The FBI revealed today that it is investigating New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo over questionable, and possibly illegal, hiring practices in the state’s executive branch.
It appears the Cuomo administration has been hiring individuals to work directly in the governor’s office, while having their salaries paid by different agencies.
The FBI is investigating the Cuomo administration’s practice of hiring employees to work in the governor’s office, while actually paying them through various state agencies and public authorities, the Times Union has learned.
The practice of hiring pricey political appointees to work for the Executive Chamber – but paying them through other entities – has allowed Cuomo and prior governors to increase the size of their staffs while escaping criticism for inflating the Executive Chamber budget.
In recent months, however, FBI agents have interviewed a number of people who work for the governor’s office, but are paid by agencies or authorities, about the circumstances of their hirings, according to people familiar with the matter.
One type of evidence being explored by the FBI, sources said, are the written notifications that are sent by agencies or authorities to the governor’s office informing them of a new hire.
In at least some instances, those letters have stated an employee would be working for the agency or authority – when the intention was for them to work for Cuomo’s office, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
Another line of questioning by the FBI has been whether the Executive Chamber officials’ job duties have any correlation with the agency or authority actually paying them.
A FBI spokeswoman said she could not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation. It’s unclear what criminal law might have been violated by the hiring practice.
An analysis by the Times Union a year ago found that more than 40 percent of the Executive Chamber staff was actually on the payroll of public authorities or agencies. At the time, 89 of 209 Executive Chamber employees were on agency or authority budget lines.
That trend accelerated when Cuomo announced 27 new hires or promotions last March. All but a handful of the hires were to Executive Chamber jobs, but the Executive Chamber was actually paying just five of those people.
Many of the well-paid new political appointees announced in March were veterans of the Obama administration or Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful presidential campaign that needed new employment. The moves also sparked further speculation about Cuomo gearing up for a 2020 presidential run.
Under Cuomo, in some instances the positions held by Executive Chamber officials have had a correlation with the entity paying them. In other instances there seems have been little link between the work being done and an employee’s source of income.
Although this hiring practice has been especially widespread under Cuomo, it far predates his tenure. In response to the Times Union’s inquiries, the Cuomo administration provided a number of examples.
The New York Times, for instance, reported in 2003 that 40 Executive Chamber officials working for Gov. George Pataki were on agency or authority budgets.
When Gov. Mario Cuomo announced in 1984 that he would slash his personal staff by 10 percent, he did not actually cut the number of employees reporting to him – instead adding dozens of workers to state agency budget lines. The Times reported that the practice dated back to Gov. Nelson Rockefeller.
“The agencies are all part of the same executive branch, and this administration follows the exact same lawful hiring process we inherited from previous administrations stretching back decades. If there are questions about it, call George Pataki,” Azzopardi said.
News reports have also raised questions about such budget sleight-of-hand in several other states, including Illinois and New Jersey, and various White House administrations. Even Department of Justice employees themselves have been detailed to the White House.