FBI sting makes a small dent in New York's corruption. US Attorney Giuliani says graft is systemic in municipalities
New York — Government corruption in New York City and State remains a stubborn and costly problem, despite determined efforts by law enforcement and public officials. On Tuesday, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) bribery sting led to the indictments of 44 current or former state officials for allegedly accepting bribes and kickbacks in purchases of municipal supplies. Those indicted took a total of $40,000 in bribes and kickbacks, and defrauded towns and villages of $750,000 in supplies that were paid for, but not delivered, according to investigators.
Also on Tuesday, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo signed a long-disputed state ethics bill aimed at preventing corruption in government. The bill, which will go into effect in 1989, requires financial disclosure from many state officials, candidates, and political party chairmen. It also prohibits lawyer-legislators from representing clients before state agencies. At the same time, Governor Cuomo approved a law requiring all branches of state government to have an independent audit at least once every two years.
Accomplishments such as the arrests and the ethics bill are small chips at a monumental problem, many officials say. US Attorney Rudolph Giuliani, whose office assisted the FBI in the sting operation, said in an interview that it is apparent that corruption is systemic in the state's municipalities.
``Corruption in New York State is by no means limited to New York City,'' Mr. Giuliani says. Compared with other states, New York laws are much friendlier to corrupt politicians, crooked businessmen, and organized crime, he says.
He notes that out of 106 bribes offered, only one was turned down, and that was by an official who complained that it wasn't enough money. The official was indicted on other bribery charges.
Although Giuliani had urged the governor to sign the ethics bill, he lambastes state politicians for bringing ``Band-Aid'' reforms to major graft problems. He says the current bill, while better than nothing, has ``disgraceful gaps.''
Among his suggestions for improvement are an overhaul of the state grand jury system, giving it broader powers to investigate corruption; strengthening the state racketeering laws; limiting the immunity given to grand jury witnesses; making it easier, via state law, to prove payoffs; and requiring that ethics violations in the Legislature be pursued by independent prosecutors rather than sent to a legislative commission.
The New York State Bar Association, which supported the ethics bill, also has some reservations and suggestions, some of which are similar to Giuliani's recommendations.
Maryann Saccomando Freedman, president of the bar association, said in a letter to Cuomo in July that she is ``confident'' that those committed to developing the bill ``will not view its enactment as the conclusion of the effort to develop comprehensive ethics policies....''
Tom Conroy, a spokesman for Cuomo, says the ethics bill presents a ``tremendous improvement'' over both the current status of ethics legislation, and over an earlier version that was vetoed by Cuomo in the spring.
``I wouldn't minimize the strides,'' Mr. Conroy says. But he also says there is ``nothing in the ethics bill that says no further progress should be made.'' He also adds that campaign financing and expenditure limits are also a high priority for Cuomo.