Cuomo, DAs Announce Anti-Corruption Measures

Tuesday, Apr 9, 2013  |  Updated 3:34 PM EDT
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Cuomo, DAs Announce Anti-Corruption Measures

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday proposed giving prosecutors more power to combat public corruption and would, for the first time, require public officials to report corrupt actions by their colleagues.

The Public Trust Act would create new crimes and increase penalties for violating existing anti-corruption laws. The proposal would make specific crimes of bribing a public official, scheming to corrupt the government and failing to report public corruption.

Among the tools would be a way for witnesses to receive only partial immunity when testifying before a grand jury, as in federal cases, so that a witness isn't free from being prosecuted by a local district attorney. The proposal would also hold former elected officials to a five-year statute of limitation for their acts once they leave an elected body. Former elected officials have been involved in some of Albany's most notorious cases.

No bill with specifics, however, was released by Cuomo.

"The public expects elected officials to conduct their business ethically, honestly, and it's time our laws caught up with reality," said Cyrus Vance, Manhattan district attorney and head of the state district attorneys association.

"These are very sound proposals and they have support form district attorneys across our state," Vance said at a Manhattan news conference.

Public officials for the first time would face a misdemeanor if they fail to report suspected corruption by a colleague. Former state ethics commission Executive Director Karl Sleight told The Associated Press on Monday that this was a key element missing from the many attempts at ethics reform from Albany.

"When it comes to public integrity, you can't have enough cops on the beat," Cuomo said. "If you are a public official and you break the law, you will be caught, you will be prosecuted, and you will go to jail."

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said last week that government corruption is rampant in Albany. State politicians were arrested last week in two bribery cases brought by Bharara.

Cuomo also raised the possibility of making the Legislature full-time. Currently lawmakers who are paid a base of $79,500 a year are considered part-time, although most make over $100,000 through leadership stipends and per-diem payments for being Albany.

Cuomo said that with a part-time Legislature including many lawyers and business operators, "the number of potential conflicts goes way up." But he said the drawbacks include higher pay and he half joked that a Legislature in session more may be seen as doing "more harm."

Cuomo wants the Legislature to approve the measures this session, which ends June 20.

Spokesman for the Assembly's Democratic majority and the traditional Democratic conference in the Senate said they are reviewing the proposal and declined extensive comment.

"In light of the charges brought last week by the U.S. attorney against members of the Legislature, we must redouble our efforts to create a government New Yorkers can be proud of," said Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos.

There was no immediate comment from the Independent Democratic Conference which runs the Senate with the Republican conference.
 

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