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Paterson faces ethics charges over World Series tickets

New York Gov. David Paterson's office says he intends to challenge the ethics panel's findings.
New York Gov. David Paterson's office says he intends to challenge the ethics panel's findings.
  • New York ethics panel says governor accepted free World Series tickets
  • He lied under oath about intending to pay for tickets, commission says
  • Governor maintains his innocence, his office says
  • He could be hit with fines for violating ethics restrictions

New York (CNN) -- New York's Commission on Public Integrity is charging Gov. David Paterson with an ethics violation for accepting free tickets to the first game of last year's World Series, the commission said Wednesday.

Paterson violated the state's restriction on gifts for public officials in October when he sought free tickets to the game in Yankee Stadium between the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies, the commission said. The commission also said Paterson lied under oath about intending to pay for the tickets.

The governor's office said it was reviewing the commission's findings.

"Governor Paterson maintains his innocence and intends to challenge the findings of the commission both with respect to the law and the facts," the office said.

"The governor takes this matter very seriously and intends to fully cooperate with any further inquiries or investigations, but believes the commission has acted unfairly in this matter."

The governor could face an $80,000 fine for violating the state's gift ban for public officials and up to $10,000 if he is found to have used his official position to secure unwarranted privileges.

The commission has asked New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and the Albany County district attorney to investigate whether Paterson or "anyone else" committed a crime during the governor's interview with the commission and by causing a check to be back-dated.

Paterson, who announced last week that he would not run for election to a full term, has faced controversy since news reports charged that his aide was involved in a domestic violence incident with a woman and that state police later allegedly pressured her to keep quiet.

The aide, David Johnson, has been suspended without pay.

Paterson has asked Cuomo, a possible contender for the governor's office, to investigate the matter.

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Johnson was among the four guests who attended the October 28 game with Paterson, the Commission on Public Integrity said. He also was involved in obtaining the tickets, which cost $425 a piece, from the Yankees, the commission said in its notice of reasonable cause.

According to the commission, the governor testified that he decided he should attend Game One of the World Series and directed Johnson to get tickets from the Yankees. The governor told his aide that the request should include tickets for his son, Alex, and his son's friend.

Johnson then told the governor's scheduler, Matthew Nelson, to contact the Yankees about five or six tickets. Johnson said Paterson would be attending in a "ceremonial capacity."

Based on Johnson's representation, the commission said, "the Yankees did not expect payment for any tickets because the tickets were for official business." They had requested a letter from the governor's counsel confirming that, and the counsel had sent a letter saying so, the commission said. The Yankees said they require such confirmation or payment when public officials request tickets, the commission said.

However, the commission said, the governor did not participate in opening ceremonies for the game and was not announced to the crowd. He also did not meet with first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden's wife, Jill Biden, who attended the game, or members of the Yankees organization, the commission said.

In testimony, the governor said he always intended to pay for the tickets for his son and his son's friend. He said he had taken a check to the game for the tickets, filling out the date and the $850 but leaving the payee section blank.

"While he had no opportunity to pay while at the stadium, the governor testified that he gave the check to Johnson and asked him to send the check to the Yankees," the commission said.

However, the commission said that it had compared the handwriting on the check with that of the governor's handwriting on other documents and that the governor did not write the check sent to the Yankees.

"The handwriting on the check that Johnson forwarded to the Yankees as payment for his ticket to Game One reveals that the same person who wrote and signed the governor's check also wrote and signed Johnson's check," the commission said.

The check Paterson said he wrote is dated October 27, the day before Game One, the commission said, although the governor said he had written the check on the day of the game.

In its notice of of reasonable cause, the commission also cited testimony from the governor's communications director, Peter Kauffmann, whom a New York Post reporter had asked about payment for the tickets.

Kauffmann said that he had discussed the game several times with Paterson and Johnson and that the governor indicated to him that Yankees President Randy Levine, a law school classmate of Paterson's, had invited Paterson to the game, the commission said.

"During this conversation, the governor said nothing to Kauffmann about his intention to pay for the tickets for his son or his son's friend, nor did the governor mention anything about having previously written a check for $850 and giving it to Johnson as payment to the Yankees," the commission said.

The reporter later told Kauffmann that the Yankees disputed Paterson's account, saying Levine had never invited the governor to the game, the commission said.

Kauffmann confronted the governor, who "then conceded to Kauffmann that Levine had not explicitly invited him to Game One," the commission said.

The commission also said the governor and his son attended last year's Opening Day at Yankee Stadium and at Citi Field, where the New York Mets play.

"The governor testified that he did not pay for his ticket or his son's ticket" for either event, the commission said.