New York bill pending Kathy Hochul’s approval triggers pols after federal guilty pleas

Only in New York!

Legislation pending Governor Kathy Hochul’s signature would close an existing loophole in state law that has allowed criminal officials in the historically scandal-ridden state to remain in office despite their guilty pleas for federal crimes.

New York law already automatically kicks public servants out of office after they’ve been convicted of state and federal offenses.

But there has been legal ambiguity for years about whether pols pleading guilty can technically remain in office pending federal sentencing.

“The time between a plea and a conviction can be several months long. It brings certainty that is important to those who govern and those they serve,” said Congressman John McDonald III (D-Albany) of the bill he sponsored alongside State Senator James Gaughran (D-Nassau).

State lawmakers passed the bill — one of several hundred actions pending from Hochul before the end of the year — with nearly unanimous support this spring.

Records show Sen. Fred Akshar (R-Binghamton), who made no comment, offered the only vote against the bill in both houses.

Former Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin resigned in April shortly after his arrest on federal corruption charges.
Alec Tobacco

McDonald said Thursday he was optimistic that Hochul would sign the legislation.

“They fully understand the issue and clearly see the issue and have not indicated any vetoes,” he said of talks with his administration.

A Hochul spokeswoman said Thursday that the governor is reviewing the legislation.

His passage comes after a litany of high-profile elected officials have swooped down in recent years after being convicted or charged with federal crimes.

Hochul’s first lieutenant governor, Brian Benjamin, resigned in April shortly after his arrest on federal corruption charges he is still fighting.

Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos also resigned after being slapped with federal charges, although they did not plead guilty.

And while former state senator Carl Kruger quit his job relatively quickly while pleading guilty to federal corruption charges in 2011, others have gone less quietly.

Mount Vernon Mayor Ernest Davis claimed for weeks he was still in charge after pleading guilty to tax evasion charges in 2014 before being sentenced.

“The thing is, I’ve been under surveillance for over seven years and at the end of the day I’m charged with two misdemeanors and they were both misdemeanor tax filings,” he told the Newspaper at the time.

McDonald said the law would remove any ambiguity in the state.
Assemblyman John McDonald III (D-Albany) said he’s optimistic Hochul will sign the legislation.
Hans Pennink

Former Cohoes Mayor Shawn Morse has also argued that he did not officially relinquish power after facing a wire fraud charge amid questions about whether he used funds campaign for personal expenses.

“That doesn’t mean he’s not going to work out with the city a way out of office,” his attorney, William Dreyer, told Spectrum News at the time.

McDonald told the Post that power struggles in Mount Vernon in Westchester County and Cohoes, which is part of his Assembly District, inspired him to introduce the legislation.

“In both cases, the officials walked away before it got out of hand because the outcome was obvious,” McDonald said.

But that may not be the case the next time an elected official faces federal charges in New York as long as the current loophole exists, according to a legislative memo.

“This bill will ensure parity between the federal and state criminal procedural process while ensuring that unethical public officials are removed from office as soon as possible,” the memo reads.

The existing law apparently makes no sense when it comes to allowing criminal cops to stay on the job despite guilty pleas in federal court, former Queens prosecutor James Quinn said.

“I don’t know why the loophole existed in the first place,” he said Thursday.

New York Post

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