New York

Criminal Charge Against Former NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo Is Dropped

Caitlin Ochs | Reuters
  • The Albany County, New York, District Attorney's Office said it was dropping a misdemeanor criminal charge filed against former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo that was related to a claim of sexual harassment made against him by a former aide.
  •  Albany D.A. David Soares said the woman's complaint was credible, but that "after review of all the available evidence we have concluded that we cannot meet our burden at trial."
  • The Albany complaint was lodged two months after the three-term incumbent Democrat resigned on the heels of a damning report commissioned by the New York Attorney General's Office that found he had sexually harassed nearly a dozen women.

The Albany County, New York, District Attorney's Office said Tuesday that it is dropping a misdemeanor criminal charge filed against former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo related to a claim he forcibly touched a female aide in the governor's mansion in December 2020.

The announcement came just three days before Cuomo, 63, was due to appear in court for the first time in the case based on the allegation by his former executive assistant Brittany Commisso, one of nearly a dozen women whose claims of sexual misconduct led to Cuomo's resignation in August.

And it came within weeks of the district attorneys of Westchester and Nassau Counties saying they would not file criminal charges against Cuomo after investigating claims that he inappropriately touched other women in those jurisdictions.

Albany D.A. David Soares said Tuesday, "While many have an opinion regarding the allegations against the former Governor, the Albany County DA's Office is the only one who has a burden to prove the elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt."

"While we found the complainant in this case cooperative and credible, after review of all the available evidence we have concluded that we cannot meet our burden at trial," Soares said.

"As such we have notified the Court that we are declining to prosecute this matter and requesting the charges filed by the Albany County Sheriff be dismissed," said Soares.

The D.A. had chafed at the filing of the case by the sheriff in October without forewarning to Soares.

Commisso's lawyer, Brian Premo, told NBC News that "my client had no control over the filing or prosecution of criminal charges."

"She had no authority or voice in those decisions," Premo said. "The only thing she has any power over is her resolution to continue to speak the truth and seek justice in an appropriate civil action, which she will do in due course."

Cuomo, who denied wrongdoing, had faced a possible sentence of up to a year in prison and three years of probation if convicted of the Class A misdemeanor charge.

Then-Acting Nassau County D.A. Joyce Smith on Dec. 23 said she would not file charges against Cuomo in connection with allegations that he ran the palm of his left hand across the stomach of a female state trooper in his protective detail in September 2019 at Belmont Racetrack.

"Our exhaustive investigation found the allegations credible, deeply troubling, but not criminal under New York law," Smith said in a statement that day.

Days later, Westchester D.A. Miriam Rocah said said she would not charge Cuomo for allegedly kissing the same trooper at his home in Mount Kisco, and for grabbing and kissing another women on the cheek at an event at a high school in that county.

Rocah in a statement had said the women's claims were credible, and that Cuomo's conduct was "concerning," but that "we cannot pursue criminal charges due to the statutory requirements of the criminal laws of New York."

Cuomo's lawyer on Monday said that a probe by the Manhattan District Attorney''s office into the alleged mishandling of Covid-19-related deaths of nursing home patients by the Cuomo administration had ended without any criminal charges.

The Albany complaint was lodged two months after the three-term incumbent Democrat Cuomo resigned on the heels of a damning report commissioned by the New York Attorney General's Office that found he had sexually harassed 11 women, including state employees and others.

AG Letitia James said in August that Cuomo violated federal and state laws with his conduct. But James herself did not file charges against him.

However, in December, a document posted on a New York state website revealed that the U.S. Justice Department is investigating Cuomo for the claims of sexual harassment.

The Albany complaint by the Sheriff's Office said that on Dec. 7, 2020, when the Commisso visited him in the Executive Mansion in Albany, Cuomo intentionally, "and for no legitimate purpose, forcibly place his hand under the blouse shirt of the victim .... and onto her intimate body part.′

"Specifically, the [victim's] left breast for the purposes of degrading and gratifying his sexual desires," the complaint said.

The filing of the complaint was highly unusual because it was made without notice to the D.A.'s office, which is responsible for prosecuting such cases.

In November, Soares told a judge that the "inexplicably filed" complaint was "potentially defective" because it excluded key testimony from Cuomo's accuser, and because parts of the complaint misstated "the relevant law." Soares that month obtained a 60-day postponement of Cuomo's first court appearance to address the issues raised by the prosecutor.

But until Tuesday, Soares had not indicated he would drop the case.

"I, like most New Yorkers, remain deeply troubled by allegations like the ones at issue here. Such conduct has no place in government or in any workplace," Soares said Tuesday.

"Although avenues for criminal prosecution in these cases are sometimes limited, I encourage victims of workplace harassment and abuse to continue to come forward and bring these issues to light so that these important discussions can continue."

Mariann Wang, a lawyer who represents two other women who have accused Cuomo of sexual harassment, Alyssa McGrath and Virginia Limmiatis, in a statement said, "Although my clients are disappointed, they are not surprised" by Soares declining to prosecute the case.

" Unfortunately, our penal laws and system frequently do not properly punish the acts of so many abusive men in power," Wang said. "Cuomo's conduct was nonetheless unlawful and deeply harmful to the women who were subjected to it, as the Attorney General and Assembly found in their reports."

"My clients remain grateful for those investigations and above all to the other women who had the courage to come forward.  Cuomo and men like him should not be in positions of power."

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