David Paterson's World Series of Whoppers

How a governor threw himself out of the game

It was some combination of these traits that dug him into a deep hole once questions arose about his Series tickets. He told investigators he'd rather have watched the game at home on TV, "because I couldn't see it from there." This may have been a joke on his blindness, but it's hard to tell. The same goes for his insistence that one of the reasons he went was that he had a bet going with Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell.

Paterson joked about the bet—that he'd don a Phillies T-shirt for a week if the Yankees lost—the day before the game when he appeared with Levine on CNBC's Squawk Box. Paterson traveled to the show's set in New Jersey, while Levine was in a studio at Rockefeller Center. The two men were in the same law school class at Hofstra, and Levine cracked on air that "the governor got me through law school. . . . He's much smarter than me."

But that was just TV banter. When Levine was interviewed on January 26 by integrity commission attorneys, he had an icy answer when asked about his relationship with Paterson. "I see him sporadically, say, 'Hello, how are you' . . . I have never socialized with him." Other than their brief on-air exchange during the show, Levine said that he never spoke to the governor, much less invited him to the game.

More than a whiff of scandal: Paterson
Newscom
More than a whiff of scandal: Paterson

Why Paterson felt obliged to say otherwise is one more missing piece of his puzzle. But when Kauffmann was put under oath by the same attorneys last week, the communications director recounted a chain of lies told by his boss about the tickets: "He said, 'Oh, I was just on CNBC with Randy Levine. We went to law school together. And he invited me." After Dicker knocked down that claim, the governor offered a new version: Levine, he said, "may have mentioned it, like a 'Hey, are you coming to the game?' "

When that, too, didn't fly, Kauffmann said Paterson and Johnson changed their tune: "They said, 'Oh, no, maybe it was somebody else with the Yankees.' "

Equally flagrant was Paterson's evolving story about whether anyone intended to pay for their tickets. Kauffmann, a former naval officer, said his advice was just to bite the bullet and shell out the dough. The governor and Johnson weren't interested. Kauffmann said he was told: "No, no. This is ceremonial. This is standard practice."

Commission attorney Jeff Schlanger, a former assistant D.A. who once prosecuted John Gotti, tried to phrase the attitude. " 'We get to go for free'?" he asked. "Correct," responded Kauffmann.

Paterson was so wedded to this account that Kauffmann e-mailed around the office a draft response to the Post stating that the governor had attended in his official capacity at the Yankees' invitation and didn't pay for the tickets.

The backtracking began after Paterson learned that another staff member who had attended the game, a deputy named Mark Leinung, had instantly volunteered to pay when told of Dicker's inquiry. Paterson then told Kauffmann, "I'll go ahead and I'll pay for my son and my son's friend." Johnson, who had insisted he was entitled to a free seat since he was there to help the governor, also finally agreed to ante up.

That might have been the end of it, at least as far as perjury charges are concerned. But Paterson then amended his story, insisting that he had always intended payment. He had his counsel, Peter Kiernan, say so in a November 13 response to the commission: "The governor expected that the Yankees would be reimbursed for all tickets other than his," he wrote.

If so, Paterson forgot to mention it to his own communications director, who was engaged in hand-to-hand combat with Dicker over the issue, which seems a little odd. Paterson also never told Kauffmann the magnificently embroidered version that he swore to before the commission on February 24: that he had written a check for $850 on the day of the game and carried it with him to the stadium. He'd left the payee line blank because he wasn't sure who to make it out to. He asked Johnson to fill that part in and mail it to the Yankees.

Unfortunately, the check was dated the day before the game and appeared to have been signed not by Paterson, but by whoever also signed Johnson's check. In what must be a first in state history, handwriting exemplars—a standard fraud-analysis technique—were used to examine the penmanship of a sitting governor. It was an obvious forgery.

The transcript shows that Paterson finished testifying at 2:25 p.m. But the day only got worse. That evening, another Times story appeared. This one cited court records that Johnson's girlfriend had accused state troopers of harassing her to drop her complaint. Paterson had dismissed earlier accounts as baseless "innuendo," part of a media smear campaign. Later that night, he suspended Johnson and asked his rival, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, to investigate.

The integrity commission's findings were released last week. Kauffmann resigned the next day, after back-to-back interviews with the commission and Cuomo. It is a wonder that he stayed a single moment after witnessing the tickets fiasco. The commission also asked the attorney general, along with Albany's D.A., to investigate: Despite his raised right arm, it announced, Paterson had testified falsely—another first for a sitting governor.

trobbins@villagevoice.com

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