Gov. David Paterson and his attorney failed to show up at an ethics commission hearing on whether the governor illegally accepted free Yankees tickets to the first game of the World Series last fall.
Paterson faces up to $90,000 in fines for allegedly soliciting five tickets from the New York Yankees to the first game of the World Series in October 2009. The tickets, used by Paterson, two aides, his son and his son’s friend, were worth more than $2,000 and New York state law prohibits elected officials from receiving gifts from lobbyists. In this case, the Yankees are considered lobbyists, and accepting gifts from lobbyists would violate the state’s ethics law.
Commission on Public Integrity spokesman Walter Ayres criticized Paterson for not attending Tuesday's hearing.
“That shows disrespect for the commission, disrespect for the law,” Ayres says. "It sets a bad tone for ethics in state government.”
Paterson first claimed to his communications director that a top Yankees official had invited him to the game, but senior team officials, who testified at the hearing, say it was the governor who asked them for the tickets, worth $425 each. They said the governor’s counsel then sent the Yankees a letter, saying the event was considered official business for the governor.
The most damaging account came from the governor’s former communications director, Peter Kauffman, who says he first became aware of the incident when a reporter from the New York Post called him.
Kauffman says Paterson and the governor’s then top aide, David Johnson, insisted that the governor was on official state business during the Yankees game and did not have to pay for the tickets.
The governor did not throw out the first pitch, make a speech or participate in any ceremonial functions at the game.
Kauffman testified to the judge that he told Paterson and Johnson, “If I were in your shoes, I would pay for the tickets.”
After the hearing, Kauffman says he felt it was the right thing to do and would also quell the growing scandal stories in the media.
“I’m not an attorney. My advice was the tickets should be paid for,” Kauffman says.
Kauffman testified that later that same day he met privately with Paterson and Johnson, and the governor told him that he always intended to pay for the tickets for his son and his son’s friend.
“Did that strike you as disingenuous?” asked the commission’s special counsel, Jeff Schlanger.
“I can’t speak to his intentions,” Kauffman answered.
The Yankees' officials testified that they eventually received checks from former aide Johnson and others, one allegedly signed by Paterson, to pay for the tickets. But the commission's lawyers say they consulted a handwriting expert and concluded that Paterson did not write the check himself and that his signature was forged.
Johnson has since been charged with assault by the Bronx District Attorney in an unrelated domestic violence matter. Kauffman later quit his job, saying in a statement, “I cannot in good conscience continue in my current position.”
Paterson’s current communications director is not commenting on the matter, but the governor’s personal attorney, Theodore Wells, in a statement, chastised the commission, saying they jumped the gun and should have waited for another probe by special counsel and former chief judge Judith Kaye to be completed.
The commission spokesman, Walter Ayres, responds that the governor should have asked for a temporary adjournment, and accused them of just “pounding the table.”
The judge in the ethics hearing will likely make his decision in a few weeks, but the results won’t be made public until the Commission on Public Integrity meets again in the fall.