The more that Jeff Bray and Peter Sciocchetti, the two Fulton County economic development officials who raked in around $1 million each in bonuses between 2005 and 2009, stall, the more attention they get. Now they have not only Richard Brodsky, the Assembly’s public authorities committee chairman, asking why and how they got the money, but possibly state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who has been asked by the Fulton County district attorney to investigate whether a crime has been committed. There are enough questions about this affair, compounded by Bray’s and Sciocchetti’s refusal to cooperate, for Cuomo to get involved.
If the two think this is going to just go away, that Brodsky or Cuomo would simply accept their assertion that this is a contractual matter between them and a private entity, they are mistaken. Although economic development agencies like those in Fulton County may be quasi-private, they receive some government funding, do business with and on behalf of government, and are established by state law. That makes them public entities, subject to financial and other requirements of the state’s Public Authorities Law.
While Brodsky’s desire to be attorney general, a job that Cuomo is ready to give up to be governor, may have something to do with his zeal in this case, the fact is that he has been concerned about public authority abuses all along and campaigned for years for public authorities reform, which finally happened in 2007. So it was only natural that Bray’s and Sciocchetti’s outlandish bonuses caught Brodsky’s attention; and when he couldn’t get the information he sought from either of them, or their agencies, he called hearings. Hearings are an important way for legislative bodies to get the information they need to determine whether laws are working and need to be changed.
But Bray and Sciocchetti have twice failed to show up, despite being subpoenaed. The most recent time (two weeks ago), they invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. But that is not a blanket right — it must be asserted in response to a particular question — and cannot be used not to show up at all. The two men couldn’t possibly know in advance all the questions Brodsky and other committee members might ask them.
What they do know is that they would be asked who approved the bonuses (agency board members say they did not approve, or even know about, them) and also to show employment contracts or other documents that prove they were legally entitled to them. The fact that the agencies’ former accounting firm refused to sign the tax return in 2008, and resigned, suggests that they were not so entitled, that the bonuses, or at least bonuses of that size, were not legal. If Brodsky, with his powers, cannot find out, perhaps Cuomo can.