Rep. Kathleen Rice: Moreland Commission changed Albany

(AP) -- The state's short-lived Moreland anti-corruption commission has altered scandal-scarred Albany's landscape despite its early shutdown, according to Rep. Kathleen Rice, the panel's former chairman.



"It helped create pressure to hold people accountable and reform the pay-to-play culture in Albany," Rice said. "I really think history will recognize the important role Moreland played in changing that culture."



Attorney Milton Williams, another former co-chairman of the commission, said he's very proud of their chief public product, an interim report in December 2013 after the commission's investigators had less than six months on the job.



That interim report identified what it called "eyebrow-raising patterns of potential misconduct" based partly on analysis of the money flow to elected officials from campaign contributors with interests in legislative outcomes.



The 101-page report also referenced 200 subpoenas served and dossiers gathered on groups, companies and persons of interest. It identified conflicts of interest, shadowy corporate affiliates, personal spending from campaign funds and outsize donations to political party campaign housekeeping accounts.



The ex-commissioners both declined to discuss the ongoing investigation by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, who inherited Moreland's files.



Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, who was the commission's third co-chairman, declined several requests from The Associated Press to talk about it. At its first public hearing in 2013, he had welcomed U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, likening him to Diogenes in Albany, referring to the Greek philosopher known at least apocryphally for seeking one honest man in ancient Athens.



"Public corruption, based on all the evidence, appears rampant," Bharara testified. "And the ranks of those convicted in office have swelled to absolutely unacceptable levels."



In the year since the commission closed, Bharara's office indicted Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, two of the most powerful officials in Albany. Both were forced to give up their leadership posts and have maintained they'll be vindicated of charges they guided legislation and other government action for personal gain. Their federal trials are scheduled for November.



Rice, then Nassau County district attorney, left the commission appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to run for Congress shortly before Cuomo shut it down in April 2014. The shutdown came as key legislators, whose law firms were fighting subpoenas about their outside income and work, agreed to adopt limited reforms in law. Those included a new enforcement officer at the Board of Elections, who has so far referred at least seven potential felony cases to prosecutors.



The commission, originally slated to run for 18 months, was hounded by questions about whether the Cuomo administration interfered with its work.



"The report we released in 2013 laid out in very specific detail the flaws and loopholes that lead to systematic corruption," Rice said. "I was equally disappointed that the Legislature failed to implement many of our recommendations,"



Bharara has made clear the commission developed and uncovered useful material, she added. "I don't want to overstate it because I'm not prosecuting any of their cases, and obviously I can't talk about the investigation into the disbanding of the commission."



In a letter to the commissioners in April 2014, Bharara said he was disappointed to learn that the commission's "important and unfinished work" had come to "a premature end," but pleased his office was getting its investigative files and that Williams and Fitzpatrick had directed all related documents be retained.



Cuomo, responding to reports that his administration pressured the commission not to issue subpoenas to groups linked to him, told Crain's New York in response that he couldn't interfere with a commission that was controlled by him.



Talking to reporters three months later, he said there was no interference because his administration offered suggestions that the commission didn't heed.



"That's not a sign of interference," Cuomo said. "That is demonstrable proof of independence."



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Online:



Interim report: http://publiccorruption.moreland.ny.gov/sites/default/files/moreland_report_final.pdf


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