No charges for ex-NY gov in Yankee tickets scandal

May 22, 2011 - 2:29 AM
NY Governor Yankees Tickets

FILE - In this Nov. 30, 2010 file photo, New York Gov. David Paterson speaks during an interview at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y. Former New York Gov. David Paterson won't be charged with perjury on allegations that he lied about taking free Yankees tickets for the 2009 World Series while he was in office, a spokeswoman for the Albany County district attorney said Saturday, May 21, 2011. (AP Photo/Tim Roske, File)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Former Gov. David Paterson will not face perjury charges on allegations that he lied about taking free Yankees tickets for the 2009 World Series, a decision that effectively puts an end to the most serious legal problem stemming from his tumultuous administration.

The Commission on Public Integrity charged in a report last year that Paterson violated ethics laws when he contradicted his staff, the Yankees and common sense by falsely claiming that he always intended to pay for the tickets. There was also a question of whether the Democratic governor purposely gave false testimony about having written an $850 check in advance for two tickets.

In a letter sent to Paterson's lawyer Wednesday, Albany County District Attorney David Soares did not dispute the charges but said there was not sufficient evidence to prove them beyond a reasonable doubt.

Spokesman Sean Darcy said the former governor had no immediate comment, but Paterson had previously denied any wrongdoing. The letter was first reported by the Daily News and was released Saturday.

Paterson abandoned his bid for a full gubernatorial term shortly after the investigation began, saying he couldn't let a campaign distract him from the state's fiscal crisis.

The tickets scandal was one of many that Paterson faced after he took office in March 2008 when Eliot Spitzer resigned amid being linked to a high-priced prostitution ring.

Paterson endured scrutiny after his aide was accused in a domestic violence case that touched off an evidence-tampering investigation. The aide, David Johnson, admitted he shoved his former girlfriend at her apartment on Halloween 2009.

The case became public after a series of New York Times articles questioning whether Paterson had acted inappropriately by calling the woman in the days after Johnson shoved her. Court documents showed she was being pressured to drop the case, which she did.

Paterson's involvement caused him serious political damage, even though investigators found no evidence of witness tampering. Then, hounded by questions about the World Series tickets he received, he dropped plans to run for a full term early in 2010.

Most of the personal and professional accusations against Paterson — including rumors of sex and drug escapades that were never proven — ended then.

The Commission on Public Integrity said in its report that Paterson performed no ceremonial function at the 2009 World Series game, which still would not have entitled him to free tickets for his son and son's friend. The others were used by the governor and the two staff members. He and two of his staff paid for four of the tickets a few days later.

The commission eventually fined Paterson $62,125, which he paid shortly after leaving office. The penalty consisted of the $2,125 value of the tickets and $60,000 for three violations of the state's public officer's law.

Commission spokesman Walter Ayres declined to comment on Soares' decision not to pursue charges.

"The moral and ethical tone of any organization is set at the top. Unfortunately, the governor set a totally inappropriate tone by his dishonest and unethical conduct," Chairman Michael Cherkasky said in the commission's December report. "Such conduct cannot be tolerated by any New York State employee, particularly our governor."

Kaye, the state's former chief judge, the perjury issue was "clouded" by the way Paterson's commission testimony was given, with the entries read aloud to the legally blind governor, instead of him personally examining a check that was not filled out in his own handwriting.

Paterson attorney Theodore Wells Jr. said then that Paterson didn't lie, and he noted that Kaye's August report didn't recommend bringing charges.

The perjury allegations had been seen as a long shot. Prosecutors outside the case said that charge is notoriously difficult to prove; a criminal case requires a higher burden of proof, Soares spokeswoman Heather Oarth said.

Paterson is now a guest on New York City sports radio shows, a medium with which he said he's felt most comfortable since he became legally blind as a child. He also teaches at New York University.

His legacy improved this year, as Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo employed a budget law tool that Paterson discovered and first used last year to force the Legislature to cut spending. Under the law, which may have ended decades of late budgets in Albany, Paterson found that if the Legislature didn't agree to a budget by the April 1 deadline, a governor can impose his budget through a series of emergency spending bills. The Legislature is left with a choice of accepting the bills or shutting down government.