A leading New York activist praised the jailing of one of the state's most powerful Republicans and his son after their conviction on bribery and corruption charges as a victory for good government.
Judy Pepenella also told me that she expected more "cleaning house" to be done, including in Governor Andrew Cuomo's office.
"Not enough cleaning has been done in New York State," Pepenella -- who is a founding board member of Conservative Society for Action, Coordinator for the New York State Grassroots Coalition, and the state coordinator for Tea Party Patriots -- said. "[U.S. attorney] Preet Bharara has started opening doors, opening windows, letting in the sun. And the cockroaches are running, and the cockroaches are most of the elected officials."
Bharara is the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. He has gained a reputation for targeting corrupt politicians in the state, including former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who on Thursday was sentenced to five years in prison. Skelos is one of the people Pepenella called "three men in a room."
"[Former Assembly Speaker] Sheldon Silver -- he's down for 12 years -- Dean Skelos is down for five years, his son for six-and-a-half, and then there's Andrew Cuomo," Pepenella explained. "Recently, three or four of [Cuomo's] top aides are under investigation."
In April, the FBI raided the homes of Joseph Percoco and Todd Howe in connection with Bharara's investigations. Percoco is a former Cuomo aide, and Howe is a lobbyist who worked under Cuomo's father during his time as governor and maintained, until recently, a close relationship with the sitting governor's office as a lobbyist and businessman.
According to The Associated Press, Skelos and Silver -- a Republican and a Democrat, respectively -- are the two highest-ranking officials to leave office under the cloud of investigation. Skelos was convicted last year of using his position to financially benefit his son to the tune of more than $300,000. The judge who sentenced Skelos "calculated the total dollar amount loss of his crime at $680,120, and she fined him $500,000," reported AP.
Pepenella says Cuomo could be next. "The connection to Cuomo is interesting. He pushed for the Moreland investigation, which was going to break down all of the corruption, it was going to stop corruption. As soon as it got to his door, he shut down the entire investigation. So Cuomo's on fire, but he took care of his own fire."
Members of the Moreland Commission, which was created by Cuomo in 2013 and then shut down nine months later, questioned whether Cuomo's office had interfered with the independence of the investigative group. Earlier this year, according to The New York Times, Bharara's office declared that there was "insufficient evidence to prove a federal crime."
But in a statement issued after Skelos' sentencing, Bharara said he wasn't done attacking corruption, and seemed to take a shot across Cuomo's bow. "The nearly simultaneous convictions of Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, whose corruption crimes were laid bare during fair and public trials, have no precedent," said Bharara.
"And while Silver and Skelos deserve their prison sentences, the people of New York deserve better. These cases show -- and history teaches -- that the most effective corruption investigations are those that are truly independent and not in danger of either interference or premature shutdown. That will continue to be our guiding principle in exposing and punishing corruption throughout New York."