Lawrence Schwartz reportedly leaves Cuomo administration, but questions remain about temporary job

Lawrence Schwartz, right, with Governor Andrew Cuomo at a cabinet meeting in 2014.  Mr. Schwartz was given a controversial, temporary job after he publicly stepped down as the governor's secretary.  Source :  Official Photograph/Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor/Flickr

Lawrence Schwartz, right, with Governor Andrew Cuomo at a cabinet meeting in 2014.  Mr. Schwartz was given a controversial, temporary job after he publicly stepped down as the governor's secretary.  Source :  Official Photograph/Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor/Flickr

By LOUIS FLORES

After Lawrence Schwartz stepped down in January from his former post as secretary to Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-New York) to allow for the assumption of his replacement, William Mulrow, Governor Cuomo announce that Mr. Schwartz would be taking a job in the private sector. 

However, it turned out that Mr. Schwartz never left Albany, and, instead, secretly accepted a temporary, interim job as “Dir of the NY Off’’ in the governor's office.  

It was reported Monday that Mr. Schwartz has how vacated that temporary job.  Mr. Schwartz's last day was said to have been Friday of last week.

News that Mr. Schwartz's had officially left his temporary post was contradicted by information separately obtained by Progress Queens from a source, who said that Mr. Schwartz's payroll information did not yet reflect his separation.

According to administration officials, Mr. Schwartz was given the secret temporary job so that he could be paid his accrued vacation time, a rationale that was later contradicted by Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for Governor Cuomo, who said that Mr. Schwartz was aiding in the transition, and challenged by reform-minded officials, who complained to Progress Queens that Mr. Schwartz was given the temporary job as a possible political payoff to win his loyalty in the face of a federal investigation of the Cuomo administration's role in the reported obstruction with and the premature closure of the Moreland Commission.  

The press office for Governor Cuomo did not answer on Monday a request made by Progress Queens to interview Mr. Schwartz.  With the lack of a response on Monday, the governor's press office has denied five consecutive requests made by Progress Queens to interview Mr. Schwartz.

The governor's press office also failed to make available an administration official to be interviewed by Progress Queens.

The report of Mr. Schwartz's departure from the governor's office was first published by Nick Reisman on the Web site, State of Politics. 

Government reform activists noted that Mr. Schwartz has benefited from an unusual arrangement made by Governor Cuomo to indemnify state employees of the costs of legal representation during the federal investigation into the Moreland Commision fiasco.  According to the arrangement, Governor Cuomo's campaign committee would pay for the legal costs for state employees being investigated for their actions regarding the Moreland Commission.  The employees would be represented by white collar criminal defense attorney Elkan Abramowitz.

It is not known which state employees are being indemnified by Governor Cuomo's campaign committee.  For a prior report published by Progress Queens, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's southern district refused to identify the legal counsel representing state employees before the U.S. Attorney's Office.  Separately, a source with the New York State Board of Elections told Progress Queens that campaign committees are not required to file documentation for expenditures, meaning, that the New York State Board of Elections does not see legal bills paid for by Governor Cuomo's campaign committee.  

For his part, Mr. Abramowitz never answered a prior request made by Progress Queens for the identities of the state employees being indemnified by Governor Cuomo's campaign committee.

It is not known if one factor which might have motivated the installation of Mr. Schwartz into the secret, temporary post was whether the indemnification arrangement by Governor Cuomo's campaign committee could only apply to individuals, who were active state employees.  Since Governor Cuomo and his outside counsel have been unforthcoming about details of the indemnification arrangement, there is no way for voters to know how indebted Mr. Schwartz may be to Governor Cuomo's largesse.  

For a prior report following revelations about Mr. Schwartz's temporary, interim post, Progress Queens had interviewed Assemblymember Steve McLaughlin (R-Rensselaer), who wanted to know if a state investigator would probe the circumstances of the temporary position given to Mr. Schwartz.  In Assemblymember McLaughlin's view, the temporary position given to Mr. Schwartz could be used by Governor Cuomo to keep Mr. Schwartz "happy" and "quiet," a similar concern raised by Frederic Dicker in his column in The New York Post, where Mr. Dicker wrote that Governor Cuomo was extending Mr. Schwartz's employment by New York State in "order to help Larry out at a time when Larry could possibly do the governor a whole lot of damage," according to one of Mr. Dicker's sources.  Mr. Dicker first reported news about Mr. Schwartz's secret, temporary job.  

A source told Progress Queens on Monday that the source was unaware if any investigation has been launched into the circumstances of Mr. Schwartz's temporary position.  

A spokesperson for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D-New York) had no comment on Monday to questions about whether the state Attorney General's Office would either probe the nature and circumstances of Mr. Schwartz's temporary job or refer the matter for investigation to others.

Progress Queens could not reach on Monday a spokesperson for the office of the state's Office of the Inspector General.

The unanswered questions pertaining to Mr. Schwartz's temporary position and Governor Cuomo's use of his campaign committee to indemnify state employees are fueling frustrations by government reform activists, who view the unanswered questions as further validation of the culture of corruption up in Albany.  

An anonymous activist, who is an administrator for the anti-Cuomo Twitter account, @CuomoWatch, told Progress Queens that Democrats in Albany, who are in charge of investigatory agencies, were "a part of" the corruption up in Albany.  What is more, the activist said, these Democrats may be making cynical political calculations over the controversy of Mr. Schwartz's secret, temporary job. 

"This is not high on their priority list," the activist said, referring to Democratic officials in  Albany, adding that, "Constituents are crying about many other issues, such as stopping common core or getting Cuomo to fund education.  Most people are too fatigued to handle more than the most basic issues, and Larry Schwartz doesn't make the cut." 

A pattern of controversies

Besides Mr. Schwartz's receipt of each of the temporary, secret position in the Cuomo administration and a possible legal indemnification from Governor Cuomo's campaign committee, Mr. Schwartz has been involved in numerous other controversies over the past 30 years.  

A bombshell report in The New York Times identified Mr. Schwartz as having ordered that Moreland commissioners rescind a subpoena issued to Buying Time, a vendor employed by Governor Cuomo's campaign committee.

Prior to that, Mr. Schwartz oversaw the final throes of the NYC Off Track Betting Corp., before its liquidation, in a move that some government reform activists say forsook the jobs, pensions, and health benefits of the NYC Off Track Betting Corp.'s employees in order to possibly increase the value of the racino contract at Aqueduct Racetrack in South Ozone Park, Queens, the contract for which was eventually awarded to Genting New York, one of the large contributors to the Committee to Save New York, a lobbying group incorporated as a nonprofit organisation that raised undisclosed funds from big business interests, real estate developers, and the gambling industry to pay for television advertisements to further Governor Cuomo's political agenda.  

Even prior to that, Mr. Schwartz participated in vetting the bungled bidding process involving Aqueduct Entertainment Group, LLC, to operate the racino at Aqueduct Racetrack, before Genting New York won the contract.  The controversy involving Aqueduct Entertainment Group, LLC, triggered an investigation by the state's Office of the Inspector General, which issued a report that was then, in turn, referred to the U.S. Attoney's Office and the Office of the Manhattan District Attorney.  However, no charges were ever filed in connection with that investigation.   

And, seemingly in the beginning, Mr. Schwartz was spared implication in the 1987 indictments of several state officials, including former State Senator Manfred Ohrenstein (D-Manhattan), Mr. Schwartz's former boss, in a scandal involving the creation of no-show legislative jobs.  

Lack of accountability and transparency fail to trigger state investigations

Meanwhile, on the same day when it was announced that Mr. Schwartz had vacated his temporary job, Governor Cuomo received escalated bipartisan criticisms over Governor Cuomo's controversial e-mail deletion policy.

The lack of accountability of and transparency by Cuomo administration officials is taking place against a backdrop of investigations into state corruption cases led by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who, during a speech at Fordham Law School on Friday, said that federal prosecutors often chase corruption in a wake of a lack of transparency that leaves little or no trace of misconduct by officials, a situation some government reform activists complain is made worse by lax oversight by state investigators up in Albany.  

For example, government reform activists were frustrated by news on Monday that Attorney General Schneiderman refused to take a stance on Governor Cuomo's controversial e-mail deletion policy, a lack of action on the attorney general's part that was reminiscent of his silence during the Cuomo administration's reported obstruction of the Moreland Commission.

In his speech on Friday, U.S. Attorney Bharara encouraged individuals to be proactive, saying, in part, that, "The body politic has to take care of itself, first, and whether that's by having strong rules in place and a strong inclination towards enforcement of those rules and mechanisms for enforcing them, like committees that actually do something and actually investigate and actually maybe even do some things, you know, that might help," adding later, that, "If you are spending your time trying to make places better and trying to make places more honest, that's actually what it takes -- is going to help us get to the place we want to be."