NO Accountability = Personal & Political Profit

Lawbreaker lawmakers are at every level of government. 
Arguably, about 1-in-5 New York State legislators has violated the law. How can this be?
  By MARY CUDDEHE, ELLEN GABLER and EMILY PICKRELL, Special to the Times Union
First published
: Sunday, December 30, 2007 In a perfect world, elected lawmakers would always obey the laws they alone are entrusted to enact, but public records show that in Albany, lawmakers are anything but perfect.  An investigation for the Times Union by the Stabile Center for Investigative Reporting at Columbia University found that about one-fifth of elected legislators in New York have, by some measure, broken some law in recent years. While most of those cases were traffic violations, more than a dozen involved acts charged as crimes — frequently bribery or theft.  Currently, two accused lawmakers have refused to leave office despite a mountain of evidence compiled by citizen grand juries who indicted them for felony crimes — and legislative leaders have done nothing to officially discipline or remove them.  Assemblywoman Diane Gordon, D-Brooklyn, continues to hold office even after the Brooklyn district attorney released video recordings showing her agreeing to receive a house in exchange for arranging a $2 million land deal for a developer. She declined to comment.  State Sen. Efrain Gonzalez, D-Bronx, continues to hold office while awaiting trial on federal charges that he funneled $423,000 in taxpayer money through a charity to finance his cigar company, buy Yankees tickets and pay his daughter’s tuition.  “You’re innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Gonzalez, who was re-elected by a landslide in the Bronx last year.  Such cases have become a perennial disappointment for good-government advocates in Albany who for years have pressed for real ethics reform that, when it comes to lawmakers themselves, has never really come.  “I think what most citizens would say to them is how dare you do this to the working men and women of New York,” said Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director for the League of Women Voters. “You are in a cherished position, voted into office by your constituency, and you let them down; you violated their trust.”  Two lawmakers charged with driving while intoxicated this year had their driver’s licenses suspended after they refused to take a Breathalyzer test: Assemblyman Karim Camara, D-Brooklyn, and Sen. John Sabini, D-Queens. Sabini said it was inappropriate for two student journalists to surprise him in the Capitol this month with a video camera and ask, on behalf of voters, if he was drunk when police arrested him in Albany. “No, I pleaded not guilty,” he said.  Like many lawmakers, Sabini bristles at the suggestion he deserves to be labeled a lawbreaker in the press before his day in court. “I’m only charged at this stage,” he said.  Sometimes lawmakers advocate legislation even as they violate the letter or spirit of the laws they propose.  Nancy Calhoun, a Republican assemblywoman from Blooming Grove, has called herself “a prime advocate for fighting crime.” In 2005, the same year she co-sponsored a bill to strengthen anti-stalking laws, Calhoun pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree harassment for stalking an ex-boyfriend. The case was subsequently sealed in Orange County.  Rarely, a lawmakers admits his or her mistake and becomes a determined advocate to strengthen the law.


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