Niagara Gazette — ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday proposed giving prosecutors more power to combat public corruption and would, for the first time, require public officials to report corrupt actions by their colleagues.
The Public Trust Act would create new crimes and increase penalties for violating existing anti-corruption laws. The proposal would make specific crimes of bribing a public official, scheming to corrupt the government and failing to report public corruption.
Among the tools would be a way for witnesses to receive only partial immunity when testifying before a grand jury, as in federal cases, so that a witness isn't free from being prosecuted by a local district attorney. The proposal would also hold former elected officials to a five-year statute of limitation for their acts once they leave an elected body. Former elected officials have been involved in some of Albany's most notorious cases.
No bill with specifics, however, was released by Cuomo.
"The public expects elected officials to conduct their business ethically, honestly, and it's time our laws caught up with reality," said Cyrus Vance, Manhattan district attorney and head of the state district attorneys association.
"These are very sound proposals and they have support from district attorneys across our state," Vance said at a Manhattan news conference.
Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said the proposal included "important new tools ... and make it possible for prosecutors to more effectively investigate and prosecute public corruption."
Specifically, the proposal would lower the burden for prosecutors in proving bribery of a public official, a felony. Prosecutors would no longer have to prove a corrupt agreement was made, but simply show the bribe was "intended" to influence the official.
Public officials and public employees for the first time would face a misdemeanor if they fail to report suspected corruption by a colleague. Former state ethics commission Executive Director Karl Sleight told The Associated Press on Monday that this was a key element missing from the many attempts at ethics reform from Albany.