NEW YORK (WIVB) – The FBI and federal prosecutors in Brooklyn are in the early stages of an investigation into Governor Andrew Cuomo coronavirus task force and its handling of nursing homes, the Albany Times-Union reported Thursday night.
John Marzulli, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York, had no comment on the report.
Cuomo, a Democrat, has been under fire for his handling of nursing homes and sharing of public information for weeks from both Republicans and Democrats. The GOP has criticized a March 25 order from the governor that nursing homes could not deny residents admission on the sole basis of a COVID-19 diagnosis.
“Once again, investigators need to follow the money,” said New York State Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy. “His deadly order forced COVID-positive patients out of hospitals and into nursing homes.”
On January 28th, New York State Attorney General Tish James released a report which said the administration was undercounting nursing home deaths in publicized data by as much as 50%. Hours after the report was made public, New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker released long-sought information that 3,829 nursing home residents died after being transferred to a hospital.
Last Wednesday, on a zoom call with lawmakers, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa admitted to lawmakers that the administration delayed in responding to their questions about nursing homes. She explained lawmakers’ request came around the same time then-President Donald Trump turned “this into a giant political football”. The Department of Justice sent Cuomo’s office a letter, requesting information on nursing home deaths on August 26th.
“Basically, we froze, because then we were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice or what we give to you guys, what we start saying was going to be used against us while we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation,” DeRosa said according to a transcript of the call released by the governor’s office.
The Department of Justice sent the administration a second letter requesting information in October.
“As we publicly said, DOJ has been looking into this for months. We have been cooperating with them and we will continue to,” Cuomo’s Senior Advisor Rich Azzpoardi said in response to the Times-Union report.
Western New York attorney and legal analyst Cheryl Meyers Buth suspects prosecutors in Brooklyn are interested in the state’s response to the August and October inquiries.
“They might want to know, did the governor’s office actually comply fully with the request for information? Or did they evade that responsibility to answer the request? When they did answer the request, was the information truthful? Or did they provide false statistics?” Buth said.
“If they falsified information, it’s potentially a crime,” she added. “If they simply withheld information and delayed turning it over, you may or may not have a crime there.
“So the only way to find out is to investigate.”
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who started working at WIVB in 2017. A Lancaster native, he came to Buffalo after working at stations in Rochester and Watertown. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.