Gov. David Paterson, trying to hold onto office in the face of one scandal, was accused Wednesday of violating state ethics laws when he sought and obtained free Yankees tickets for the 2009 World Series and then may have lied about his intention to pay for them, according to a state report.
He faces penalties of nearly $100,000, and the case was referred to the Albany County prosecutor’s office and the state attorney general for possible criminal investigation into whether Paterson or anyone else gave false answers to questions by the Public Integrity Commission or backdated a check to pay for the tickets.
The charge isn’t directly related to the scandal now plaguing Paterson over contact he and others in his administration had with a woman who accused a top Paterson aide of domestic violence. But the panel said the aide in the scandal, David Johnson, was one of Paterson’s four guests, along with Paterson’s son and a son’s friend, getting tickets for the Oct. 28 World Series game provided by the Yankees.
Four days later, also in the Bronx, Johnson was accused of domestic violence by his then-girlfriend, a case that now threatens Paterson’s job and administration. The ticket scandal may ultimately be more damaging to the governor, especially given the timing.
“I, at all times, upheld the oath of my office and never at any point attempted to influence or coerce anyone to do anything they didn’t want to do,” Paterson told reporters Wednesday, saying he intends to fight the ethical charge.
The damage is mounting, however.
“The net effect of this is the drumbeat is awfully loud right now and not getting quieter,” said Lee Miringoff of the Marist College poll. He noted that the Yankees tickets case is clearer, and therefore potentially more politically dangerous.
Paterson could face a penalty of $80,000 for violating the state gift ban for elected officials. The commission’s investigation also charged that Paterson violated a provision prohibiting the governor from using his official position to secure unwarranted privileges. That could cost another $10,000.
The governor and his aides, including Johnson, solicited free tickets from the Yankees as part of his job and submitted a letter from Paterson lawyer Peter Kiernan saying payment for the tickets was not required. But the commission’s report states Paterson never acted in an official capacity at the game.
The Yankees said in a statement that they cooperated fully with the investigation and followed the law by getting the letter.
Paterson told investigators that he always intended to pay the $850 for tickets for his son and the son’s friend. They were paid for with a post-dated check. The five tickets, three of which were complimentary, were valued at $2,125. The governor paid for them only when confronted by a reporter for the New York Post, the report said.
Days after the game, on Halloween, a woman named Sherruna Booker told police she was roughed up by Johnson, but she later decided not to press charges. The office of state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating whether Paterson or anyone from his staff or security detail influenced her decision.
“My side of the story will not be unsourced, it will not be inaccurate, it will be the truth,” Paterson said Wednesday, taking a swipe at some media reports.
Chief of Staff Lawrence Schwartz said the governor was meeting with legislative leaders and staff Wednesday and that the fiscal crisis is Paterson’s top priority.
“The governor is the governor,” Schwartz said. “He’s in charge.”