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Citizens Union

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Gov. Cuomo yesterday followed through on threats to establish a commission to investigate corruption in Albany after the legislature failed to pass any bills addressing the recent rash of scandals there. The commission will recommend cases against public officials and suggest changes to election and campaign fund-raising laws. It can issue subpoenas and examine witnesses under oath and it's slated to issue a preliminary report by year's end. Many of the panels members have ties to the governor. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Former Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau are special advisors to the commission.

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Gov. Cuomo yesterday vowed to keep pushing his legislative agenda in face of "scandal mania." He's been using the recent wave of "quote, unquote scandals" to push ethics reform, but still wants movement on his other priorities, such as women’s equality, the creation of a local government panel, and casino gaming. He also blamed the press for letting scandals become all-consuming. Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos is using the investigations as a reason to oppose public financing, saying it will put public money into the hands of untrustworthy people. Cuomo yesterday revealed a proposal for one of his priorities, reforming the Long Island Power Authority, calling for a three year rate freeze and a takeover by Public Service Electric & Gas Co. of New Jersey.

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Political observers are beginning to ask whether race or ethnicity are playing a role in the state's most recent corruption cases. All five lawmakers charged in the growing corruption probe are black or Latino. So, too, are the eight people recorded for the FBI by state Sen. Shirley Huntley.

At a forum on Friday night titled "Attack on Black Leaders: Corruption or Conspiracy?" state Sen. James Sanders of Queens raised questions about whether black leaders were being targeted. “Why aren’t we hearing about other people wired and looking at different communities? Why is it seemingly a focus on this community?” 

But experts and lawmakers tell The Associated Press that the current batch of cases may involved people of color, but that has not been the case in the past.

“People are going to think what they think, but it’s important to understand that what is going on in Albany transcends race, gender or party,” Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told The AP. “While this current wave has involved mostly people of color, prior to this it captured people across the aisle who were not people of color.

Federal corruption cases between 2009 and 2011 involved were all white, and half were Republicans. The most recent cases involve Democrats.

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Tagged in: corruption elections

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The names of elected officials secretly recorded by disgraced ex-State Sen. Shirley Huntley will be revealed this afternoon, thanks to a judge's ruling. Nine were recorded and eight are under investigation. Six of those being investigated are politicians, including Sen. John Sampson, who was arrested earlier this week. One of the charges Sampson faces is embezzling $440,000 from sales of foreclosed properties, and this has revealed a flaw in the way foreclosed homes are being handled. State officials are now looking at how the problem could be addressed. Sampson had tried to plant a mole in the Brooklyn DA's office to find out if he was under investigation, but that mole turned out to be an informant. His arrest may further dampen Democrats' chances at controlling the chamber.

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State Sen. John Sampson was charged yesterday with embezzlement, obstruction of justice, and lying to investigators. Among those charges, prosecutors accuse him of trying to get a list of cooperating witnesses in his case so that he could "take them out." He faces up to 120 years behind bars. Also yesterday, Assemblyman William Boyland was charged with mail fraud conspiracy - for the second time. In the past seven years, 32 state level officials have been snared in corruption cases.

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The U.S. Attorney who announced the most recent spate of corruption cases against New York lawmakers likened corrupt politicians to green-skinned, slug-like aliens with no concept of "integrity" or "moral rectitude."

Preet Bharara spoke this morning in front of the Citizen's Crime Commission on how the string of corruption cases against legislators nearly every level of government should concern every New Yorker.

Nothing will change, he said, unless people fundamentally reform a corrupt culture.

Bharara began his presentation to the nonprofit reform group by referencing to a book from the popular science fiction series, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which he said he read as a kid. In the book, he said, an alien species known as Vogons "are not above a little bribery and corruption in the same way the sea is not above the clouds."

"So, is Albany full of Vogons?" he asked. "Of course not."

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo has unveiled three new proposals to deal with corruption in Albany. 

Cuomo's first proposal would create an independent enforcement arm in the State Board of Election that is overseen by Democrats and Republicans, who would be able to block investigations.

The governor said the BOE's enforcement has been "toothless," adding that the agency needs reforms "above and beyond this" but said an independent enforcement arm would be a good place to start. 

Secondly, Cuomo proposed ending the Wilson Pakula law.

"You've heard of pay-to-play, this is pay-to-run," Cuomo said of the recent case of Sen. Malcolm Smith, who was arrested on allegations he tried to bribe his way onto the Republican line for New York City Mayor.

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A spokesman for state Sen. Malcolm Smith says the former majority leader will be "vindicated" of charges that he conspired to  buy a spot on the Republican Party ballot for mayor in 2013. 

Smith was arrested this morning by the FBI on charges that were brought in federal court. (Read the complaint below.)

Smith spokesman Todd Shapiro issued this statement: "The Senator has record of 13 years of dedication, hard work and integrity to the people he serves in Queens.He has provided to the heath, safety and well-being of the almost 20 million residents in New York. He will be vindicated when the all the facts in the case are revealed." 

Smith led the Senate Democrats when they initially took control of the Senate in 2008. Smith had to cut deals with a number of senators to get that position. Last year, Smith joined the Independent Senate Democratic Conference, which lacked any minority members at the time. Smith was named chairman of the IDC in February of this year.

The IDC touted its seperation from the ethically challenged Demcoratic conference and the fact that they were ready to succeed where the Democrats had failed. But Smith and IDC Leader Sen. Jeff Klein were both part of the leadership structure of the Senate Democrats when they controlled the Senate. Smith's arrest could alter control of the Senate. 

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The former fiscal chief of a Bronx charity founded by state Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr. pleaded guilty to embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from the organization.

Clement Gardner pleaded guilty to one count of grand larceny on Thursday after charges against him were brought up in December by New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. Originally facing two counts of grand larceny and six counts for falsifying business records, Gardner will be sentenced to two to six years in a state prison on March 20. The judge will also enter an order for restitution equal to the amount — $560,000 — he was convicted of embezzling.

Gardner as the fiscal chief for the Christian Community Benevolent Association, as well as for Christian Community in Action Inc. — a now-defunct charity that had ties to the benevolent association.

In March 2012, the attorney general’s office first suspected Gardner of embezzling at least $75,000 from the charities, during which time he also received between $48,000 to $54,000 in yearly pay. Gardner, who also worked in finance for the Diaz senate campaign, pled guilty to embezzling from both charities.

When the charges were first brought up against Gardner, Diaz fought off speculation that he was involved in any wrongdoing, distancing himself from the organization he founded by saying he was no longer with it.

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