The Troubles of David Paterson
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Gov. David A. Paterson falsely testified under oath during an ethics investigation into his acceptance of free World Series tickets last fall, according to the State Commission on Public Integrity, which announced on Wednesday that it had asked prosecutors to determine if criminal charges should be brought against the governor.
The commission said Mr. Paterson sought and accepted five free tickets for Game 1 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. When inquiries were made about the tickets, he testified that he had always intended to pay for them.
The panel said the governor backdated, or had another person backdate, a personal check to buttress his explanation that he had planned to pay the Yankees for the seats, which were behind home plate and had a face value of $425 each.
The commission’s report was a jarring development in a tumultuous week for Mr. Paterson. Last Friday, he abandoned his campaign for election amid revelations that members of his administration had intervened in a domestic violence proceedinginvolving a top aide to the governor, David W. Johnson, and he has faced calls for his resignation.
Mr. Paterson said at a news conference shortly after the report was released that he would request a meeting with the commission to challenge its conclusions. Asked if he lied under oath, the governor responded firmly: “No.”
“We also dispute that I solicited anything from the Yankees and acted improperly,” he said. “We are looking forward to talking with them about that.”
While it is not uncommon for politicians to receive complimentary tickets to sporting events, state ethics law prohibits executive branch officials from soliciting or accepting gifts of more than nominal value from any lobbyist if the gift appears intended to sway the official. The Yankees were registered last year to lobby the Paterson administration in connection with financing for their stadium.
The commission charged Mr. Paterson with violating two provisions of the Public Officers Law, each carrying a maximum penalty of a $40,000 fine, and violating three sections of the State Code of Ethics, including a provision that bars the governor from using his official position to secure unwarranted privileges, which carries a $10,000 civil penalty.
On Wednesday afternoon, much of the reaction to the report focused on the accusations that Mr. Paterson had been untruthful when he testified before the commission. As the scandal surrounding his administration’s response to the domestic violence case widens, the governor’s statements about his own actions are being carefully scrutinized.
“It’s one thing to run afoul of the gift ban, a civil matter at best,” said Daniel J. French, a former federal prosecutor who served on the commission until late last year. “It’s quite another to have lied under oath, which, if proven, is a criminal matter with far-reaching implications to office and liberty.”
Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, which filed a formal complaint with the commission when news of the tickets emerged last fall, called the panel’s finding “unprecedented.”
“I know of no other time where it’s been alleged by what is basically a police agency that the governor lied under oath,” Mr. Horner said.
In the domestic violence case, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo is investigating whether the governor or other state officials pressured a woman who said she was assaulted by Mr. Johnson so that she would not pursue an order of protection against the aide. Mr. Paterson is expected to be questioned under oath in that inquiry.
Mr. Johnson attended the World Series game with the governor, and he was involved in soliciting the tickets from Yankees officials. The report also suggests that Mr. Johnson may have backdated the governor’s check.
According to the commission’s report, Mr. Paterson decided after the Yankees won the American League championship that he wanted to attend the first game of the World Series and directed Mr. Johnson to solicit tickets from the Yankees, including tickets for his son, Alex, and a friend of his son.
Mr. Johnson then directed the governor’s scheduler to request five or six tickets for the Oct. 28 game, and told the team that Mr. Paterson would be attending in a ceremonial capacity as governor and would not be paying for the tickets.
According to the commission, however, Mr. Paterson played no ceremonial role and did not meet with Yankees officials while he was there. His presence was not announced to the crowd by name.
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