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David Paterson's $62,000 Yankees game

Dec 21, 2010 8:16 am
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="200" caption="Gov. David Paterson was handed a hefty fine for using his influence to secure tickets to game one of the 2009 World Series at Yankee Stadium in his native New York City yesterday."][/caption]With 11 days to go in his pick-up term as governor, Gov. David Paterson got hit with a $62,125 fine by the state Commission on Public Integrity for soliciting and accepting five free Yankees tickets for Game 1 of the 2009 World Series. The fine was made public on Monday. In its notice of the action, which the panel arrived at earlier this month, the CPI stated Paterson gave "false testimony" when he said he had always planned to pay for the free tickets, which he used for himself as well as for two aides, his son and a son's friend. The story is everywhere throughout the state and even national press today, although Rick Karlin of the Times Union puts it all into nifty perspective by opening with a sentence, "Talk about an expensive baseball game."

From Karlin:

"The moral and ethical tone of any organization is set at the top. Unfortunately, the governor set a totally inappropriate tone by his dishonest and unethical conduct," commission Chairman Michael Cherkasky said in a statement. "Such conduct cannot be tolerated by any New York state employee, particularly our governor."

In its report, the CPI detailed how Paterson's testimony was at odds with statements made by the Yankees, as well as the governor's own staff members.

They noted, for example, that the check Paterson said was going to pay for the tickets appeared to be postdated. Former aide David Johnson had argued that such tickets should be given to the governor for free.

And while Paterson said he attended the game at the invitation of Yankees President Randy Levine, a law school classmate of the governor, Levine disputed that.

Paterson also has said he felt a duty as governor to attend the series opener, but he played no ceremonial role and had no official duties at the game.

Last winter, the CPI released its initial findings in the case just as Paterson was grappling with a second scandal involving Johnson, in which the governor reached out to a woman who had made a domestic violence allegation against the aide. Johnson was recently fired after months on unpaid suspension.

The CPI charged that Paterson and Johnson, following an inquiry from the New York Post after the ballgame, concocted an effort to make it appear they had always intended to pay for the tickets by creating the postdated check.

Tickets for the field-level seats were $425 each. The two aides, Johnson and Director of State Operations Mark Leinung, repaid the Yankees after questions were raised.

The Yankees have business and financial interests relating to state government, including real estate, stadium development and tax matters, the commission noted.

When the CPI released its initial findings last winter, Paterson said the panel was being "unfair" in its investigation of the ticket scandal.

Paterson asked Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to probe both the ticket scandal and the domestic violence matter. They were subsequently investigated by former state Chief Judge Judith Kaye, whose August report on the ticket scandal was sent to Albany County District Attorney David Soares for a possible perjury investigation.

Soares' office didn't return a call on Monday. Paterson's press office referred questions to his spokeswoman, Ann Cordasco. She didn't return a call on Monday. Paterson's personal lawyer, Theodore V. Wells, was out of town.

Paterson has tangled with the CPI before. He asked members of the commission to resign in May 2009 after the state Inspector General released a scathing report saying the CPI's executive director, Herbert Teitelbaum, had leaked information to former Gov. Eliot Spitzer about an investigation into the governor's handling of the travel records scandal. Teitelbaum resigned.

But the CPI, now headed by Cherkasky, disagreed with that assessment; the current commission includes some new members.

Initially, the CPI argued that Paterson should be fined $96,375.

The hearing officer in the case said the governor should pay a $10,125 fine. but commission members upped that to $62,125: the $2,125 for value of the tickets and $60,000 for three violations of the state's public officers law, which says officials aren't supposed to get "unwarranted privileges."

"They pointed out the fact that this was not the first time that he did this," said CPI spokesman Walter Ayres, who noted that the report referenced another incident in which Paterson got free Yankees tickets for himself and his son for opening day.

Good-government groups bemoaned the fact that Paterson could potentially pay the fine from his campaign account, which contained more than $615,000 as of the most recent filing.

Generally, politicians can use their accounts to pay legal costs associated with their political work. But critics like Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group argue that the baseball game had nothing to do with Paterson's political or government role. "The governor's failures on ethics policies and his behavior will forever tarnish his record," said Horner.