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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Governor Right to Dump Useless Ethics Group

N.Y. investigation commission faces possible sunset
The Journal News by Valerie Bauman and Michael Virtanen
The Associated Press - March 15, 2009

ALBANY, NEW YORK - In the 1950s and '60s, the state Commission of Investigation put away mobsters nabbed at the 1957 clandestine gangland meeting in the Southern Tier town of Apalachin that confirmed the existence of the Mafia in America. Since the 1970s, it took on crooked judges, cops on the take, corrupt union bosses and politicians and drug labs. But, in a town known for some notorious lawbreakers among its 212 lawmakers, many say New York politics did what organized crime couldn't: It iced Albany's top cop. The Commission of Investigation, which hasn't fully investigated an elected state official in at least 30 years, will end March 31 unless the state Legislature that good-government groups say made it a shadow of its former self renews the SIC's enabling legislation.

Gov. David Paterson proposed saving $4.15 million in the next fiscal year by letting the SIC expire. "When it comes to political corruption, the SIC has been MIA," said Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group. Horner believes the lack of action against lawmakers can be attributed, in part, to political influence. Commissioners are appointed by the state Senate majority leader, the Assembly speaker and the governor, making them less likely to investigate those who gave them their jobs, he said. They are paid $101,600 annually, except for Chairman Alfred Lerner, who is paid $109,800.

The commission, for example, didn't investigate then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in 2008, after he was named in a federal prostitution investigation; or then-Health Commissioner Antonia Novello, accused of using state workers to chauffeur her on shopping sprees; or then-Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to using state workers as chauffeurs and companions for his wife. In the Legislature, the SIC hasn't investigated Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio, accused of selling access to fellow lawmakers; or the criminal case of state Sen. Hiram Monserrate, accused of assaulting his girlfriend with a broken glass; or Michael Boxley, counsel to powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was taken out of the Capitol in handcuffs, charged with rape and eventually pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct. Also infamous, and untouched by the SIC, are the sexual exploits that led to a crackdown on the legislative intern program, and the many other lawmakers slapped with misdemeanors and felonies over the years. As for the current biggest political probe in Albany, former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, has been indicted by the federal government, accused of using his political position to reap millions of dollars as a consultant - claims the SIC found too flimsy to pursue.

"We don't go after anybody unless there is a complaint against someone," said George Friedman, one of six SIC commissioners. "We don't go looking for law violators." In some cases, other investigative bodies just get to the cases first, Friedman said. In Bruno's case, the commission was unable to investigate, due to a "very, very full plate," Friedman said. "You have to balance the availability of your employees, what assets you can devote to which investigations," Friedman said. "The ones that seem the flimsiest fall by the wayside and don't get attended to." "In New York City, where most of these things go on, you have five separate pros - district attorneys, full staffs - and they have the best police department in the world, fully staffed to invest in those activities," Friedman said. Whether the SIC survives, is combined with other agencies or disappears, good government groups argue that New York needs an entity monitoring lawmakers and the executive branch that's completely independent of political influence. If an effective, independent system were put in place, the broad powers the SIC has to issue subpoenas, and in some cases offer immunity in exchange for testimony, could be effective.

The Legislative Ethics Commission, for example, has fielded 13 complaints about lawmakers since 1995. Twelve ended in no violation and one is pending. The state Senate Standing Committee on Ethics has not investigated a single senator in the past 10 years. Over the same period, the Assembly Standing Committee on Ethics and Guidance has investigated four lawmakers and taken action against three. Only one had to resign - Democratic Assemblyman Roger Green of New York City in 2004 after 24 years in office. He pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors for stealing from the state by submitting fake travel claims for expenses he never incurred. "What we're trying to do is make sure that legislators are educated as to what is proper and what isn't," said Assemblyman William Magnarelli, co-chairman of the Legislative Ethics Commission. "There are some fine lines on things, believe it or not."

The commission often receives questions from lawmakers about potential private business ventures and other ethical issues. The commission gives recommendations on how to operate within the guidelines of public officers law. It also provides materials to new members about financial disclosure and legal statutes. At the SIC, commissioners can privately share any findings with the political figures who appointed them. Critics say that's another reason it's become a paper tiger. "They (the lawmakers who appointed them) have the power to make a suggestion to the commissioner they've appointed," Friedman acknowledged, but he said they don't have the power to halt an investigation. "Each of them has two appointments at this time. They can make suggestions to their two appointees, along the lines of 'Gee, I would really appreciate it if you could do something to avoid that investigation.'"

Friedman and Commissioner Vincent Nicolosi were appointed by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Two others, Henry Nahal and Robert Price, were appointed by Bruno. Lerner and the newest commissioner, John Cahill, were appointed by Gov. George Pataki. They serve four-year terms. Asked about the SIC's fate, Sisa Moyo, spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, said they were examining all options. She added that the Manhattan Democrat "absolutely" did not have special access to information about cases or complaints before the SIC from the two commissioners he appointed. A spokesman for state Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, D-Queens, said no decision has been reached by the state Senate Democratic Conference. The SIC will be discussed as part of the budget process, Austin Shafran said. Right now the commission is making the case to combine itself with the Inspector General's Office and the Public Integrity Commission - the state's other watchdog - into one entity. If the SIC does dissolve, so will its broad investigative powers.

7 comments:

nick from queens said...

The mutual protection society, known as New York's "ethics" committees, have only protected the higher-ups and their connected criminal friends. I never heard of this useless group. Let them "sunset" or run off a cliff. We need REAL ethics oversight in this corrupt state. This is a very good start.

albany insider said...

This group was good for a long time. Then political hacks took over, along with a few clowns with mob ties, and then it became what it is today and has been for years: useless.

Anonymous said...

sounds like a step in the right direction but this absolutely should ALSO include the Commission on Judicial Conduct in its present form and composition!!

Anonymous said...

I HOPE THIS IS TRUE!!! Not since a man of great integrity ran the SIC, now - federal judge David Trager, has the SIC had a good day. That was back in 1989, when the SIC issued a scathing report on misconduct on the part of the Suffolk County DA and Police Department. The 'reward' they received for their good work was to have their budget cut by 50%.

I, and others I know made some serious complaints to the SIC. My 'reward' was for the SIC to send me a letter dated 7/2/08, advising me that my charges against DA Thomas Spota were not meritorious. When asked for details, I was told that FOIL did not apply to the details of their 'investigation'. The same letter sent to me was sent to DA Spota, to which he promptly posted on his office website, under the Press Release Section - * see press release - dated 7/7/08 - SIC notification. Opening up the attached hyperlinks, you will find that letter, with my address NOW redacted, when before it wasn't.

That was several months before The Tankleff SiC 'investigation' was released stating that all was well in Suffolk Land - nobody did anything wrong - except, maybe, for marty tankleff.

The moron that is likely to become our next governor followed suit with his own 'investigation'.

Anonymous said...

My complaint was also ignored.. and now I'm not surprised...

According to the article this agency ignored and/or whitewased many meritorious complaints..

They are worse than useless...

galison said...

There will be a Public Hearing, held by the New York State Senate Judiciary Committee on the nomination process of the Chief Justice of New York State on Friday, March 20 at 10:00 AM at the Brooklyn Bar Association, 123 Remsen Street, Brooklyn New York. (inquiries: contact Senate Judiciary Counsel, Timothy Spotts: 518 455 2788)

Anonymous said...

this is a bunch of douche bags dump them

Blog Archive

See Video of Senator John L. Sampson's 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption

The first hearing, held in Albany on June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:


               Video of 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption
               The June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:
         
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 1
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 2