A potentially far-reaching investigation of the New York State Police will be conducted by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo at the request and direction of Gov. David Paterson.
The investigation is connected to last year’s “Troopergate” scandal involving former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, but could go further than that.
“Combining politics and police work is a toxic brew,” Cuomo said in a statement Tuesday. “Any questions about political interference within the state police are a serious concern. Our investigation will determine whether or not this has occurred within the state police, and if so to what extent.”
In a letter hand-delivered to Cuomo on Monday evening, Paterson said, “Recent reported events raise questions of possible political interference with the state police and I am determined to not only ascertain the veracity of such reports but to do everything within my power to protect and strengthen the reputation of the state police.”
The Troopergate scandal refers to Spitzer’s apparent effort to use state police to monitor and politically damage Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick.
Bruno said in a statement Tuesday, “I congratulate Governor Paterson for requesting that the attorney general investigate the New York State Police in light of the role they played in the Troopergate scandal, as well as other disturbing allegations raised by the New York Post about potential abuses of police power.
“ … The attorney general issued the first report that described how the Troopergate plot unfolded, but as we are learning now, that was just the tip of the iceberg.”
Bruno’s mention of the New York Post referred to a story in Monday’s edition headlined “State police ‘smear squad.’ ” The story, based on anonymous sources, said government leaders suspect that “a renegade unit” within the state police “has secretly compiled personal information on top New York officials — possibly including Gov. Paterson.”
Asked for further information, Paterson Press Secretary Errol Cockfield released a statement saying “it would be inappropriate to comment on any facts or circumstances that may be the subject of the inquiry.”
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, issued a statement supporting Paterson’s move and the Cuomo investigation. The statement said Silver and his Assembly colleagues “have complete confidence” in state troopers. “Nevertheless,” Silver’s statement said, “we are concerned by the actions of certain individuals in the Division of State Police whose actions reflect badly on the entire department.” His chief spokesman, Dan Weiller, declined to say which individuals and actions the speaker was referring to.
Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, R-Schenectady, said it appears Paterson and the other state leaders are taking seriously the Post report, which said several lawmakers have complained about state police harassment.
Tedisco said he, too, was concerned by the report, but does not have any independent knowledge of improper state police investigations. He said he supports the Cuomo investigation because of the need to find out and reveal the truth, and to protect the justifiably good reputation of the great majority of state police officers.
State police spokesman Lt. Glenn Miner said, “We will fully cooperate with any inquiry the attorney general may conduct into these matters.”
The Post story claimed that Daniel Wiese, a former state police official, “remains a powerful behind-the-scenes figure in running the state police.” Wiese also was named in Albany County District Attorney David Soares’ second report on Troopergate, released on Friday evening, which said Spitzer arranged for Wiese to brief a reporter about Bruno.
In 2003, Wiese was hired by the New York Power Authority, where he now earns $181,701 per year as inspector general and vice president of corporate security. Christine Pritchard, a spokeswoman for the Power Authority, said Wiese was not available for comment Tuesday evening.
Also on Tuesday, State Commission of Investigation Chairman Alfred D. Lerner announced the SIC would investigate the Troopergate investigations. “We are seeking to determine the efficacy of the various investigatory efforts,” the SIC statement said, “including those of the Albany County District Attorney, the State Inspector General and the State Commission on Public Integrity.” Lerner is a Republican appointed by former Gov. George Pataki. Spitzer, Paterson and Cuomo are Democrats.
Walter Ayres, spokesman for the Commission on Public Integrity, has cited legal restraints as barring him or its leaders from making any comment on its investigation into Troopergate. At the commission’s most recent meeting, its chairman declined to comment on Spitzer’s resignation, and most of the public discussion was about whether it would be permissible for public officials to accept the gift of a cup of coffee.
Paterson’s letter to Cuomo requested that he investigate “pursuant to Executive law 63(3), and I direct you to conduct an inquiry pursuant to Executive law 63(8) should you find that the public interest requires it.”
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