Preet Bharara investigating Cuomo's Buffalo Billion program, adding to FBI probe [Updated]

Are voters disgusted by corruption vesting governance in U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara ?

By LOUIS FLORES

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the nation's top federal prosecutor in New York's southern district, has reportedly issued subpoenas, including at least one to SUNY Polytechnic Institute, in a probe related to the Buffalo Billion economic development plan of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-New York).

Companies bidding on Buffalo Billion project work and officials involved in decision-making reportedly have received federal subpoenas from U.S. Attorney Bharara's office.

SUNY Polytechnic Institute, formerly known as the SUNY Institute of Technology, and the successor institution to the College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering at SUNY Albany, is headed by Alain Kaloyeros, a supporter of Gov. Cuomo.  A unit of SUNY Polytechnic Institute, known as Fort Schuyler Management Corporation, was tasked with evaluating and awarding the contracts for Gov. Cuomo's billion-dollar economic revitalisation plan for the Buffalo area.  SUNY Polytechnic Institute CEO Kaloyeros is an officer of Fort Schuyler Management Corporation.

The federal subpoena served on SUNY Polytechnic Institute was first reported by The New York Post.

The investigation of the Buffalo Billion project by Manhattan federal prosecutors may over-lap with an existing probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which, last May, included the execution of search warrants of three Cuomo administration-linked individuals, including G. Steven Pigeon, as reported by Progress Queens.

Conflicts of Interest of Other Prosecutors

As noted in The New York Post report about the serving of subpoenas, U.S. Attorney Bharara's office has reached into the federal jurisdiction of another U.S. Attorney.  Buffalo is the seat for the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's western district, headed by the federal prosecutor William J. Hochul, Jr., who is, coïncidentally, the husband of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Hochul.  

As reported by various news outlets, including Progress Queens, many of New York's prosecutors -- with municipal, state, or federal jurisdictions -- are loathe or are too conflicted to probe political or campaign corruption, leaving the prosecutors of U.S. Attorney Bharara's office often the sole investigators willing to undertake investigations and prosecutions of significant government officials, which may pose special problems for lower-level prosecutors, as is the case, for example, for probes launched under the organized crime and racketeering guidelines for federal prosecutors.

According to The New York Post report, since the Buffalo Billion probe may involve significant government officials, the prosecutors from U.S. Attorney Bharara's office may have had to seek special permission from the U.S. Department of Justice before launching its probe, especially if it involved a potential conflict of interest by another U.S. Attorney.  

The U.S. Attorney's Manual, a handbook that incorporates guidelines for federal prosecutors, indicates that for certain special crimes, for example, federal prosecutors are required to receive prior approval from division heads at the U.S. Department of Justice before launching complex probes.  

Speculation has been rampant in New York's political circles that Gov. Cuomo has been courting political support from Vice President Joseph Biden in order to possibly create a conflict for federal prosecutors from U.S. Attorney Bharara's office, forcing the prosecutors to seek prior approval from U.S. Department of Justice division heads in Washington, DC, if they had not yet already done so, before continuing their probe of Albany political and campaign corruption that may reach Gov. Cuomo or the governor's Executive Chamber.  Such speculation, while long widespread amongst government reform activists, finally spilled out into the open in a recent column written by Fredric Dicker, a journalist with The New York Post

The conflicts of interest of other prosecutors and the need for prior permission from division heads in Washington notwithstanding, U.S. Attorney Bharara said, in part, last year during an interview with Charlie Rose, "We are the people, who do our jobs."

In spite of U.S. Attorney Bharara's confidence in the independence of his own office to combat political and campaign corruption, federal prosecutors have been notoriously silent about the need to reform the way municipal and state prosecutors are elected or selected, in order to address the conflicts of interest in other prosecutors' offices and to diffuse the rapidly growing concentration of corruption cases that are being constantly referred to federal prosecutors in U.S. Attorney Bharara's office.

(On the same day when news about the federal subpoenas to SUNY Polytechnic Institute were made public, news was also made public that Bronx County Democratic Party committee officials were going to be empowered to select the possible successor to District Attorney Robert Johnson (D-The Bronx), who announced his intention on Friday to seek a judgeship, highlighting how some politicians are sometimes able to select prosecutors.  The power to name prosecutors without the need for an election creates suspicion that prosecutors may make a gentlemen's agreement with party officials by promising not to probe politicians in exchange for prosecutors' selection for office.)

A request for comment made by Progress Queens to a press official in U.S. Attorney Bharara's office about the conflicts of interests in other prosecutors' offices was not immediately answered.

Public puts its faith in the prosecutorial work of U.S. Attorney Bharara

For the time being, U.S. Attorney Bharara has been able to galvanise support amongst the public for his string of political and campaign prosecution cases.  In the latest Quinnipiac University poll, coïncidentally also released on Friday, a sum of 70 per cent. of poll respondents stated that U.S. Attorney Bharara had not gone far enough or is doing just about right in his investigation of corruption in New York State government.  A majority of respondents, 56 per cent., stated that they believed that elected officials were unable to end government corruption and needed to be voted out of office so that "new officials can start with a clean slate."

That U.S. Attorney Bharara has been able to earn the goodwill and faith of so many New Yorkers points to his success in cultivating an image as an independent and fair prosecutor in cases of corruption.  Indeed, in the last year, U.S. Attorney Bharara's office has filed criminal complaints, backed up by grand jury indictments, alleging corruption crimes against each of the state's former top legislative leaders, Assemblymember Sheldon Silver (D-Lower East Side) and State Senator Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), one each from the two main political parties.

However, some government reform activists have expressed concerns that given the public's significant investment in faith in the prosecutorial work of U.S. Attorney Bharara's office, the public is tacitly communicating that their hopes of reforming government rest on the shoulders of U.S. Attorney Bharara.

In the last several years, voters have rejected the pay-for-play politics and the overwhelming influence that permanent government insiders are able to exert on the political process, including on election outcomes, so much so that voter turnout in elections continues to reach successive new lows.  In the November 2013 mayoral election in New York City, for example, only 24 per cent. of eligible voters turned out to cast their ballots, setting a new record low, according to a report published by The New York Times.  The previous record low for a November general election of New York City's mayor was set four years prior, when only 28 per cent. of eligible voters cast their ballots.  In comparison, in the November 2014 gubernatorial election in New York State, which coïncided with Congressional midterm elections, slightly less than 29 per cent. of eligible New York State voters caster their ballots, ranking the state as fourth-worst in the nation for voter-turnout for that election cycle then, contributing to setting the worst voter turnout rate for the nation in the last 72 years, according to an editorial published by The New York Times.  "The reasons are apathy, anger and frustration at the relentlessly negative tone of the campaigns," the Editors of The New York Times wrote, overlooking the role of political and campaign corruption on creating a sense of cynicism amongst voters.  

In the post-Cold War era, most governments now collapse as a result of unchecked government corruption, not because of revolution or military coups, a 1996 report by The Associated Press found.  

That citizen participation in government has been collapsing at the same time as citizens are transferring their faith in governance to the Manhattan federal prosecutor's office may indicate that voters may be withholding participation in or validation of the government until a wholesale purging of corruption has been completed by justice officials.

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