So, here’s what it’s come to: Anyone contemplating a run for state office in New York – especially as a member of the State Legislature – needs first to ask this question: Am I ready to go to jail?
That, apparently, is the risk for state lawmakers who, more than most New Yorkers, seem unable to play by the rules and stay out of trouble. The list is long and now includes Sen. Thomas W. Libous, R-Binghamton, upstate’s most powerful Republican lawmaker.
Libous was indicted in June on federal charges accusing him of lying to FBI agents who were investigating allegations that he helped his son, Matthew Libous, land a job at a law firm, with his salary subsidized by money from a politically connected lobbying firm. Libous is alleged to have promised to “steer future business” to the law firm and also to have persuaded the lobbying firm to give $50,000 a year to the law firm to help defray his son’s “inflated salary” and to pay the costs of a leased Range Rover for his son. Matthew Libous was also indicted. Father and son have both pleaded not guilty.
Thomas Libous, suffering from cancer he describes as terminal, has represented his Southern Tier district since 1989, succeeding then-Senate Majority Leader Warren Anderson. He is politically close to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, despite their partisan differences.
The indictment was sought by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District. We don’t know if Bharara’s allegations against Libous will hold up, but the prosecutor has emerged as a champion of New Yorkers who are fed up with the casual acceptance of the criminality that pervades Albany.
That was a job that Cuomo began when he created a Moreland Commission to root out corruption in Albany, but he folded the commission earlier this year. Bharara stepped in, acquired the commission’s records and pledged to continue its work. The case against Libous dates to 2010, long before the Moreland Commission was created.
If the allegations against Libous do hold up – if he used his position of power to direct taxpayer work to a law firm that hired his son at an inflated rate that another of his supporters subsidized – then it’s clear that Bharara will have plenty of work to do going forward.
A culture changes slowly and Albany’s has been mired in corruption for decades, dating at least to the days when the corrupt leaders of Tammany Hall controlled New York City and infected Albany. Politicians there – too many of them – feel free to steal, accept bribes, commit sexual abuse and otherwise take criminal advantage of the trust and authority that voters have vested in them.
It’s intolerable, and we presume Bharara isn’t done. He has made Albany’s misconduct a primary focus of his office and there is bound to be much more to do.