U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara on Monday said the convictions of the two former legislative leaders over a 13-day span should result in widespread reforms at the state Capitol. And he won’t say where his investigations will go next.
Bharara used the guilty verdicts of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, to rail against the troubles in Albany, saying lax laws and little oversight has fostered a culture of corruption.
“I think there is not doubt now, after two trials have concluded on top of several trials before that, that there’s a deep problem of corruption in Albany,” Bharara said in an interview on WNYC radio in Manhattan.
Bharara wouldn’t let Gov. Andrew Cuomo off the hook, saying he would not talk about any potential investigations into the governor’s action. Bharara again criticized the Democratic governor’s decision in 2014 to disband a corruption-busting panel.
“I’m not going to talk about any investigations that we have open. We have lots of investigations open,” Bharara said. “I think that people like to talk about what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
But he also stressed: “You shouldn’t read into anything I’m saying one way or the other. And I know people like to do that.”
Bharara also knocked the ability of Silver and Skelos to receive their taxpayer-funded pensions, even though they’ve been found guilty of public corruption.
He suggested that he would try to seek some pension forfeiture from them at their sentencing, which won’t be until March or later. But he will be limited by state law that protects public pensions from being revoked.
“I think people understand that it doesn’t seem at all fair when someone has been convicted of using his office for private gain that they should get the full measure of their pension,” Bharara said. “We will be looking at all the ways in which we can make sure that justice is done.”
For his part, Cuomo on Sunday said that New York should step up its ethics laws — even though he said he and the Legislature have installed unprecedented reforms since he took office in 2011.
“My position is we must have zero tolerance for any violation of the public trust,” Cuomo told reporters Sunday in Manhattan. “I think the Legislature had a lot of work to do to restore the public trust. I think we need an ambitious reform agenda.”
Bharara and Cuomo separately criticized the ability of lawmakers to have outside income, which has been at the heart of many of the corruption cases. Bharara has convicted 11 state lawmakers over his six-year tenure.
“Common sense would tell you it is much harder to disguise a bride or a kickback as a referral, if you don’t have the ability to have the same kind of outside income,” Bharara said.