Cuomo Takes Aim at Public Corruption

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during press conference announcing Public Trust Act.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during press conference announcing Public Trust Act.

New York’s top elected official is now setting his sights on the next crisis at hand—public corruption.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo Tuesday joined a team of district attorneys from across the state, including Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, in proposing the Public Trust Act, which would empower local prosecutors and creates a new class of public corruption crimes.

“Over the past few days there have been several charges brought against public officials,” the governor said. “They span city and state government, they span Democrats and Republicans and they paint a truly ugly picture of our political landscape.”

“I’d like to say that this is an unprecedented situation, that public corruption is a new problem, but it isn’t,” he added. “And in many ways that’s what makes it worse. There have been too many incidents for too many years.”

Under the proposed legislation, which the governor will try to push through during this legislative session, there will be new crimes for violating public trust. The new class of crimes would include bribery of a public servant, corrupting the government and failure to report public corruption. The penalties also call for a lifetime ban from government for anyone who has been convicted of public corruption.

“Prosecutors need better tools to hold public officials accountable when they betray the public’s trust,” Rice said in a statement, noting that the “proposal provides a much-needed overhaul to New York’s public corruption laws so we can better investigate and prosecute those who defraud the taxpayers, while strengthening the penalties for those who abuse their office.”

The proposal comes one week after State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) was arrested on bribery, wire fraud and conspiracy charges for allegedly bribing Republican leaders in an attempt to get his name on the GOP line in the New York City mayoral race.

And on Thursday, Assemb. Eric Stevenson (D-Bronx), was arrested and charged with conspiracy and bribery. Prosecutors accused Stevenson of taking more than $22,000 in bribes to write legislation.

“If you are a public official and if you break the law you will get caught, you will be prosecuted and you will go to jail,” said Cuomo.

The governor acknowledged that he would “like to strike while the iron is hot,” a tactic that he just recently used to pass tougher gun control laws after the Newtown, Conn. shooting.

The Public Trust Act would increase bribery penalties and it would for the first time make it a crime for any public official or employee to fail to report bribery.

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