Thursday, March 04, 2010
Gov. David A. Paterson falsely testified under oath during an ethics investigation into his acceptance of free World Series tickets last fall, according to the State Commission on Public Integrity, which announced on Wednesday that it had asked prosecutors to determine if criminal charges should be brought against the governor.
The commission said Mr. Paterson sought and accepted five free tickets for Game 1 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. When inquiries were made about the tickets, he testified that he had always intended to pay for them.
The panel said the governor backdated, or had another person backdate, a personal check to buttress his explanation that he had planned to pay the Yankees for the seats, which were behind home plate and had a face value of $425 each.
The commission’s report was a jarring development in a tumultuous week for Mr. Paterson. Last Friday, he abandoned his campaign for election amid accusations that his administration intervened in a domestic violence proceeding involving a top aide to the governor, David W. Johnson, and he has faced calls for his resignation.
Mr. Paterson said at a news conference shortly after the report was released that he would request a meeting with the commission to challenge its conclusions. Asked if he lied under oath, the governor responded firmly: “No.”
“We also dispute that I solicited anything from the Yankees and acted improperly,” he said. “We are looking forward to talking with them about that.”
While it is not uncommon for politicians to receive complimentary tickets to sporting events, state ethics law prohibits executive branch officials from soliciting or accepting gifts of more than nominal value from any lobbyist if the gift appears intended to sway the official. The Yankees were registered last year to lobby the Paterson administration in connection with financing for their stadium.
The commission charged Mr. Paterson with violating two provisions of the Public Officers Law, each carrying a maximum penalty of a $40,000 fine, and violating three sections of the State Code of Ethics, including a provision that bars the governor from using his official position to secure unwarranted privileges, which carries a $10,000 civil penalty.
On Wednesday afternoon, much of the reaction to the report focused on the accusations that Mr. Paterson had been untruthful when he testified before the commission. As the scandal surrounding his administration’s response to the domestic violence case widens, the governor’s statements about his own actions are being carefully scrutinized.
“It’s one thing to run afoul of the gift ban, a civil matter at best,” said Daniel J. French, a former federal prosecutor who served on the commission until late last year. “It’s quite another to have lied under oath, which, if proven, is a criminal matter with far-reaching implications to office and liberty.”
Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, which brought the original complaint to the commission, called the panel’s finding “unprecedented.”
“I know of no other time where it’s been alleged by what is basically a police agency that the governor lied under oath,” Mr. Horner said.
In the domestic violence case, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo is investigating whether the governor or other state officials pressured a woman who said she was assaulted by Mr. Johnson so that she would not pursue an order of protection against the aide. Mr. Paterson is expected to be questioned under oath in that inquiry.
Mr. Johnson attended the World Series game with the governor, and he was involved in soliciting the tickets from Yankees officials. The report also suggests that Mr. Johnson may have backdated the governor’s check.
According to the commission’s report, Mr. Paterson decided after the Yankees won the American League championship that he wanted to attend the first game of the World Series and directed Mr. Johnson to solicit tickets from the Yankees, including tickets for his son, Alex, and a friend of his son.
Mr. Johnson then directed the governor’s scheduler to request five or six tickets for the Oct. 28 game, and told the team that Mr. Paterson would be attending in a ceremonial capacity as governor and would not be paying for the tickets.
According to the commission, however, Mr. Paterson played no ceremonial role and did not meet with Yankees officials while he was there. His presence was not announced to the crowd by name.
The day after the game, a reporter for The New York Post, Fredric U. Dicker, contacted the governor’s communications director, Peter E. Kauffmann, and, noting the governor’s presence at the game, asked who paid for the tickets. Mr. Paterson told Mr. Kauffmann that he had been invited to the game by Randy Levine, the Yankees’ president and a law school classmate of Mr. Paterson.
When the Yankees disputed that account, saying that Mr. Levine had never made such an invitation, Mr. Paterson backtracked, the commission said.
Mr. Paterson, the report found, “then conceded to Kauffmann that Levine had not explicitly invited him to Game 1.”
The governor later testified before the commission that he had always intended to pay for the tickets for his son and son’s friend, and on Oct. 28, the morning of the game, wrote and signed a check for $850 at his residence and took the check to the Yankee Stadium, intending to provide it as payment. He said that when no opportunity arose at the stadium to deliver the check to the team, he gave it to Mr. Johnson to mail.
But documents and testimony obtained by the commission suggest that Mr. Paterson wrote the check only after the propriety of his accepting free tickets was questioned by Mr. Dicker.
According to the report, Mr. Kauffmann testified that when he initially discussed the matter with Mr. Paterson and Mr. Johnson, “the governor clearly contended that he did not have to pay for any of the tickets” because Mr. Paterson was attending the game in an official capacity.
The commission also compared the check with the handwriting of Mr. Paterson’s signatures on annual disclosure forms submitted by the governor to the commission and concluded that while the check was eventually sent to the Yankees, it was not signed by Mr. Paterson. Moreover, Mr. Paterson could not explain why the check was dated Oct. 27, the day before the game, when he testified that he had written it out the morning of the game.
Other e-mail messages obtained by the commission suggested that administration officials had solicited free tickets to sporting events on other occasions.
“Yankees the only sports franchise that gives us problems,” Mr. Johnson wrote to the governor’s scheduler, Matthew Nelson, two days before the game.
In a statement, Alice McGillion, a spokeswoman for the Yankees, said the team had cooperated fully with the investigation.
Mr. Paterson has had a contentious relationship with the Commission on Public Integrity; he sought to abolish it, and early last year called on its members to step down after a critical report by Inspector General Joseph Fisch.
Efforts to scrap the commission have stalled in the Legislature, but last May, the governor appointed a new chairman, Michael G. Cherkasky. The governor later clashed with him too over whether the commission needed to be overhauled.
Seats at sporting events have long been a temptation for public officials. As the new Yankee Stadium was being built, the Bloomberg administration pushed for a free luxury suite. And when Rudolph W. Giuliani was mayor, he regularly attended Yankees games, sitting in box seats but paying only occasionally.
Mr. Giuliani also found himself under fire when he appeared on the presidential campaign trail in 2007 wearing a diamond-encrusted Yankees World Series ring. It was later revealed that Mr. Giuliani had four such rings, one for each championship the team won from 1996 to 2000. The former mayor said he bought them for a total of $16,000, far less than the rings could have fetched on the open market.
Posted by tha artivist at 1:02 PM