Preet Bharara

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.

Bharara Targets Convicted Pols’ Pensions

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is seeking forfeiture of public pension dollars to at least two politicians convicted of corruption, according to court papers filed Monday by his office.

At the same time, Bharara wants to determine whether former state Sen. Hiram Monserrate and former Yonkers City Councilwoman Sandy Annabi cancelled their membership in the state pension system and

Bharara, the federal prosecutor for the southern district, wants to force ex-New York City Councilmen Larry Seabrook and Miguel Martinez to forfeit their pension beneifts.

In the cases of Annabi and Monserrate, he also filed discovery papers to determine whether they received any payments after leaving the system.

“With today’s actions, we aim to prevent corrupt elected officials from continuing to benefit from pensions paid for by the very people they betrayed in office,” Bharara said in a statement. “As I announced this fall, we are committed to using every legal tool to take the profit out of crime, and that includes preventing public money from being used to fund the comfortable retirement of corrupt officials. This is what justice and common sense require.”

Bharara, who has gained notoriety for several high-profile corruption arrests in the last year, had previously indicated he would try to halt pension payments to public officials found guilty of corruption.

The state’s Constitution prevents lawmakers from losing their pension benefits. An ethics measure approved in 2011 would strip those convicted of a felony, but it applies to officials elected after the law took effect.

Monserrate was exeplled from the state Senate in 2010 after being convicted of assaulting his girlfriend. In October 2010, he was indicted on federal corruption charges for funneling member item funds through a Queens social service agency.

Seabrook was convicted in 2012 of nine felony counts including money laundering, extortion, and fraud.

The letter to Judge Colleen McMahon requesting discovery of Monserrate’s pension status is below as is the order seeking to halt pension payments to Seabrook.

Letter to Judge McMahon Re Monserrate Discovery Requests 12 17 2013 by Nick Reisman

131- Seabrook Substitute Asset Application by Nick Reisman

The Ben And Preet Show

From the Capital Tonight morning memo, the second item:

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and Department of Financial Services Superintendent Ben Lawsky are scheduled to appear together on Jan. 27, sharing keynoting duties at a speech at a regulatory conference in New York City.

The topic for the discussion will be risk management in the financial services field (no word if George Costanza will also appear).

Bharara, when he’s not arresting Albany pols, also has jurisdiction over Wall Street and has netted more than a few white collar criminals for the Southern District.

Lawsky, whose department oversees banking and insurance, has been carving out a sphere for his office to include oversight of the pension fund.

He is also considered a protege of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.