Pressure increased on Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday when three New York prosecutors announced they were investigating his conduct towards current and former employees.
Prosecutors in Manhattan, Nassau County, and Westchester County each announced that they had requested investigative materials from the Attorney General’s office in connection with an open investigation into the governor’s conduct.
They joined the Albany County Prosecutor’s Office, which announced its own investigation Tuesday, shortly after a report released by the Attorney General found that Mr Cuomo sexually molested 11 women, some of them current and former employees, including his buttons and unwanted touches of employees. A governor’s attorney on Tuesday called the report “unfair”, “inaccurate” and “completely biased”.
There is no evidence that any of the prosecutors reached an advanced stage of the investigation. While their existence may increase political pressure on the governor to resign, the investigation is not a sure sign of criminal charges being brought against the governor, as victims may be reluctant to come forward and the high legal hurdle placed on one Victory would require conviction.
A lawyer for one of the governor’s prosecutors, Lindsey Boylan, said Wednesday she plans to sue the governor and his close advisers over the retaliatory measures they took to discredit them after becoming the first woman to be Mr Cuomo publicly accused of unwanted sexual progress.
“Because Lindsey was the first, the governor had to send a message,” said lawyer Jill Basinger. “He had to send a message to every other survivor out there that this would happen if the governor’s office machine was attacked.”
The attorney general’s report found that the responses to Ms. Boylan’s public allegation “constituted unlawful retaliation,” suggesting that investigators believed that those who worked to harm Ms. Boylan’s public image were against civil law had violated.
When asked about Wednesday’s investigation, a governor’s spokesman referred to a statement made Tuesday by Mr Cuomo saying he had never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances.
The local district attorney’s investigation would investigate possible criminal activity by the governor in Manhattan, where Mr. Cuomo has an executive office; Westchester, where he lived for much of his tenure as governor; Long Island, where Mr. Cuomo allegedly had unwanted physical contact with one of his accusers at an event; or the state capital Albany.
Experts said the governor could be charged with violent touch or third-degree sexual abuse, both offenses.
Grasping the chest or buttocks of women could be charged as violent touching, while intimate touches such as hugs, kisses on the forehead, cheek, and lips could be charged as third-degree sexual abuse.
Karen Friedman Agnifilo, a former vice chairman of Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, said in an interview Wednesday that the governor spent a lot of time in the city, adding that Mr. Vance was in charge of Investigate all cases of crimes committed in the community within the statute of limitations.
She also noted that during the pandemic, Mr Cuomo had used his executive powers in an emergency to “toll” or essentially stop the clock on statute of limitations. This measure could potentially give investigators a wider window within which to look for potentially criminal behavior.
Much of the behavior described in the report took place between 2013 and 2020, with some of the potentially criminal acts, such as touching an unnamed executive assistant and undesirably touching an unnamed state soldier, between 2017 and 2020.
Understand the scandals that challenge Governor Cuomo’s leadership
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Results of an independent investigation. An independent investigation, led by New York State Attorney General Letitia James, found that Mr. Cuomo sexually molested several women, including current and former government employees, in violation of state and federal laws. The report also found that it had to take revenge on at least one of the women for making their grievances public.
Nursing Home Death Controversy. The Cuomo administration is also under fire for undercounting the number of Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes in the first half of 2020, a scandal that worsened after a Times investigation found Aiders rewritten a health department report to hide the actual number.
Efforts to disguise the death toll. Interviews and unearthed documents in April revealed aid workers have repeatedly overridden state health officials from disclosing the true death toll in nursing homes for at least five months. Several senior health officials have resigned in response to the governor’s overall handling of the virus crisis, including the introduction of the vaccine.
“You need someone to answer you,” said Ms. Agnifilo. “It’s not an uncommon charge and all it takes is a victim to come forward and file a complaint.”
It is unclear whether victims will, despite encouragement from Albany County Attorney David Soares. In an interview with NBC Nightly News Tuesday night, Mr Soares said that no prosecutors had filed a formal complaint with his office, despite investigators trying to contact some of them.
Dorchen A. Leidholdt, director of the Sanctuary for Families legal counseling program, which advocates for gender-based violence survivors, said investigators could take steps to seek cooperation among victims without retraumatizing or otherwise harming them, including the Avoiding questions blaming the victim and having the victim repeat traumatic details. In addition, investigators should give victims as much control as possible over the interview.
“The survivors have a dilemma,” she said. “So often do they want justice and know that their predator is exploiting others.” However, she acknowledged that there was a real risk for survivors to come forward, saying, “It is not safe for everyone.”
Kevin Mintzer, an attorney who has represented multiple women in sexual misconduct cases, said that while Mr. Cuomo could clearly be individually liable for his conduct in state civil courts, a criminal charge could be difficult for prosecutors to prove.
“Our criminal laws don’t cover much of sexual harassment, at least in the workplace,” he said.
For practical reasons, said Mintzer, the prosecutors would have to prove the case beyond doubt, a high legal hurdle.
“The fact is that touching and fondling in the workplace is usually not prosecuted,” said Mintzer. “Whether that should be the case or not is another question.”