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Lawmaker arrests one week, new anti-corruption ideas the next

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – Lawmakers and other state officials would face new criminal penalties for not turning over information about people trying to bribe them and limitations would be placed on immunity from prosecution by people testifying before grand juries in public official corruption cases.

Those were among the latest plans offered Tuesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in reaction to two busts by federal prosecutors of state lawmakers in the latest line of corruption cases to hit Albany. “There have been too many incidents for too many years,’’ Cuomo said at an event Tuesday in Manhattan in which his plan was endorsed by the statewide district attorneys association.

The package, not yet released in the form of actual legislation, would include making it a misdemeanor for lawmakers and other public officials not to report suspected wrongdoing by their colleagues.

Mylan Denerstein, the governor’s counsel, said the package would include new and expanded penalties in bribery cases. She said current state law, unlike the federal statutes, require prosecutors to prove a bribe was made by a person with another agreeing to accept the bribe. This would allow a person offering a bribe that was not accepted to be charged.
The package of bills giving district attorneys more power in public corruption cases would increase penalties for defrauding the government and for not reporting bribery cases to prosecutors.

"It’s all about our taxpayer dollars," Denerstein said.

The plan would also increase from a misdemeanor to one of three felony levels, depending on the severity of the case, for instances of official misconduct, as well as bans on those found guilty in corruption cases of holding elected or civil service jobs again.

Cuomo also raised the possibility of making the Legislature a full-time body and increasing their current $79,500 salary. Technically, the Legislature is a part-time body, holding session generally from January through June, though many lawmakers say they work full-time hours back in their districts off-session. It is unclear what a full-time Legislature would mean, such as if Cuomo thinks they should meet all year, which would increase the costs associated with running the two houses just from an operations standpoint.

The arrests last week of two state lawmakers, and the resignation of another who had been in trouble for election fraud but was wearing a wire for federal agents the past several years while serving in the Assembly, has put a dent in the claims by officials that Albany’s culture has changed. While lawmakers say the vast majority of them are clean, there have been more than two dozen cases of various forms of corruption and sexual scandals and other improprieties in the past seven years.

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