U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is confident the convictions of both disgraced former legislative leaders Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver will be upheld on appeal, even as a recent Supreme Court ruling on corruption made such cases harder.
"It makes it harder to prosecute certain kinds of cases, and I think there are still many ... that think the things in the McDonell case should be criminalized, and we'll have to live with that," Bharara said. "But it's up to Congress to determine if you want to undo that."
Bharara's comments came Thursday evening at panel discussion on the campus of the College of Saint Rose in Albany and just weeks after his office announced his latest blockbuster case: The arrests of nine people on bribery and bid-rigging charges, including a former top aide to Governor Cuomo, Joe Percoco, SUNY Polytechnic leader Alain Kaloyeros and prominent upstate developers. In the discussion, Bharara indicated he takes a personal interest in such cases.
"There is as a natural matter in a workplace, a greater amount of thought and care and consideration that goes into bringing a case against that kind of a person," Bharara said, "contrary to what some people may think that we see bright lights and go for it. That's not how it works."
As he's done previously, Bharara said the press plays a key role in bringing corruption cases to his office's attention.
"The reason we began looking at issues related to the bidding that we allege was rigged was because of reporting coming out of really good papers, saying there were odd things going on," he said.
But at the same time, Bharara said his office has generated an increased number of tips following a string of prominent corruption cases.
"What I have personally noticed that we get more people calling us up and more people coming forward," Bharara said. "The more of this that we do ... the more people see that it might lead to something."
Bharara also took a not-so-veiled shot at Governor Andrew Cuomo's decision to close the anti-corruption Moreland Commission in 2014, saying what's needed are more cops on the ethics beat, not less.
"It seems to me, given the track record of the last number of years by a number of offices in the state, including mine, that this would be the time for more reform, not less," he said. "This would be a time for not shutting down the ethics commission, but keeping them open; not removing watchdogs, but increasing oversight."
For now, it appears no further ethics legislation is being discussed for either a special session or the start of 2017. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has rejected the suggestion a commission could approve a legislative pay raise in exchange for ethics measures.