Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said Thursday that State Attorney General Letitia James can launch a sweeping criminal probe of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s controversial COVID-19 nursing home policies and decisions without a referral from DiNapoli’s office.
DiNapoli responded to a letter sent to him last month by VoicesForSeniors, a group founded by relatives of nursing home residents who died from the coronavirus last year.
In the letter, the group urged DiNapoli to make a “referral” to Attorney General Letitia James under Section 63(3) of the state’s Executive Law to probe Cuomo’s nursing home policies and actions during the pandemic that rocked New York last year — including the financial terms for the publishing of the governor’s “Leadership” book amid the pandemic.
Such a referral would permit DiNapoli and James to “use both the audit power of the comptroller’s office and the investigatory and enforcement power of the attorney general,” the activists said.
But DiNapoli passed the buck on Cuomo’s COVID-19 nursing home scandal and put the ball in James’ court.
In a letter released Thursday, DiNapoli counsel Nelson Sheingold said the AG’s Medicaid Fraud and Control has the legal authority to investigate the Cuomo administration’s handling of nursing homes during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Sheingold noted the attorney general had already issued a damning Jan. 28 report on nursing homes that found Cuomo’s health department had undercounted COVID-linked nursing home deaths by 50 percent.
After months of stonewalling, the health department released an updated and dramatically higher count of coronavirus nursing home resident deaths just hours after James’ bombshell analysis. More than 15,000 elderly residents of nursing homes and other long term facilities were killed by COVID.
James is already investigating sexual harassment allegations against the governor.
The US Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn and the FBI are also looking into the administration’s handling of nursing home deaths and other COVID policies.
Meanwhile, there is an impeachment investigation being conducted by the state Assembly Judiciary Committee, which is looking into accusations that Cuomo’s team moved his family members — including brother and CNN anchor Chris Cuomo — to the head of the line for getting COVID tests at the onset of the pandemic, as well as the nursing home and harassment scandals.
“Based on my discussions with your office, it is my understanding that under the existing authority vested in the the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud and Control Unit, your office already possesses the requisite authority to conduct any criminal investigation related to nursing homes,” Sheingold said in a letter to Jose Maldonado, the deputy attorney general for the criminal division.
Vivian Zayas, co-founder of VoicesForSeniors, said, “The ball is now in AG Leticia James court, and we hope she will pick up the mantle.
“We ask again for a meeting with her on behalf of 15,000 dead nursing home residents and for her to start an investigation into Cuomo,” Zayas said.
Zayas said the AG should investigate Cuomo’s whether connections to key hospital industry executives and lobbyists influenced his decision to pass a law last year shielding medical facilities from malpractice suits during the pandemic.
She also said the AG should investigate the controversial March 25, 2020, state Health Department directive that required nursing homes to admit recovering COVID patients discharged from hospitals.
But Zayas said she’s not letting DiNapoli off the hook, demanding that he conduct a joint probe with James. It’s a “cop-out” if he doesn’t, she said.
“We want the comptroller to investigate misuse of the state resources and staff linked to the book deal, COVID testing and vaccination rollout,” she said.
In its March 19 letter to DiNapoli, “Voices for Seniors” letter raised questions that included “How and why did the governor’s administration issue the March 25 order?” to admit COVID-19 patients and “Were there financial considerations in that decision?”
They also asked, “Who wrote Governor Cuomo’s ‘book’ and did they do so on the state’s dime? Are there communications between the governor and the publisher that establish a profit motive for the coverup?”
The Assembly impeachment probe is looking into whether Cuomo used state government staffers to write his book, and whether he deliberately low-balled COVID-19 nursing home resident deaths in an official health department report released last July while completing the book on the pandemic.
James and Cuomo had no immediate comment.
Cuomo has maintained he acted appropriately.