What are the FBI and U.S. attorneys looking for in their joint investigation of the governor’s coronavirus task force?
Too early to tell, said a local defense attorney.
“This is really kind of an under the radar investigation,” said Mike Taheri, a defense attorney.
“There are no discovery rules for either side. So, it really tests the law enforcement’s ability to investigate.”
Thursday’s blockbuster from the Albany Times Union that both the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York are investigating Governor Andrew Cuomo’s coronavirus task force has sent shockwaves through the state.
The Times Union reported that investigators are looking at how the task force handled nursing homes and other long-term care facilities throughout this pandemic.
While some are trying to figure out where this investigation might go and how it might end, Cuomo on Friday vowed to fight back against his critics that he accused of spreading “lies.”
The investigation is in its very early stages. Therefore, what is available now is too “sketchy” and “thin,” said Bernie Tolbert, the former head of Buffalo’s FBI office.
“It’s so thin that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this is happening,” Tolbert said.
What is known now is that the Cuomo administration delayed giving legislators and the public accurate data on the number of nursing home residents who died of Covid-19.
A scathing report from the state Attorney General’s Office didn’t help matters by concluding that the state Department of Health may have underreported nursing home deaths by as much as 50%.
The report also concluded that at least 4,000 residents died in nursing homes after the Cuomo administration’s controversial March 25 order that mandated nursing homes accept Covid-19 positive patients from hospitals if they had the capacity to care for them.
At the time, the state reported about 8,700 nursing home deaths. The number of deaths has ballooned to more than 15,000 today as the Cuomo released more data.
One of Cuomo’s top aides, Melissa DeRosa, told democratic legislators during a Feb. 10 conference call that the administration “froze” when both the federal and state government made inquiries for nursing home death data and other related information.
“One could say that if Cuomo didn’t turn over all the information, turned over false information, you could say that therein is a violation which would lead the federal government to perhaps do some investigating,” Tolbert said.
Some clues on the investigation might surface once any subpoenas are sent out, the two attorneys told News 4.
“It’s a little bit of a guessing game going on right now because you don’t know what the governments asked for and you also don’t know who they asked it from,” said Terrance Flynn, a former U.S. Attorney.
“It’s very important who they asked, who’s the custodian they believe.”
If Cuomo’s remarks Friday during his coronavirus update are any indication of what federal investigators might be poking around at, it may be the nursing home data his administration released publicly and what it gave to the Justice Department, after the head of its civil division sent two letters requesting more information on nursing homes.
Cuomo said the data was late to legislators because he gave the Justice Department precedence.
Nonetheless, all the information he did release was accurate, he said.
“This information of total deaths was provided, always,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo on Friday fired back at his critics, saying he would no longer remain complacent in the face of “rumors, conspiracies,” and the “toxic political environment.”
He praised his health department staff, particularly Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, who said the state made the best decision it could with the data it had at the time, which showed hospitals would be overwhelmed if they did not find a way to manage the distribution of hospital patients.
“You cannot allow inaccurate information to go unanswered,” Cuomo said.
A bipartisan group of legislators is looking to impeach the governor and revoke the emergency executive powers that the democratic-controlled legislature gave him at the beginning of the pandemic.
“Transparency by this Administration has gone out the door,” said Senator Republican Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda.
“I am grateful to see our repeated calls for a federal investigation have been answered. And although I welcome my colleagues in the Majority who are at long last mulling revocation of the Governor’s emergency powers, their action is long overdue.”
Cuomo said the criticism does not bother him, but he is concerned that families who are still grieving over the death of a loved one in a nursing home are being told “falsities” that is causing more pain and confusion.
“I should have been more aggressive calling it out,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo did not make any apology to the families who lost loved ones in nursing homes, something many of his critics have asked him to do.