Media reports that Governor Andrew Cuomo made COVID-19 testing available to friends and family at a time when tests were scarce have prompted Assembly lawmakers to consider adding yet another allegation to the sprawling probe of the Cuomo administration.
Assembly Judiciary Chairman Charles Lavine, who is overseeing the Assembly’s impeachment probe, told the New York Times the allegations are being considered. As Lavine said at a committee hearing earlier in the week, “the speaker has directed us to examine all credible allegations.” His office has not responded to a request for comment.
The main subject areas of the probe, which is expected to take months, are sexual harassment allegations, withholding of data about nursing home residents who died from COVID-19, and structural issues on the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.
According to reports in the Albany Times Union and the Washington Post, top state doctors and other health officials traveled door to door last spring to collect samples from members of Cuomo’s family, including his brother and CNN anchor Chris Cuomo and his mother Matilda. The samples were reportedly rushed through the line at the state health lab. At the time, local health officials in New York City were urging only people who needed to be hospitalized to get tests because of a severe shortage of supplies.
The reported conduct may be a violation of ethics rules set forth in the state’s public officers law which states public officials aren’t allowed to use “his or her official position to secure unwarranted privileges or exemptions for himself or herself or others.” Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York, saw it as a clear breach of the law.
“It’s unethical and yes, I think there needs to be a serious investigation,” she said. “Our law is very clear. You cannot use state resources for personal purposes.”
Rich Azzopardi, a senior advisor to Cuomo, didn’t deny the accounts. On Wednesday night, he said the state was doing everything it could to get people tested, including legislators, reporters, and state workers.
“We were absolutely going above and beyond to get people testing,” he said.
Azzopardi did not immediately respond to a request for further comment on the public officers law.
John Kaehny, the executive director Reinvent Albany called the allegations “a blatant violation,” that could potentially embroil Cuomo in further trouble with the federal government, if it used federal money dedicated to testing. The federal government is already probing whether the state falsified data when it withheld the total number of nursing home residents who died from COVID-19
Violations of the public officers law can result in fines of up to $10,000 dollars and the state employee can be removed or suspended. The notoriously toothless Joint Commission on Public Ethics would be in charge of enforcing violations of state ethics laws.
Earlier this week, however, some members of the commission tried to vote to subpoena records from Cuomo’s office, but were blocked by Cuomo’s appointees to the board.
They were seeking information on volunteers working in Cuomo’s office who were exempt from state ethics guidelines because of an executive order Cuomo signed. Larry Schwartz, a close ally of the governor’s who is overseeing vaccine distribution, was one such volunteer.