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Names released in potential state corruption case

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Nine more names of State Senators and others potentially involved in corruption were made public Wednesday, when a judge ordered prosecutors in the case of convicted ex- Senator Shirley Huntley to make public the names of  her colleagues that she had secretly recorded.According to a letter unsealed in federal court, former Senator Shirley Huntley, who was convicted of stealing $88,000 in government grants that were supposed to go for a not for profit,  recorded  six of her Senate Democratic colleagues. She did so at the request of prosecutors, in the summer of 2012, after she told investigators she had knowledge of what she believed to be public corruption.  

Huntley was instructed to invite the other Senators to her home and she recorded and photographed them on multiple occasions, according to the document.

Those Senators include Malcolm Smith and John Sampson, who have already been charged with bribery and embezzlement.   But she also recorded Senate Democratic colleagues Eric Adams, Jose Peralta, Ruth Hassel Thompson and Velmanette Montgomery. Huntley also secretly recorded City Councilman Ruben Wills who was once her chief of staff, as well as the former spokesman for the Senate Democrats, Curtis Taylor, and Melvin Lowe, who is identified in the court papers as a former political consultant and associate of State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

The letter released by the court says several of the names are subjects of ongoing criminal investigations.

The Senate had already adjourned for the week by the time the document was released. Senate Democrats said, in a statement, that “this is an extremely trying time in Albany. If any charges are brought, the conference will take appropriate action.”

Governor Cuomo, who was holding a summit on tourism when the names were revealed, says it’s a “complicated, unpleasant time” in state government.

“It’s obviously, miserable,” said Cuomo who said the incidents further erode public trust and fuels cynicism.

The governor has proposed several anti-corruption bills in recent weeks. He says if the latest news in the ever growing scandal won’t persuade the legislature to adopt reforms measures, he might do his own investigating, using powers under what’s known as the Moreland Act to begin his own probe.

“I do have the ability to act unilaterally,” Cuomo said. “But we’ll see where we are as we get closer.”

Cuomo concedes that he’s made “no significant progress” so far on his anti-corruption agenda, and he threw more cold water on a proposal to extend public financing of campaigns to state races. He says Republicans, who have partial control over the Senate, are “philosophically” opposed to public campaign financing.

A coalition pressing for adoption of a statewide public campaign financing system similar to one in New York City argues that the latest bad news strengthens the case that systematic change is needed. David Donnelly, with the Fair Elections Coalition, says there’s “clearly an unquestionable crisis of confidence in state government”.

“These scandals have heightened public awareness that there’s corruption in Albany,” Donnelly said. “And something urgent has to be done to resolve it.”

Several denials were issued Wednesday afternoon from those named in the court papers.

Councilman Wills has released a statement saying he is not the focus of a criminal probe.

Senator Peralta says he’s “confident that the authorities will find, if they have not already done so, that I have engaged in no wrongdoing whatsoever.”

And Senator Adams says he’s never been contacted about any investigation.

The Senate is not due to be back at the Capitol until May 20th. They had originally been scheduled to return May 13th for one day, then break for a Jewish holiday. But a spokesman for the Senate GOP says it was decided that bringing Senators back for a one day session would be an “unnecessary” cost to taxpayers.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.