Friday, July 18, 2014

When Cuomo closed the Moreland Commission, he was hoping to shut down all efforts to investigate political corruption

PUBLISHED : FRI, 18 JUL 2014, 08:27 PM
UPDATED : SUN, 20 JUL 2014, 01:45 PM

The Governor's interference with the Moreland Commission's efforting to combat corruption has prompted federal prosecutors to seek grand jury testimony in an inquiry into Gov. Andrew Cuomo's closure of the Moreland Commission

Ever since the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) agreed to close the Moreland Commission as part of an unseemly budget negotiation with corrupt state lawmakers at the end of March, the sordid gossip amongst political bloggers has been whether any prosecutors would dare investigate whether allegations that Gov. Cuomo interfered with the Moreland Commission's investigations would rise to the level of obstruction of justice.

When it was reported that members of the Moreland Commission were contemplating issuing subpoenas to real estate developers, including the Extell Corporation, which had made contributions to Gov. Cuomo's campaign committee account, the Cuomo administration was said to have become involved in managing those subpoenas. To the consternation of the control-obsesses Cuomo administration, the Moreland Commission was reported to have issued a subpoena to the corrupt state Democratic Party, that subpoena was later downsized and redirected under the specter of possible influence by the Cuomo administration, according to political bloggers. Finally, when the Moreland Commission dared to poke around in how the state's corrupt legislators earn outside income, that is when the state legislature brokered a backroom deal with the Cuomo administration to finally shut down the politically dangerous Moreland Commission, triggering a backlash that portrayed Gov. Cuomo as being a power-hungry megalomaniac. At one point, Gov. Cuomo publicly declared that he controlled the independent functions of the Moreland Commission in a Gollum-like "My Precious" tirade, saying, "The Moreland Commission was my commission," adding, “It’s my commission. My subpoena power, my Moreland Commission. I can appoint it, I can disband it. I appoint you, I can un-appoint you tomorrow. So, interference ? It's my commission. I can’t ‘interfere’ with it, because it is mine.”

At each turn, whenever the Moreland Commission's investigations into political or campaign corruption threatened to splish-splash onto Cuomo administration officials, the governor or his staff appeared to be protecting their own political interests as they overlapped with the investigations by the Moreland Commission. Political bloggers wondered whether the Cuomo administration was trying to protect wealthy campaign contributors from the possibility of investigation or having the activities of wealthy campaign contributions come under review by Moreland Commission investigators. Actions reportedly by Cuomo administration officials or political operatives loyal to the Cuomo administration to downsize, redirect, or otherwise alter the investigative work by the Moreland Commission cast questions over the independence needed by investigative bodies, such as the Moreland Commission, conducting politically-unpopular but wholly-necessary criminal investigations into government and campaign corruption in New York state. That the Cuomo administration appeared to be heading off the possibility of investigations -- before the Moreland Commission could announce actual investigations or substantiated suspicions of wrong-doing -- created a sense of unease amongst political bloggers, because political bloggers wondered what activities were the Cuomo administration trying to conceal or hide from investigators.

The culture of pay-to-play : Billionaire real estate development corporations make big money campaign donations, and then developers receive tax breaks, insider access to politicians

During the period of time when the mainstream media was reporting that the Moreland Commission might investigate the culture of pay-to-play between campaign contributions made by wealthy real estate developers and the development of government policies that favored these developers, political bloggers cheered at the prospect that finally state investigators would look into corrupt real estate developers and their lobbyists. One of those lobbyists is the one-man power house, George Arzt.

Mr. Arzt is a political adviser, lobbyist, spokesman, public relations consultant, and a very generous campaign contributor. Over the years, it is said that he made over $90,000 in traceable campaign contributions to various politicians in New York State. Critics of Mr. Arzt assert that Mr. Arzt buys access to top politicians with these sizable campaign contributions, and that that, plus his campaign consulting work and lobbying work, help to give his real estate developer clients an unfair advantage in gaming government policy for his clients. In this culture, where the right amount of campaign contributions, lobbying retainers, or the exchange of other funds, can give real estate developers an inside track to getting planning approvals for zone-busting real estate projects or tax breaks for billion-dollar skyscrapers, is what leads to so much corruption in government.

The corrupt pay-to-play culture plays out like this : Mr. Arzt was a consultant for Extell Corporation, the developer of the billionaire luxury condo skyscraper on West 57th Street. Extell Corporation made sizable campaign contributions to Gov. Cuomo just before Gov. Cuomo signed into law multi-millions in tax breaks for Extell. All this money changing hands, and the local prosecutor for Manhattan, Cy Vance, abdicates his responsibility to investigate for bribes and corruption, leaving this matter for the Moreland Commission to investigate, except Gov. Cuomo shut the Moreland Commission down before any investigation could get off the ground.

Last summer, Mr. Arzt was quoted by the mainstream media as an impartial observer during last year's mayoral race. However, political bloggers discovered that he had been part of a group of politicos having weekly meetings, strategizing how to install former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn as Michael Bloomberg's successor.

Closing the loop on Mr. Arzt is that he was a campaign manager for former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes' doomed reelection campaign. Questions of public ethics violations and even possible embezzlement were raised when it was discovered that former D.A. Hynes had been using an official slush fund of money proceeds from seized cash from drug deals gone bad to pay for another campaign advisor, Mortimer Matz. While Mr. Arzt wasn't implicated in that campaign controversy, when D.A. Hynes used proceeds from seized criminal activities from the office accounts of the Brooklyn District Attorney's office to pay Mr. Matz millions for his consulting services, by some estimates, that left more money in D.A. Hynes campaign committee accounts to pay other campaign consultants. Besides Mr. Arzt, another consultant who worked for D.A. Hynes and was paid through D.A. Hynes' campaign committee account was the lobbying firm, The Advance Group.

All corrupt legislative deals passed through Albany are marked with the same fingerprints.

Whenever corrupt big business interests and their lobbyists need legislative help, the go-to-man is New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Several sources, who were involved in the tax break for wealthy real estate developers, including Extell Corporation, told The New York Daily News that Speaker Silver was the "creator of the lucrative tax relief." Over the years, Speaker Silver has been involved in so many corruption controversies that he has learned how to survive investigations into corruption by facilitating the corruption of other politicians. In the case of the tax breaks for wealthy developers, if Speaker Silver was ever fully challenged in a criminal corruption investigation, he could possibly expose the role of Gov. Cuomo's apparent pay-to-play deal to sign the tax breaks into law in exchange for large campaign contributions from the real estate developers, which stood to benefit from the tax law amendment.

Many government reform activists and political bloggers estimate that Speaker Silver has been involved in so many self-serving or insider-serving deals that, if he were fully investigated by prosecutors, a take-down of Speaker Silver could potentially implicate over three-quarters of the entire state legislature. Indeed, one outcome of the low-level prosecution of former State Senator Shirley Huntley was her revelation that she would see “bags of cash" brought into the State Senate building. From whom was all that and other money coming from ? Who, in a leadership position, having received that money, got to divide that money up ?

None of these, and other activities, ever get investigated by state law enforcement, whether that be the local district attorneys, who roll up to the state attorney general, or, as witnessed by the fate of investigative corruption panels under the Cuomo administration, by the Moreland Commission. Corrupt officials and political operatives have learned to game the weak-willed district attorneys and timid attorney general. Politicians and lobbyist know that the corruption in New York state runs so deep that, collectively, the size of some investigations would involve the prosecution of significant political or government individuals, which may pose special problems for the local prosecutor, making federal prosecutors, like U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the only hope that political bloggers and government reform activists have at overhauling the corrupt political system running local and state governments across New York. It was Mr. Bharara's office, which issued a subpoena this week, seeking grand jury testimony from the assistant to the former executive director of the now shuttered Moreland Commission. Mr. Bharara took possession of the investigation files and correspondence of the former commissioners serving on the Moreland Commission, along with other records, to try to reconstruct the activities and involvements of various elected officials, lobbyists, and other political operatives. To complete his due diligence and review of all these potential criminal investigations, Mr. Bharara's office recently recruited the help of super lawyer Daniel Stein, a former top prosecutor with years of corruption prosecution experience, giving political bloggers hope that we are about to witness a once-in-a-century renewal of government integrity.

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Is Gov. Andrew Cuomo under investigation for obstruction of justice ? (The New York Times)

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