By Bill Parry
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara told a roomful of Queens civic leaders that public corruption affects “every single person in New York whether you vote or not” just days after he vowed to root out corruption at all levels of government, including the mayor’s and governor’s offices.
In a speech to the Queens Civic Congress, Bharara said his office is the “best corruption fighting team in the business” after successfully prosecuting former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Dean Skelos on corruption charges last year. Bharara said the two former leaders would be sentenced “in the next couple of weeks.”
“There are so many good people in government and elected office who do great things and are honorable and have integrity and loyalty to the law and want to do good things the right way,” Bharara said. “What ruins it for them is the bad ones that my office has sent to jail in the last few years.”
He did not mention Gov. Andrew Cuomo or Mayor Bill de Blasio during his speech Sunday at Antun’s in Queens Village nor did he speak of any current investigations. Last week during his keynote speech at Common Cause New York’s annual gala, he said the executive branches of the state and city government “are far from immune from the creeping show-me-the-money culture” that pervades New York politics.
“The problem is there’s too much corruption going on and Queens is not immune,” Bharara told the Queens Civic Congress, an organization formed in 1997 to represent more than 100 civic and community groups. He was warmly received and interrupted often by applause, and even laughter after mentioning disgraced former City Councilman Dan Halloran, who is currently serving a ten-year prison term for his role in a bribery scheme.
“He said in his own words money is what greases the wheels, good, bad or indifferent,” Bharara said. The prosecutor started off his speech on a light note.
“I left all of my subpoenas in Manhattan today so everyone can relax and enjoy their lunch,” he said. Born in Punjab, India in 1968, Bharara and his family came through JFK Airport when he emigrated to the United States as a young man.
“I am foreign-born like so many of the people in this borough,” he said, pointing out “48 percent of people living in Queens are foreign born. It’s great to be in what we celebrate in America as the most diverse county in the country, the most diverse county in the world.”
Bharara spoke of the rights of the disabled and those living in public housing “who deserve a clean and safe environment.” He warned of the dangers of painkiller abuse saying, “these pills are getting so expensive people are turning to heroin (and) prescription painkillers are now a gateway drug to heroin.”
He said the rule of law is a cornerstone of democracy and members of the Queens Civic Congress play an important role.
“We will pursue every corrupt official we can, but you can’t prosecute your way out,” Bharara said. “It will take the press, the politicians themselves, and it will take the public through organizations like this one that hold the politicians feet to the fire.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr