Acting Erie County District Attorney Proposes Ethics Code Reform

The Erie County District Attorney’s Office is proposing a number of changes to strengthen the County Code of Ethics. Acting DA Michael Flaherty sent the proposal to the legislature and county executive, Friday.

Among the recommended changes, Flaherty wants to expand the definition of “political party official,” increase penalties for violations of the law, and restrict appointments for party leader. He said he began looking at the laws because he was handed a “widely reported” case about a local elected official.

While he said it was inappropriate to comment specifically, he most likely was referring to County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw’s case, which was placed on his desk as soon as he took office. In December, the Board of Ethics ruled Mychajliw violated the code when he allowed a group of local businessmen to pay for his tuition to a Harvard executive seminar.

“The inspiration was what do I do about this particular case. The answer was, I can’t do anything right now and so what I want to do is be able in the future, should that happen again, have some tools to work with,” Flaherty said.

The district attorney said he would be meeting with the ethics board chairman, Wednesday, to discuss the Mychajliw case. Under the current law, the Ethics Board had permission to fine the comptroller for his violation but the law did not allow for the board or the DA to force Mychajliw to pay back the $12,000 in tuition he received. Flaherty’s plan addresses that.

The district attorney’s proposal also recommended closing the LLC Loophole for campaign contributions by adopting the language of the Moreland Commission recommendations. Governor Cuomo has also proposed the state legislature close the loophole but Flaherty believes the county could get ahead of the curve.

Flaherty said he hopes the legislature and the county executive will take his recommendations even further and add their own. County Executive Mark Poloncarz said he plans to introduce his own ethics reform which could include new rules requiring elected officials who are also attorneys to disclose their client list.

Wozniak Spends More Than Four Grand On Attorneys

Defending herself in Assembly Ethics investigation is proving costly for Cheektowaga Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak. According to her January 2016 campaign finance report Wozniak has paid more than $4,000 dollars to HoganWillig Attorneys At Law.

Right now, Wozniak has less than $2,000 left in her campaign coffers. She could face a strong Democratic challenger in Cheektowaga Councilor James Rogowski.

Rogowski said, Wednesday, he is considering an Assembly run. He currently has more than $9,000 dollars in the bank.

One interesting note, the Republican Assemblywoman did get a $100 campaign contribution from her attorney Steven Cohen, who on multiple occasions has told reporters he’s a liberal.

Gianaris Calls For Senate Ethics Panel To Hold Hearings

Deputy Minority Leader Michael Gianaris in a letter sent Tuesday to Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Tom Croci called on the panel to convene public hearings on campaign finance and anti-corruption measures being considered the Legislature.

“Following the latest betrayals of the public trust in just the last few months, New Yorkers loudly voice their displeasure with corruption yet again,” Gianaris wrote in the letter. “A recent Siena poll showed that a majority of New Yorkers demand their government finally enact meaningful ethics and anti-corruption reforms.”

Gianaris proposed the agenda for the Ethics Committee could include proposals such as limits on outside income for state lawmakers, closing the LLC “loophole” in state election law, and curbing the reimbursement of campaign accounts for criminal defense costs (only triggered when an official is acquitted).

The Senate Ethics Committee has been a largely dormant entity in Albany, with past Ethics Committee Chairman Tony Avella testifying at the trial of ex-Sen. Dean Skelos that he was told by GOP leaders not to hold any hearings.

“Please be assured taht should you decide to discuss these issues, you will have an eager and will partner who is confident that if we act now, we can prevent yet another generation of New Yorkers from believing both that their government is broken beyond repair,” Gianaris wrote, “and that the very thought of entering what was once considered an honorable profess has become laughable.”

Croci Letter by Nick Reisman

For Now, A Half-Dozen Takers For Ethics Pledge

capitolsummerHands haven’t exactly shot up when it came to signing on to a platform of ethics reforms being circulated by good-government groups in the first week of the legislative session.

At the moment, six state lawmakers have signed on to the “Clean Conscious” pledge — which is backed by Common Cause, the New York Public Interest Research Group and Citizens Union.

But the pledge can indeed claim bipartisan support with its latest signatory: Republican Assemblyman Jim Tedisco on Thursday became the latest state lawmaker, and the first GOP member of the Legislature, to support the push.

“The taxpayer’s dollars and the state budget is not the leader’s own personal piggy bank,” Tedisco said in a statement. “This truth in spending law is the hammer to smash open that piggy bank and create total transparency to see where the money comes from as allocated in the state budget and how it’s being spent. When it comes to legislative earmarks, taxpayers have a right to be able to follow the money and know who ordered the pork.”

Assemblyman David Buchwald, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz and Sens. Mike Gianaris, Daniel Squadron and Brad Hoylman have also backed the platform. Updated: Another lawmaker was just as well, Sen. Jose Serrano.  More >

Judge Dismisses Three Sexual Harassment Lawsuits Against Former Buffalo Area Assemblyman

A day after the final report into the sexual harassment accusations surrounding former state Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak was released, Gabryszak’s attorney announced a judge dismissed the civil lawsuits of three of his accusers.

Buffalo-based attorney Terry Connors told Time Warner Cable News Buffalo a judge dismissed the cases of Trina Tardone, Emily Trimper and former TV host Kristy Mazurek.  The cases were reportedly dismissed because the statute of limitations, which is three years, passed before the lawsuits were filed.

Connors said the judge is also limiting the number of claims in the remaining lawsuits to two rather than 80.

The judge issued the ruling last week. Gabryszak, 64, of Cheektowaga retired in January 2014 following sexual harassment allegations from seven separate staffers.

The report, released Wednesday by JCOPE, lays out a string of “sexually inappropriate behavior” by Gabryszak, including one incident in which he told a female staffer he was “aroused” when talking about going to strip clubs.  He would ask the woman to get him information on his cell phone or iPad, knowing she would view pictures of naked women or escort service information.

The report concluded Gabryszak broke the public officer’s law through the sexual harassment of legislative aides and the misuse of public resources for political purposes.

Common Cause: Less Than Half Of Veteran Lawmakers Have Outside Income

Only 40 percent of state lawmakers elected before the most recent cycle have income other than the $79,500 and stipend pay they are given for their job as elected officials, an analysis from Common Cause New York found.

The analysis by the good-government group relied on the publicly available outside income filings made by state elected officials to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

The report found that of the 183 lawmakers elected prior to 2014, nearly 60 percent, or 110 of them, do not have any outside income.

The remaining 73 of those lawmakers have at least one or two sources of outside income.

Only a handful of state lawmakers in both the Senate and Assembly, about 8 percent, have outside income that stretches into the six figures.

The debate over creating a “full-time” Legislature that bars or limits state lawmakers from holding outside jobs has been rekindled in the days following the convictions of both former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and ex-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

Silver was found guilty of masking bribes as legal referrals, while Skelos was convicted of aiding his son’s business interests through official actions.

The top legislative leaders in the Senate and Assembly do not hold outside jobs: Speaker Carl Heastie, an accountant by training, has made the post a full-time one; Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan stepped away from the law firm he was of counsel at, while Sen. Jeff Klein divested from the firm where he was a partner.

State lawmakers are not required to reveal the precise amount of money they earn in the private sector, but are required to divulge income ranges.

The average outside pay for state lawmakers elected before 2014 ranges between $47,216 to $80,216.

There are 38 lawmakers who have outside jobs as lawyers, listing their titles as either “partner” or “of counsel” to a law firm. The most lucrative pay for state lawmakers isn’t the law, but the insurance industry, where they earn on average $140,750, the report found.

The full roster of state lawmakers reporting outside pay, the ranges and how what they do in the private sector can be found here.

NY’s Corruption Report Card: “D-“

reportcardNew York’s state government is “beset” by corruption and earns a “D-” when it comes to its public integrity index, according to a report from the Center For Public Integrity.

New York is ranked in a tie for 30th — along with a host of other states like Florida, New Hampshire, Missouri and Arkansas — when it comes to corruption.

To be fair, the Center for Public Integrity has some seemingly high standards or state governments have some low ones: No state this year received better than a “C” grade, with Alaska scoring the highest.

The Empire State’s poor showing comes, however, after a year in which state government was rocked by twin corruption arrests, ultimately taking down Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

Both Silver and Skelos are on trial in their separate corruption cases this month. In July, Republican Sen. Tom Libous was forced from office when a jury found him guilty of lying to the FBI in a case stemming from his son receiving a job at a politically connected law firm.

The report assessed and graded states on a number of government functions, including public access to information (F), political financing (D-), electoral oversight (F) and the enforcement of ethics (F).

When it comes to the state budget process — known famously in Albany for being conducted largely behind closed doors with little oversight by “three men in a room” — the Center For Public Integrity gives the state an “F” grade as well.

“The final budget is virtually impossible for the general public to navigate, a labyrinthine book of numbers that gives little insight into the negotiations that led to it,” the report found.

New York’s overall D- is actually worse than the last time the states were assessed on their integrity in 2012, when the state government earned a “D” grade.

Flanagan: Looming Skelos And Silver Trials ‘Not Good For Anybody’

As the coming corruption trials of the two former state legislative leaders are due to start next month and lay bare Albany’s misdeeds, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan hopes public servants writ large aren’t unduly impacted.

“I think it’s always a challenge,” Flanagan told reporters on Friday while in Albany attending an event for 4201 schools. “You don’t want to see people in harms way.”

Flanagan, of Suffolk County, assumed to the top leadership post in the chamber after Majority Leader Dean Skelos resigned from the majority leader job after he was arrested on charges that he used his official influence to aid the business interests of his son.

A similar drama had played only months earlier on the other side of the state Capitol in the Democratic-led Assembly, where longtime Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was forced from his perch when he was arrested on charges of fraud and embezzlement.

Both retain their seats in the Legislature, but Skelos and Silver face automatic ouster if they are found guilty of felony charges.

The trials for both men begin next month and, through the discovery process, have the potential to show Albany at its self-dealing, influence peddling worst.

“It’s not good for anybody,” Flanagan said. “Whether it’s at the staff level or the member level, I think our members and both houses and both parties try extraordinarily hard to be in the right place, not to get in harms way and try to maintain their integrity and do the right thing by the people they represent.”

Ex-Staffer Accusing Assemblywoman Of Sexual Harassment Hires Attorney Who Sued Gabryszak

The former Legislative staffer accusing Western New York Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak of sexual harassment has hired an attorney. It’s the same attorney who represented six women who raised similar complaints against Wozniak’s predecessor, former Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak.

Time Warner Cable News Reporter Ryan Whalen has learned Wozniak’s accuser, Elias Farah, hired Niagara Falls-based attorney John Bartolomei. Bartolomei represented all but one of Gabryszak’s accusers, many of them former staffers, in 2013.

Gabryszak retired soon after the accusations came to light. That cleared the way for Wozniak, a Republican, to win the Democratic-leaning Cheektowaga-based Assembly seat, last November.

In the Gabryszak case, Bartolomei’s clients sought an astounding total of more than $2.6 billion in damages from the former Assemblyman, his Chief of Staff, the State Assembly and others. Bartolomei has not responded to several requests for comment on the Wozniak complaint.

As Whalen first reported last month, Farah’s claims are being reviewed by the Assembly Ethics Committee. Wozniak was scheduled to be the last person interviewed by an outside law professor brought in to conduct a preliminary investigation.

Wozniak is represented by Buffalo-based attorney Steven Cohen. Cohen has spoken to several media sources denouncing the claims against his client, but has since has since been advised by the Ethics Committee to keep the proceedings confidential.

SUNY Poly: Buffalo Billion Contracting A Transparent Process

SUNY Polytechnic on Monday released yet another statement responding to news reports of a focused investigation on the institution’s leader, Alain Kaloyeros, insisting the contracting process for the Buffalo Billion economic development program was performed in a “transparent process.”

“As a public SUNY institution, all funding and contracts to SUNY Poly and its expenditures are subject to the same approvals, rules, regulations, and oversight as any other New York government agency. This includes public and transparent review and oversight by all appropriate state agencies including the New York State Division of the Budget, Empire State Development, the State University of New York, the New York State Comptroller, and the Attorney General,” SUNY Poly spokesman Jerry Gretzinger said in the statement.

In a bullet-pointed “statement of facts,” Gretzinger used the word “transparent” three times to describe its contracting and request for proposal procedures, using media reports to bolster its case.

“The SUNY Poly economic innovation model is open, transparent, and successful, as demonstrated by the hundreds of media reports on its structure, process, and results, including the following,” Gretzinger said, providing links to stories written by the non-profit Investigative Post which, along with Gannett, has sued the state for the release of documents pertaining to the Buffalo Billion program. More >