect to interfering with the commission, dissolving it and the aftermath of that decision is now a top focus of prosecutors, according to people familiar with the probe.

“While it is unclear whether he could make a criminal case on that front, Mr. Bharara views the enterprise as a victory even if it doesn’t ultimately lead to charges against anyone in the administration, according to a person briefed on the investigation.”

“If his office brings one case that the Moreland Commission failed to refer for prosecution, the investigation will be worth it, the person said.”

There has been considerable speculation about what – if anything – Bharara might actually charge the governor, or anyone connected to him, with in connection with the administration’s interference with the now-defunct commission.

The governor’s efforts after the New York Times story to solicit supportive statements from former commission members while Bharara’s investigation was ongoing gave the US attorney some fuel. Bharara responded by warning the governor – in a letter that quickly leaked – against witness tampering and obstruction of justice.

But even those possible charges seem a little weak when you consider the enormity of the fallout if the US attorney actually charged a top gubernatorial aide, or, worse yet, the governor himself – especially this close to the fall elections.

Now, if the person “briefed” on Bharara’s investigation and sharing insights with the WSJ is to be believed, it appears the US attorney will be satisfied with merely having embarrassed the governor – especially if his office manages to bring some charges against a lawmaker or two that the commission declined to pursue, perhaps, as this story suggests, at the administration’s request.

This a rather dangerous and high-stakes game that Bharara is pursuing, as New York magazine’s Chris Smith pointed out this week.

“Given the governor’s muscular public-relations efforts, Bharara has little choice but to push back hard in public,” Smith wrote.

“Maybe the publicity-friendly strategy is also because Bharara suspects he won’t have the facts to send anyone to jail – and that to truly change the culture of state government, punishment is less effective than embarrassment, anyway.”

“But by so overtly confronting Andrew Cuomo, Preet Bharara is taking a risk, too: He has raised expectations that he’s going to deliver something more than another exposé of the Albany sausage-making machinery.”

And not only that, but Bharara has undoubtedly earned himself a very powerful enemy for a very long time.

Despite Moreland and its fallout (at least what we’ve seen to date) no one (except maybe Rob Astorino and Zephyr Teachout) really believes Cuomo is in danger of losing his re-election bid this fall.

So, the governor will return to office to deal with the Legislature in a brave new, post-Moreland world, which – thanks to Bharara – seems to have reduced the governor’s so-called “fear factor” somewhat and emboldened lawmakers just a tad.

Cuomo can’t possibly be happy about that. And if he’s looking for someone to blame, he won’t have to look much further than Lower Manhattan. Now, you could argue that Cuomo can’t do anything to hurt Bharara, who is a presidential appointee. And that is part of the reason why the US attorney is engaged in this crusade.

But who knows what Bharara’s next move will be? The political life is long and filled with many acts, downfalls and comebacks.

Perhaps no one is more aware of that fact than Cuomo himself.

Bharara and Schneiderman Do Lunch

At the height of Moreland madness, two of the most high profile players in this seemingly never-ending saga – US Attorney Preet Bharara and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman – met for a very public lunch in lower Manhattan yesterday, multiple sources confirm.

The Democratic duo was spotted lunching at City Hall Restaurant – an eatery favored by members of the New York City political set due to its proximity to (you guessed it) City Hall. Schneiderman and Bharara have known each other in a professional capacity for the past several years, but aren’t personal friends, according to a source familiar with their relationship.

It’s worth noting that Bharara, who is investigating the demise of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s now-defunct corruption-busting Moreland Commission, would probably not be seen in such a public place with Schneiderman if the attorney general was a target of that probe.

Given the role that Schneiderman played, however, through his agreement to deputize its 25 members to broaden their purview beyond the executive branch and loaning of top aides to staff the commissinon, it’s possible that he is providing information to the US attorney as the investigation progresses.

Schneiderman has been under fire – especially from his Republican opponent, former Pataki administration official John Cahill – for refusing to comment on the Moreland Commission and explain why he did not speak up when the Cuomo administration was, as has been exhaustively documented by the New York Times (and refuted by Cuomo himself) interfering with its work.

It’s no secret that the relationship between Cuomo and Schneiderman has been rocky, dating at least as far back as the 2010 Democratic primary to replace Cuomo in the AG’s office.

At the time, Cuomo was widely believed to prefer Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice to Schneiderman in that race, due in part to her ticket-balancing capability (the Democratic slate that year was all white, almost all male – with the exception of US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand – and all from downstate), but also because he felt Schneiderman was too liberal and, as a former senator, too tied to the scandal-scarred Legislature.

Now Rice is running for the seat of retiring Long Island Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, and is trying to keep a low profile given her role as one of the Moreland Commission’s three co-chairs. (Unlike Onondaga County DA Bill Fitzpatrick, whose public comments have provided considerable cover for Cuomo in the wake of the Times story, neither Rice nor the third co-chair, Milton L. Williams, Jr., have offered support of the governor’s position).

Rice may soon be forced to end her silence. Tomorrow, her Republican opponent in the NY-4 race, former Nassau County Legislator Bruce Blakeman, is holding a press conference tomorrow afternoon outside the Nassau County Supreme Court in Mineola to “to discuss his opponent’s role in the Moreland Commission and answer questions from the media.”

Ex-Councilman Halloran Guilty On All Five Counts

A jury today found ex-Queens Councilman Dan Halloran guilty on all five counts of the corruption charges he faced stemming in part from his role in a bribery scheme to sell the GOP line in the 2013 NYC mayoral primary.

US Attorney Preet Bharara issued the following statement:

“With today’s verdict of guilty reached by an impartial and independent jury, the clean-up of corruption in New York continues in courtrooms. As the jury unanimously found, Daniel Halloran played a key role in two distinct political corruption schemes: first, for $20,000, Halloran was willing and able to serve as a go-between to deliver bribes to political party officials, and second he also took nearly $25,000 in cash and illegal campaign contributions to steer $80,000 in City Council money to other bribe payers.”

“Dan Halloran was the lone defendant in the trial that just ended in his conviction, but he is unfortunately not alone in a crowded field of New York officials who are willing to sell out their offices for self-enrichment.”

“This Office will continue the vigorous prosecution of political corruption to secure for the people of New York – regardless of party affiliation – what they deserve: the honest labors of their elected representatives. And we will continue to partner with the FBI, whose outstanding investigative work in this case was instrumental to achieving a just result.”

Halloran, a Republican, was charged with taking more than $20,000 in payoffs from two undercover FBI operatives posing as corrupt developers in exchange for agreeing to funnel public cash to them and to help bribe Republican NYC county leaders to allow Democratic Sen. Malcolm Smith, also of Queens, to run Row B in the party’s mayoral primary.

(That race was eventually won by former MTA Chairman Joe Lhota, who lost the general election in a landslide to the winner of the Democratic primary, current NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio).

Testifying in his own defense, Halloran admitted taking the cash, but said he considered the money payment for consulting services and never procured any public funds for the real estate developers/FBI agents.

Originally, Halloran and Smith were once co-defendants, along with former Queens GOP official Vince Tabone. But attorneys for Smith and Tabone opted to accept a mistrial due to a procedural error having to do with Yiddish phone recordings, while Halloran’s attorney decided to proceed as scheduled.

Smith and Tabone will be re-tried in January, and today’s verdict perhaps is not the best omen for them. In the meantime, Smith is seeking re-election, though he has been cast out from both the Democratic Senate conference (which he once led) and the IDC.

Paladino Calls Maziarz ‘Poster Child For Term Limits’

Several Western New York Republicans have come to the defense of retiring New York State Senator George Maziarz in recent days; former GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Carl Paladino is not one of them.

“I think George is probably a poster child for term limits,” Paladino said. 

Maziarz has served in the Niagara County based 62nd state senate seat for two decades.  It’s a tenure Paladino believes was too long.

“After a while they start to feel like a king, you know King George,” said Paladino. 

It’s a characterization the Buffalo businessman has repeated over the years, and one that now appears to be gaining traction.  At about the same time Maziarz announced his retirement, reports surfaced the U.S. Attorney’s Office was looking into his campaign spending.

What started as a Moreland Commission report that showed $140,000 in unspecified campaign expenditures continues to expand.  The Albany Times Union reported Friday Federal investigators are now examining unitemized checks that were made out to cash, but never reported to the state board of elections.

The latest questions center on funds from the Maziarz campaign account that were reportedly given to a youth softball team and thousands of dollars in purchases from a WNY business.  Maziarz Campaign Treasurer, Laureen Jacobs, has been asked to turn over documents but her attorney wouldn’t provide any further details.

And although charges have not been filed, Paladino isn’t giving Maziarz the benefit of the doubt. 

“In my book, he was the guy that held Niagara County down,” Paladino said. 

Paladino believes the investigation into Maziarz campaign spending is nothing compared to what he didn’t do.  That criticism has to do with what Paladino describes as more than $1 Billion from the New York State Power Authority’s budget. 

That money, according to Paladino, was generated through the sale of unused allocated power.  Money that Paladino insists should have been spent on development in Western New York.

“George turned the other way as Cuomo was sweeping the account for the last four years.  He never ensured that that money would stay here for Western New York’s benefit.  That’s the kind of stuff that bothered me about George.”

It may take some time before Maziarz’s legacy is clear.  While the jury is still out in the court of public opinion, Paladino made up his mind long ago.  

“George is going to walk away with a million, one hundred thousand dollars in his campaign account and Western New York is no further ahead today than it was when George originally took office,” Paladino added.


Report: Bharara Subpoena Seeks Ethics Complaints

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office has served the state’s top ethics regulatory panel with a subpoena seeking ethics complaints the commission has received over the last three years, according to reports this afternoon in The Daily News and New York Post.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics, created in 2011 as part of an ethics overhaul agreement between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers, is charged with regulating both lobbying as well as conducting probes into public officials’ official actions.

A spokesman for the commission would not confirm or deny that the U.S. attorney’s office was seeking the information.

“The Joint Commission on Public Ethics routinely works with other law enforcement agencies on various cases but it will not confirm or comment on any specific investigative matter,” said the spokesman, John Milgrim.

The news comes after Bharara was critical of the decision to shut down the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption, a panel Gov. Andrew Cuomo created in 2013 that was charged with investigating lawmakers’ outside business interests and the relationship of money and politics.

The commission is being shuttered, however, after Cuomo and state lawmakers agreed to new anti-corruption laws as well as independent enforcement at the state Board of Elections.

Bharara this month said his office would take possession of the records generated by the Moreland Commission.

JCOPE, unlike the Moreland Commission, has members represented by the governor’s office as well as the different legislative conferences in the Senate and Assembly.

Republicans seized on the news of the subpoena at JCOPE — though there is no indication the commission itself is under a formal investigation.

“Public ethics is of paramount importance to all New Yorkers,” said State GOP Chairman Ed Cox. “Any investigation of ethics committees is a legal, not a partisan issue. We trust the US Attorney and his team will uncover the truth.”

Moreland Commission Says Referrals To Law Enforcement Have Been Made

The co-chairman of the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption in a letter to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara write that “several referrals” have been made to federal and state law enforcement based off its work.

In the letter, commission co-chairman Milton Williams and William Fitzpatrick note that Bharara is correct in his assessment earlier this month that some investigations the panel conducted “overlap considerably” with his office.

“As the co-chairpersons of the Commission, we have decided that referrals to law enforcement shall be made only upon unanimous vote of the co-chairs,” Fitzpatrick and Williams wrote. “In light of the facts discussed above, and consistent with the Executive Order, we have agreed to provide your office with copies of all documents in the Commission’s control relating to the Commission’s ongoing investigative work.”

This lines up with Fitzpatrick, the Onondaga County district attorney, declaring in a radio interview last year that the commission had turned up potential corruption that it would refer to law enforcement.

Bharara has questioned in two letters whether the commission was ending its work prematurely following a state budget agreement that included the passage of the Public Trust Act, a package of anti-bribery and anti-fraud measures as well as independent oversight at the state Board of Elections when it comes to campaign finance violations.

Cuomo insisted on Thursday the commission did what it was designed to do: Investigate the Legislature and find a way to have lawmakers agree to new reform measures.

But questions remain on the scope of Cuomo’s office’s involvement in the commission’s direction of subpoenas themselves; Bharara in a radio interview did not rule out an investigation of the governor’s office.

SDNY 4_10_14 by Nick Reisman

Bharara Had Hoped For Tangible Results

From the morning memo:

Back in September, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara sat down with the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption to urge them to take an aggressive stance on government malfeasance.

In his four-page testimony, Bharara set down some basic hopes for the commission, including that they use their subpoena power effectively.

And he called on them to essentially rattle some cages and get some tangible results.

“…[P]ublic hearings are important and policy proposals are important too. But so are hard-nosed investigations and prosecutions, which I hope will be a primary, rather than tertiary, focus of the Commission,” Bharara said in his prepared remarks. “Nothing shines a light brighter or focuses the public’s anger and attention better than the actual arrest and conviction of a corrupt politician.”

The prosecutor who has made a name for himself taking on large financial institutions as well as public corruption in Albany doesn’t think that wish was fulfilled.

As The Times reported this morning, Bharara wrote to commission members expressing his disappointment the anti-corruption panel is concluding its work following a budget agreement that brought some changes to the state’s fraud and bribery laws.

The agreement struck by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders was apparently not enough for Bharara.

According to a letter obtained by the Times, Bharara’s even wondered whether the commission had been set aside only because of a compromise in the budget.

“The sequence of these events gives the appearance, although I am sure this is not the intent, that investigations potentially significant to the public interest have been bargained away as part of the negotiated arrangement between legislative and executive leaders,” he wrote.

Cuomo maintains the commission was due to conclude its work once state lawmakers had reached an agreement on ethics reform.

The Moreland Commission, indeed, was really running on three parallel tracks.

First, there was the commission itself, which reportedly was the subject of influence from Cuomo’s office and his top aides when it came to directing subpoenas (eventually the state Democratic Committee was issued a subpoena after Republican campaign committees were targeted).

Going on behind the scenes was the ethics negotiations themselves, which eventually included the adoption of the Public Trust Act. The agreement did not include the public financing of political campaigns or any new regulations on raising money for campaigns.

And on the third track was a challenge brought by state lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate who declared the entire commission had no jurisdictional authority to investigate the Legislature.

Lawmakers in the case argued the commission was violating the Constitution’s separation of powers because the executive branch was attempting to probe the legislative branch when it came to more information on their outside, private-sector income.

Moreland pushed back, however, noting the attorney general’s granting of jurisdictional authority gave them the needed powers.

Regardless of the legal arguments, the case dragged through the state court system, with adjournments pushed back from March through the middle of April.

This seemed to suggest a clear time table for budget talks: As Moreland’s legal authority was being hashed out in court, the adjournments bought negotiators in Albany some time to agree on an ethics package.

Once Cuomo and lawmakers agreed to the ethics changes, he said the commission would wind down its work.

Court filings this month show lawyers for the firms representing state lawmakers, as well as the commission itself, agreed their arguments had become moot.