Now Paterson Accused of Lying, Ethics Breach Over Yankees Tix

Governor disputes findings, says he didn't lie

By Jennifer Millman and Andrew Siff
|  Wednesday, Mar 3, 2010  |  Updated 9:04 PM EDT
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When it rains, it pours. And Gov. David Paterson can't climb out of the mud. 

New, separate allegations are now saddling Paterson as he struggles to extricate himself from the growing scandal surrounding a domestic-violence case against a former top aide.

The New York State Commission on Public Integrity this afternoon charged the embattled governor with violating the state’s ethics laws gift ban when he secured free tickets to the first game of the 2009 World Series from the Yankees. 

Read the notice on the charges(.pdf).

The Commission says Paterson may also have given false testimony in the case now being turned over to the Albany County District Attorney's office for possible criminal prosecution.

Questions about the Commission's charges and the larger scandal surrounding the domestic-violence case came up at a leadership meeting this afternoon. Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Majority Leader John Sampson and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb dismissed them, however, saying the budget is their focus.

Paterson also reiterated his focus on the fiscal crisis.

"There is obviously politics around us," he said. "In spite of the fact those political realities exist, we have to think about the state."

Asked whether he would explain his role in "aide-gate," the governor deferred to a variation of the response he's given since the story broke.

"I would certainly like to," he said. "But the last thing I would like to do is offend the AG's office. When the truth comes out, I'll be vindicated."

The governor says he did not lie to the Public Integrity Commission, and that his office will challenge the findings.

Paterson attended the game with his son, his son's friend, his deputy director of state operations, and none other than David Johnson, the aide at the center of the mushrooming scandal consuming the governor's office. The latest allegations only add fuel to the fire, with high-ranking Democratic Party leaders telling NBC New York they are troubled and distressed by the findings.

The Commission notified Paterson's office in October 2009 that he may have violated state ethics laws in accepting the five free tickets, and gave the office a chance to respond. The governor's legal counsel, Peter Kiernan, wrote back in a letter that the governor went to the game in his official capacity; he said the other four tickets were obtained legally because the Yankees immediately got reimbursed for them.

Paterson is charged with violating two subsections of the gift ban provisions of the Public Officers Law, each of which carries a maximum penalty of $40,000.  The Commission says he allegedly violated three sections of the State Code of Ethics, including one that prohibits him from using his official position to secure unwarranted privileges, which carries a civil penalty of $10,000.

The commission found Paterson didn't intend to reimburse the Yankees.

The Yankees Wednesday released a statement saying they fully cooperated with the Commission and had asked Paterson for a letter from legal counsel stating that no payment would be required for the ticket.

The team even provided the letter, dated April 15, 2009, from Peter Kiernan, Paterson's counsel who said the governor would be accompanied by "David Johnson, Senior Advisor and Confidential Assistant to the Governor, as well as Matthew Nelson (advance), Peter Kauffman (Director of Communications), and Louis Diaz (liaison to the Bronx community.)" as well as his son, Alex Paterson.

The letter goes on to reassure the Yankees that "it would not be "would not be an impermissible gift for the Yankees to invite Messrs. Johnson, Nelson, Kauffmann and Diaz as their functions are appropriate to the fact that this will be a widely attended public event where the Governor may become accessible to the media."

The Public Officers Law prohibits a State officer or employee, such as the governor, from directly or indirectly soliciting, accepting or receiving anything of more than nominal value if it is reasonable to infer that the gift was intended or could reasonably be expected to influence or reward him or her in the performance of his or her official duties.

The Commission has asked the Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who's already neck-deep in his probe of the assault-case scandal, and the Albany County District Attorney to investigate whether the governor or anyone else may have committed a crime by swearing falsely during the Commission’s interview of Paterson and by back-dating a check to make it appear Paterson always intended to pay back the Yankees and the reimbursement wasn't just an ill-fated attempt to avoid litigation.

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