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FBI investigating payroll in Cuomo administration

FBI investigating payroll in Cuomo administration

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s hiring practices are under investigation
FBI investigating payroll in Cuomo administration
Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York speaks to reporters, Oct. 1, 2017.
Photographer: Sam Hodgson/The New York Times

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s hiring practices are under investigation, as FBI agents and federal prosecutors have begun examining how staff members working in the governor’s office are being paid by other New York state authorities and agencies.

The governor’s office received a “document subpoena” months ago, according to Richard Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman. “We have cooperated, providing necessary documents,” he said.

Azzopardi called the line of inquiry “absurd.”

“The agencies are all part of the same executive branch, and this administration follows the exact same lawful hiring process we inherited from previous administrations stretching back decades,” he said. “If there are questions about it, call George Pataki,” referring to the three-term former Republican governor.

The FBI inquiry was first reported by The Times-Union in Albany, which said that agents had interviewed “a number of people” who work in the governor’s office, even though their salaries are carried on the budgets of other state agencies and authorities.

The investigation is being conducted by an FBI agent in upstate New York, in conjunction with prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn, according to a person with knowledge of the matter, who could not explain the unusual arrangement.

John Marzulli, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, would neither confirm nor deny the investigation. It was also unclear what law, if any, may have been broken.

FBI investigations are nothing new in Albany, where the previous four leaders of the state Senate, two Democrats and two Republicans, have been indicted. The former U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, had previously investigated the Cuomo administration in a different matter, but never brought charges. And in January, one of Cuomo’s closest former advisers, Joe Percoco, is scheduled to go on federal trial for corruption.

Although the timing of another federal investigation would seem inopportune for Cuomo, who is running for re-election next year, political observers seemed skeptical the investigation would lead to criminal charges.

“What’s new here?” said Hank Sheinkopf, the longtime Democratic political strategist. “This tactic has gone on since the beginning of politics,” he said, joking that they would need to interview aides to former governors as far back as Al Smith in the early 20th century.

Azzopardi went so far as to call it a “charade.”

“In this environment, anyone can ask about anything,” Azzopardi said, “but the fact is the long-standing practice of detailing staff from agencies to work in the executive chamber dates back over 50 years to at least the Rockefeller administration and extends to the White House and the Justice Department.

“Given that the federal Department of Justice and the White House have a long history of utilizing this practice, perhaps the FBI can investigate them when this is charade is over,” he added.

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