By Rich Bockmann
One week after federal authorities announced they had uncovered two suspected bribery plots in Queens and the Bronx, Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled a legislative initiative designed to give the state’s 62 district attorneys more power to prosecute corruption cases.
“Preventing public corruption is essential to ensuring that government works and can effectively keep the public’s trust,” Cuomo said Tuesday. “The Public Trust Act recognizes that crimes of public corruption should be treated more seriously than other white-collar crimes because when they break the law, they also break the public trust that the people have placed in government.”
Last week, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced his office, working with the FBI, had brought charges against state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis), City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) and Queens Republican Party Vice Chairman Vince Tabone, alleging they had orchestrated a plot to bribe Smith’s way onto the GOP ticket in the race for mayor.
Two days later, Bharara held another news conference announcing Bronx Assemblyman Eric Stevenson had been charged with bribery.
“This legislation will continue our work to restore public trust by giving every district attorney in our state the tools they need to root out and punish all forms of public corruption at every level of government,” Cuomo said.
The governor said federal laws provide prosecutors with more tools to handle corruption cases than do state laws, and district attorneys often turn their cases over to the feds.
He said the new package of bills, which requires approval from the state Legislature, will align New York’s laws with federal ones.
Among some of the proposals, the law would require prosecutors only to prove someone paying a bribe “intended” to influence a public official as opposed to having to prove both parties formed a corrupt agreement.
The proposed legislation would also make it a misdemeanor for any public official or employee to fail to report bribery and would impose a lifetime ban from government on anyone convicted of felony public corruption. The ban would include holding public or civil office, receiving certain tax credits and bidding or obtaining state contracts.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.