NY bill awaiting Kathy Hochul approval fires pols after federal guilty pleas

Only in New York!

Legislation awaiting a signature from Gov. Kathy Hochul would close an existing loophole in state law that has allowed felonious officials in the historically scandal-plagued state to stay in office despite pleading guilty to federal crimes.

New York law already automatically boots officials from office after they are convicted of state and federal offenses.

But there has been legal ambiguity for years as to whether pols pleading guilty can technically remain in office while awaiting sentencing by the feds.

“The time between a plea and sentencing can be drawn out for months. This brings certainty which is important for those governing and those they serve,” Assemblyman John McDonald III (D-Albany) said of the bill he sponsored alongside state Sen. James Gaughran (D-Nassau).

State lawmakers passed the bill – one of several hundred awaiting action by Hochul before the end of the year – with nearly unanimous support this spring.

Records show state Sen. Fred Akshar (R-Binghamton), who did not provide comment, offering the only vote against the bill in either chamber.

Former Lt. governor Brian Benjamin resigned in April soon after his arrest on federal corruption charges.
Alec Tabak

McDonald said Thursday that he is optimistic that Hochul will sign the legislation into law.

“They understand fully the issue and see the issue clearly and did not indicate any veto,” he said of talks with her administration.

A Hochul spokeswoman said Thursday the governor is reviewing the legislation.

Its passage comes after a litany of big-name elected officials have gone down in recent years after being convicted or accused of federal crimes.

Hochul’s first lieutenant governor, Brian Benjamin, resigned in April soon after his arrest on federal corruption charges that he is still fighting.

Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and ex-state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos similarly stepped down after getting slapped with federal charges, although they did not plead guilty.

And while former state Sen. Carl Kruger gave up his position in relatively quick fashion while pleading guilty to federal corruption charges in 2011 – others have gone less quietly.

Mount Vernon Mayor Ernest Davis asserted for weeks that he was still in charge after pleading guilty to tax evasion charges in 2014 ahead of getting sentenced.

“The fact is I’ve been under scrutiny for over seven years and at the end of the day I’m charged with two misdemeanors and they were both failure to file taxes,” he told the Journal News at the time.

McDonald said the law would eliminate all ambiguity in the state.
Assemblyman John McDonald III (D-Albany) said he is optimistic that Hochul will sign the legislation into law.
Hans Pennink

Former Cohoes Mayor Shawn Morse also argued that he had not officially given up power after copping to a wire fraud charge amid questions about whether he had used campaign funds for personal expenses.

“That’s not to say that he isn’t going to work out with the city some way of leaving office,” his attorney, William Dreyer, told Spectrum News at the time.

McDonald told The Post that the power struggles in Mount Vernon in Westchester County and in Cohoes, which is part of his Assembly district, inspired him to introduce the legislation.

“In both cases the officials walked away before it got out of control as the outcome was evident,” McDonald said.

But that might not be the case the next time an elected official faces federal charges in New York as long the current loophole exists, according to a legislative memo.

“This bill will ensure parity between the federal and state criminal procedure process while at the same time ensuring that unethical public officials are removed from office as soon as possible,” reads the memo.

Existing law seemingly makes little sense when it comes to allowing felonious pols to stay in office despite guilty pleas in federal court, said former Queens prosecutor James Quinn.

“I don’t know why the loophole existed in the first place,” he said Thursday.

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