In January, the state ethics watchdog agency known as JCOPE held a secret vote on whether to initiate a probe into a former top aide to the governor, Joe Percoco, who was convicted on federal corruption charges last year.
Sources say one of the commissioners, Julie Garcia, received a text message shortly after the vote, accusing her of voting against Gov. Andrew Cuomo's wishes. The governor allegedly raised the issue with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, whom appointed Garcia. That kind of communication would represent a serious ethics breach.
"If you have a commission whose function it is to investigate people in government, should the bosses of those people actually have the power to decide to actually stop investigations? The answer by everyone is, no, of course not," said Liz Krueger, a Democrat who represents parts of Manhattan in the New York State Senate.
When Garcia told her colleagues of the text she received, an investigation was ordered by the state's Inspector General (IG). Both Cuomo and Heastie deny they ever discussed the JCOPE vote, and the nine-month investigation by the inspector general found the complaint could not be substantiated.
"Both the IG and JCOPE are functionally controlled by the governor. And it's asking the governor to investigate himself, which does not work," said Reinvent Albany Executive Director John Kaehny.
State Inspector General Letizia Tagliafierro is a close ally of Cuomo, although she recused herself from the leak investigation. But on the day the leak story began to gain momentum, Tagliafierro's office deflected attention by releasing a completely separate report about Bob Freeman, an expert on open government who worked for the state. Freeman was fired in June for sexual misconduct.
The report on Freeman does not recommend that any state employees or supervisors be disciplined, even though there were numerous complaints against Freeman dating back to 2003. Instead the report finds, "Leadership at certain news media outlets continued to engage Freeman despite knowledge of his inappropriate behavior."
"The IG report should have focused more on what the state needs to do to fix its own house rather than blame outside media for not protecting their reporters enough, which is kind of a ridiculous thing," Kaehny said.
Cuomo has been at odds with the newspaper alluded to in the report, the Albany Times Union, the same newspaper that broke the JCOPE leak story. The IG has zero jurisdiction to investigate private companies or news outlets. A spokesperson for the IG said they did not investigate any newspaper but merely identified a culture that Freeman helped foster.