The Truth Behind Troopergate

A capital melodrama starring Eliot Spitzer, Joe Bruno and Andrew Cuomo

That second overnight trip is also troubling. Bruno did have a 9 a.m. meeting at Aqueduct, the racing track in Queens, on May 4, the day after he attended a gala for the state GOP. But New York Racing Association chair Charles Hayward says Bruno asked to be taken on a tour of the facility that morning, just four days after the track ended its spring season, and the NYRA had to reopen a closed facility to accommodate him. The strange timing—it might be smarter to see a track possibly slated for mothballing when it was actually operating—suggests that the tour was deliberately arranged to dovetail with the trip Bruno already had planned for the party extravaganza. The 1995 ethics opinion requires that such trips-—including the second round trip made on May 4—must be for a "bona fide" state purpose.

Overnights aside, there was no reason to limit the probe to these 10 trips, especially if you wanted to determine whether there was a pattern of abuse on Bruno's part. A 2001 story said that he had used state aircraft 157 times since becoming majority leader in late 1994—10 times more than the assembly speaker.

Had Cuomo looked into this history, he might have found violations of law and the legal justification to obtain subpoena power for the probe. Instead, with Bruno's support, he has claimed after the fact that the Spitzer-appointed inspector general should have withdrawn from the investigation and referred it to Cuomo alone. That referral, they argue, would have transferred the inspector general's subpoena power in a "corruption" case like this to the attorney general, who otherwise doesn't have it.


Cuomo's Gal Friday
Plenty keeps Albany's political odd couple, Andrew and Joe, together
by Wayne Barrett

With special research assistance by Adrienne Gaffney and Tom Wiedeman

Additional research by Benjamin Bright, Benjamin Greenberg, Jan Ransom, Samuel Rubenfeld, Danielle Schiffman, and Ethan Strauss

But Cuomo clearly does have subpoena power in any tax investigation—yet he chose, curiously, to ignore that inviting investigative trail. For even if Bruno's use of the aircraft met the state's minimal regulatory standards, as Cuomo concluded, it might well have been inconsistent with IRS requirements.

State travel guidelines say that a trip has to include at least one meeting involving a governmental purpose. But as Mario Cuomo's press secretary explained when news stories appeared about his flights, a 1985 IRS ruling "required that Cuomo and his family pay taxes on the value of trips that weren't made primarily for state business." (Emphasis added.) From 1985 through 1989, for example, the Cuomos were taxed on $22,686 worth of personal travel paid for by taxpayers under the provisions for "imputed income." In 1993, Mario Cuomo reported $5,660 in private trips on state aircraft and paid a third of that in taxes. But Bruno press secretary McArdle told the Voice flatly: "No, the senator didn't pay taxes." McArdle also used precisely the same word as Mario Cuomo's press secretary did an eon ago, insisting that the trips were " primarily for legislative business." But Andrew Cuomo's report rebuts any claim that Bruno's trips were first and foremost for legislative reasons. "On several occasions," Cuomo found, based only on an examination of this handful of Bruno excursions, "the legislative business constituted a minor portion of the day's schedule."

Had Cuomo simply applied the same tax standard that was used for the flights his father had made, he could have gained subpoena power for the probe, and perhaps identified illegal (if not criminal) actions by Bruno.

As tough as it was to pry on-the-record answers from Cuomo's office, spokesman Jeff Lerner, fully apprised of the details of this critique, did offer this response: "If you were in a room with everyone from the DA's office, the AG's office, the IG's office, and the governor's office, Wayne Barrett—and Wayne Barrett alone—would be the only one who still believes, or ever believed, that Bruno's use of the state aircraft was illegal." Bruno's aide McArdle echoed Lerner, dismissing any notion that the overnight trips, for example, might be inconsistent with the regulations, which he said was "corroborated by the AG, IG, and Albany DA's office." While McArdle omitted the governor in his list of defense witnesses, Lerner's e-mail stressed Spitzer's apparent view of the legality of the flights, stringing together a series of quotes in the Soares report from the governor and two top aides. Actually, Soares wrote that Spitzer "informed Dopp that the law was so porous and, as such, Senator Bruno's acts were probably not illegal." It was, like that of the two aides, a first-flush reaction.

A third Spitzer aide—whom Lerner, not surprisingly, doesn't mention—had a different take. Presented with the same Bruno itineraries, Peter Pope, an experienced prosecutor who is the governor's director of policy and led the attorney general's investigation into Alan Hevesi, says the office "had an obligation to report this matter to the inspector general." Indeed, Kristine Hamann, when she conducted her eventual inquiry simultaneous with Cuomo's, never did much of an assessment of Bruno's travel, obviously aware that as a Spitzer appointee, she should take a back seat to the independent probe of Cuomo's staff. No one has made the point more loudly than Bruno that the inspector general did little. And Soares devotes a single sentence in his report to Bruno's flights, saying simply that his office reviewed the aircraft use and "concurred" with Cuomo and Hamann "that no crime occurred."

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