A top Republican state legislator has filed an ethics complaint against Gov. Andrew Cuomo over reports that he improperly arranged coronavirus tests for his relatives and favored state officials last year.
In a letter to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics made public Friday, state Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt (R-Lockport) said Cuomo’s alleged conduct “appears to be a very clear, straightforward violation” of state law.
“It does not take a stretch of the imagination to see a clear connection between Governor Cuomo using his official position as the head of state government and the unwarranted privileges provided to his own family members and close associates,” Ortt wrote.
“Obviously, while these actions would be egregious during normal times, they are particularly unconscionable because they occurred early on during the pandemic, at a time when testing was in short supply and high demand.”
Ortt added: “It is important to note that neither the Governor nor his spokesperson has refuted or denied any aspect of the allegations reported in the press.”
In a statement issued Wednesday night, Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi acknowledged that members of Cuomo’s administration “were absolutely going above and beyond to get people testing” during “the early days of the pandemic.”
“Among those we assisted were members of the general public, including legislators, reporters, state workers and their families who feared they had contracted the virus and had the capability to further spread it,” he added.
Multiple reports have alleged that Cuomo’s brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, their 89-year-old mother, Matilda, and others had tests administered in their homes by top state health officials in early March 2020, before testing was widely available.
Several of those reportedly tested — including Chris Cuomo and MTA chief Patrick Foye — later announced that they’d been infected.
Ortt’s move came after state Attorney General Letitia James’ office said Thursday that it didn’t “have jurisdiction to investigate this matter.”
But James’ office called the latest controversy involving the governor “troubling” and said it was “imperative” that JCOPE “look into it immediately.”
Assembly Judiciary Chairman Charles Lavine (D-Long Island) also said Thursday that the testing allegations — which he called “a serious matter” — would be part of the impeachment investigation of the three-term Democrat.
Ortt’s letter cited sections of the Public Officers Law that say “no officer or employee” should use his or her position “to secure unwarranted privileges” for himself or others and not engage in misappropriation to himself or others of “the property, services or other resources of the state for private business or other compensated non-governmental purposes.”
The law also states that a public official should not use his or her position to provide preferential treatment or engage “in acts that are in violation of his or her trust.”
“It appears that Governor Cuomo clearly violated these provisions, when, according to media reports … he provided special, preferential access to state-administered COVID-19 testing to members of his family and other well-connected individuals,” Ortt wrote.
“The reports also allege that the governor dispatched a top state doctor and other state health officials to these individuals’ homes and penthouse apartments, and then used state troopers to rush the specimens to Wadsworth Center. At Wadsworth, the specimens were reportedly then pushed to the front of the line and tested immediately.”
Critics have long complained that JCOPE is not the appropriate body to investigate the governor.
Cuomo’s appointees at JCOPE have blocked any major probes that would cast a negative light on him or his inner circle, they said.
A case in point is that JCOPE has not taken any action against former top Cuomo aide Joe Percoco, who was convicted in a federal corruption scandal for soliciting bribes from a company doing business with the state.
During his bribery trial, it was revealed that Percoco, then Cuomo’s 2014 re-election campaign chairman and former deputy secretary, was using the governor’s office in Manhattan to conduct campaign business, including making hundreds of phone calls.
Percoco wasn’t charged with any federal crimes relating to the phone calls. But misusing government resources for campaign purposes is illegal — a violation of the state Public Officers Law.