How Andrew Cuomo’s Flashy Bid to Clean Up Albany Backfired

From left: Governor Andrew Cuomo, former State Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, and former State Senate majority leader Dean Skelos. Photo: Andrew Burton/Hans Pennink/Craig Ruttle/Getty Images/AP Photo
Andrew Cuomo’s flashy bid to clean up Albany has left him sullied, two of his prized allies just starting trials for corruption
—and a prosecutor on the hunt.
Governor Andrew Cuomo
Former State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver
Former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos
Photographs by Getty/Andrew Burton (Cuomo); AP Photo/Hans Pennink (Silver); AP Photo/Craig Ruttle (Skelos)

This month, two men who once reigned over Albany’s political apparatus will stand trial in separate corruption cases. On November 2, Sheldon Silver, for two decades the Democratic Speaker of the State Assembly, is scheduled to face charges that he used his position to funnel millions of dollars in business to the law firm where he was of counsel. 

Then, on November 16, Dean Skelos, the former Republican majority leader of the State Senate, is due to stand trial with his son, Adam, for allegedly extorting from firms in exchange for political favors. Both Silver and Skelos had been instrumental in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s first-term successes, and yet both cases got an unintentional boost from Cuomo when he empaneled a commission to look into the state capital’s warped ways.

Known as the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, the panel helped propel the investigations before being disbanded in 2014 amid rumors that Cuomo’s office was meddling in its work. The governor’s abrupt shutdown of Moreland goaded U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara to pursue the commission’s leads. In a sense, the toppling of two of Cuomo’s frequent and crucial allies is just collateral damage in a more epic fight. As the trials of Skelos and Silver play out over the coming months, the greater drama will be just off in the wings: a clash between a wily, aggressive governor and a prosecutor who may be wilier and more aggressive than he is. 

It was supposed to be Cuomo who got the credit for cleaning out the cesspool of Albany’s political culture. Elected during a season of scandals in 2010, Cuomo introduced his first ethics-reform bill not long after taking office. That act required greater disclosure of the financial dealings of state legislators. Still, little changed in the multimillion-dollar netherworld of what was legal but probably shouldn’t be: campaign cash that bought access and influence, outside jobs that increased the chances of the state’s legislators trading their elected offices for personal gain. Then, in 2013, powerful Brooklyn assemblyman Vito Lopez quit after being accused of groping female staffers, and Malcolm Smith, a Queens senator, was arrested and charged with trying to buy his way onto the city mayoral ballot.

Smith was brought down by Bharara, who, since being installed as the federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York in 2009, has charged a dozen legislators. In announcing the indictment against Smith, Bharara took aim at Albany’s wider culture. “We will continue pursuing and punishing every corrupt official we find,” he said, “but the public-corruption crisis in New York is more than a prosecutor’s problem.”

Cuomo’s camp initially saw Bharara as a headline-seeker, yet the governor still felt compelled to regain the high road. In the spring of 2013, when Cuomo proposed another round of ethics reforms, however, the State Legislature refused to pass it. By July, with a reelection campaign looming and Albany’s dirt staining his image, Cuomo resorted to what an aide termed “the nuclear bomb”: his Moreland Commission on state corruption. “It’s going to be a real follow-the-money investigation,” Cuomo told New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin. “We want to see who gives you money, the legislation you introduce.” How serious was he about rooting out sleaze in the state capital? “Serious as a heart attack,” the governor said.

Six days later came not one but three kickoff events, in Albany, in Binghamton, and on Long Island, complete with typically bombastic Cuomo flourishes: a gaudy backdrop of New York landscapes and blue-and-gold placards reading COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE PUBLIC CORRUPTION placed right below the governor’s microphone so the TV cameras couldn’t miss them.

Named for the 1907 act that gives them their authority to investigate state government, Moreland Commissions have been deployed sparingly, just eight times in the eight decades before the current governor’s arrival. In 2012, after Hurricane Sandy, Cuomo empaneled a Moreland Commission that heaped blame for the post-storm blackout of nearly 1 million customers on the Long Island Power Authority. 

To the governor, the main purpose of this Moreland Commission was similarly tactical: to put pressure on lawmakers to pass his ethics reforms. During his years in politics, Cuomo had made an art of such power plays. When he was state attorney general, for instance, during the furor over Wall Street bailouts, he encouraged AIG executives to return their bonuses by raising the possibility that the names of anyone who refused would be released publicly.

To show his seriousness this time, Cuomo assembled a 25-member panel that included ten sitting district attorneys, both Democrats and Republicans, plus three co-chairs. Eric Schneiderman, the state attorney general, agreed to certify Moreland’s members as deputy attorneys general, which enabled the commission to extend its reach to examine the Legislature; in exchange, Schneiderman got to recommend nine of the commission’s members. For Moreland’s chief of investigations, the governor selected Danya Perry, who had been a federal prosecutor for 11 years in the Southern District, for a time under Bharara. Perry had most recently prosecuted a successful $1 billion disability-fraud case involving Long Island Rail Road workers, and she’d risen to become deputy chief of the criminal division.

Moreland’s staffers began to look at how money had been flowing through Albany with spotty oversight. Perry suggested hiring K2 Intelligence, a data-analysis and security firm. Using a program called Palantir, which has been effective in tracing money-laundering by terrorists, K2 would try to connect any dots between campaign donations, bills in the State Legislature, state grants, lobbyist payments, and the private employment of state senators and assemblymen. It was a massive, never-before-attempted undertaking that required the gathering of thousands of records. Just their translation into a common format would take months to complete.

Meanwhile, the commission subpoenaed the state-office-building security cards and E-Z Pass records of legislators to see which ones were claiming to be working in Albany — and collecting a $172 per diem on top of their salaries — when they were in fact out of town. It also looked into the dubious use of campaign funds by lawmakers. Among state senators, Greg Ball allegedly used campaign money to finance a trip to Acapulco; George Maziarz allegedly spent $140,000 on everything from wine to the hiring of a party clown. Neither has been charged with any violation, and both said they’d followed all the rules. But Ball and Maziarz both decided to retire in 2014, shortly after stories appeared saying they’d been scrutinized by Moreland.

Investigators also targeted individual lawmakers. The State Legislature is in session for less than half the year, for which lawmakers are paid a base salary of $79,500. Many supplement this with outside income. One commission probe looked at the financial dealings of Assemblyman Dov Hikind. Brooklyn’s Maimonides Medical Center bought ads on Hikind’s radio show through Hikind’s for-profit ad agency while the hospital was applying for hundreds of thousands of dollars in state grant money and lobbying the assemblyman for help. Hikind had not disclosed the income from the company, but he amended his financial statements after questions from business magazine Crain’s.

The Legislature fought tenaciously to keep Moreland from asking too many questions about what its members did for outside income, going to court to quash Moreland’s subpoenas by arguing that they violated the New York State Constitution’s separation-of-powers mandate. There had been years of Albany chatter that Silver was cashing in on his powerful position, and in June 2013, Bharara started investigating the Assembly Speaker’s private-sector ties. Moreland joined the hunt the next month. But when the commission subpoenaed Weitz & Luxenberg, the law firm that employed Silver, the firm filed its own motions to block the demand for documents, slowing down investigators for months.

Perry’s team had also begun looking into the Long Island law firm employing Republican State Senate majority leader Dean Skelos. For most of his first term, Cuomo had enjoyed a productive relationship with Silver and Skelos, a dynamic that allowed Cuomo to deliver on-time budgets and progressive social policy, like the legalization of gay marriage and the tightening of gun-control laws. As the lawmakers squirmed, those relationships began to fray, an outcome Cuomo didn’t seem to have fully anticipated.

Other Moreland inquiries met with more resistance from the governor’s office. The problems began in the commission’s first few weeks. The governor had talked about following the money, so one of the first targets for Perry’s team was New York’s real-estate industry and its lobbying arm, the Real Estate Board of New York. In the 2014 election cycle, according to Politico New York, members of REBNY gave $21.7 million in campaign contributions to state-level candidates and political parties. A subpoena for REBNY’s records was drawn up and approved by the commission’s co-chairs. But one of Cuomo’s top aides, Larry Schwartz, raised objections.

Schwartz’s title at the time was “secretary to the governor,” but that understated his role: He enforced Cuomo’s agenda within government. Schwartz was the primary liaison between the “second floor” — the location of the governor’s office in the state-capitol building — and the commission. A major New York Times story on the administration’s role in Moreland reported that Schwartz had called one of the commission co-chairs “in a fury” and argued that the subpoena should not be served. Schwartz told the Times, in a written statement, that he believed asking for documents to be turned over voluntarily would improve “effectiveness and fairness.” Commission investigators sent a letter requesting documents; REBNY complied, handing over hundreds of pages of material.

Investigators plunged ahead on another front, examining corporations that spent heavily on Albany lobbyists and campaign contributions to see whether their cash was rewarded with beneficial legislation. In March 2013, State Senate Republicans had included in the budget a tax credit for businesses employing teenage minimum-wage workers. The measure could have saved Walmart millions, so Moreland’s investigators wanted to see whether the retail giant’s lobbying efforts had influenced Republican enthusiasm for the tax break. And FedEx had been angling for an exemption to a bill that could have forced the company to classify its drivers as employees instead of as independent contractors.

In mid-August 2013, the commission approved subpoenas of both companies, and process servers were ready to deliver them, when the commission’s executive director, Regina Calcaterra, suddenly demanded they stop. “Regina is running up and down the hall saying we have to pull back the subpoenas,” one stunned staffer emailed a colleague. “Walmart, FedEx, and respective lobbyists. She didn’t mention who gave the order.” Later, after asking to be formally subpoenaed, both companies submitted relevant though inconclusive documents to Moreland. (A Walmart spokesman says the company “played no role” in the debate over the minimum-wage legislation and has not applied for the tax credit.) In 2014 Cuomo signed the bill strengthening rules for truck-driver classification; it did not grant FedEx an exemption.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Photo: Jeff Brown

Stories claiming Cuomo and his aides were steering Moreland’s investigations began leaking to the press. At the end of that August, the governor traveled to Oneida to hold a press conference on the state’s distribution of money to rebuild after a series of floods. Afterward, Cuomo shrugged off suggestions from reporters that Moreland had any limitations. “Anything they want to look at, they can look at — me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman,” he said. “They have total ability to look at whatever they want to look at.”

That same morning, a Moreland Commission meeting had turned tumultuous over the very subject of the second floor’s repeated interventions. One senior Moreland staffer dubbed the factions that emerged “Team Independence” and “Team We-Have-a-Boss.” Team Independence was captained by Perry, with forceful guidance and backing by Kathleen Rice, the Nassau County district attorney and one of the commission’s three co-chairs. Rice had been a member of Cuomo’s Moreland Commission on Sandy, and that experience had initially left her reluctant to get involved with the public-corruption commission; she didn’t want to be part of another panel whose conclusions, she believed, were preordained.

Team We-Have-a-Boss was headed by Calcaterra, who had served as executive director of the Sandy commission. “I think Regina rightly viewed her role as the person on the commission who works for the governor, who’s in a spot there to steer the commission where the governor wants it to go,” the senior Moreland staffer says. “Danya is fiercely independent, as is Kathleen, and they [both] have a very bullish personality when it comes to ‘I think this is wrong and I’m going to follow it.’ ” During the meeting, while staffers aired their concerns, Calcaterra typed on her BlackBerry — reporting the proceedings, they came to believe, directly to the governor’s office. “That meeting,” a top Moreland staffer says, “was the beginning of the demise of the commission.”

When the session broke up, one co-chair, William Fitzpatrick, said the co-chairs would confirm the commission’s independence in a meeting with Cuomo. Yet the tensions between the investigators and the governor’s office only grew.

In 2011, Cuomo had urged business and civic leaders to become a more forceful presence in Albany, particularly as a counterweight to labor unions. The resulting Committee to Save New York rapidly became the state’s biggest single lobbyist, raising and spending at least $15 million and running TV and radio ads that backed Cuomo’s (ultimately successful) proposals for capping local property taxes and reducing the cost of public-employee pensions.

The primary donors to CSNY appear to have been some of New York’s most powerful real-estate companies. Yet the specifics of who contributed to CSNY, and how much, were shrouded by its designation as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group. “From day one, the governor’s people were telling us to look at dark money and 501(c)’s,” a commission staffer says. But when Rice suggested subpoenaing CSNY, the governor’s team pushed back. “That was the third rail we couldn’t touch,” a top staffer says.

“I was not concerned about independence because I never would’ve signed on if I thought or even suspected otherwise,” says Fitzpatrick, the Onondaga County district attorney and one of Moreland’s co-chairs. But Cuomo’s involvement seems to have shifted as the commission began its work. “In order to get the Moreland co-chairs onboard, [Cuomo] told them they’d be independent — then he tried to take it away,” a Cuomo associate says. “That aggravated the problem and made them even less controllable.” The governor has argued that his office was only trying to help the commission — not to keep it out of politically sensitive territory but to keep Moreland’s investigators from blundering in ways that would be counterproductive to the goal of getting the Legislature to pass better ethics laws.

The hiring of Perry as lead investigator was an odd choice for a governor renowned for maintaining a tight, loyal circle of personnel. “What I heard from people in the Southern District early on was that she was a good prosecutor — and hard to control,” a Democrat who has worked with the governor says. “Which is why she turned out the way she did on Moreland.” A friend describes Perry as not so much politically naïve as politically oblivious. “She knew very little about New York politics,” a Moreland staffer says. “At the beginning, I remember her peppering me with questions about who was loyal to who in state government. She was often offended about how things work in politics.”

Bharara, meanwhile, was keeping up his drumbeat. In October, he brought fraud charges against an influential political consultant whose clients had included the state Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Today’s complaint alleges that New York’s culture of political corruption extends beyond elected officials to the relatively unknown professional political insiders who work behind the scenes,” the prosecutor said. After the conviction of former Bronx assemblyman Eric Stevenson on bribery charges, Bharara emphasized that the case was just one step in a larger quest. “Graft and greed are intolerable in Albany, and we will go to trial as often as we have to until government in New York is cleaned up.” Meanwhile, the Daily News and the Times ran stories claiming Cuomo’s heavy hand was holding back Moreland’s investigators, including their initial attempt to subpoena the state Democratic Party, which had spent millions of dollars on ads boosting the governor.

Cuomo seemed off-balance, unable to figure out how to regain authority over what he’d set in motion. “Giving up control is not something I’ve done often in my life,” the governor writes in All Things Possible, his recent autobiography, recounting his reluctance to rely on navigational instruments during a foggy boat trip down the East Coast. That alarming feeling of being at the mercy of outside forces returned as Cuomo struggled to regain his grip on Moreland. “He was disoriented by it, knocked off his game,” a Cuomo adviser says. “Every governor is going to have a catastrophe or two. Often they’re financial, but Andrew’s recession was Preet and Moreland.”

In December 2013, the commission issued a 98-page report that was at once scathing and unsatisfying. “Our investigation thus far reveals a pay-to-play political culture driven by large checks, anemic enforcement of the weak laws we have on the books, and loopholes and workarounds that make those laws weaker still,” the executive summary says. The report illustrated the problem by quoting blunt emails: from lobbyists prodding their clients to keep contributing tens of thousands of dollars to lawmakers in a position to approve legislation, because “with the NYS Legislature it is not over until the fat lady sings,” and from one recipient of a state grant complaining that “it was likely over the last 15 years, we had paid [the official] … more than [the official] was now giving us.” It documented how one business had used 25 shell companies to dodge individual-contribution limits and make 147 separate donations totaling $3.1 million.

Smaller bore but grubbier were the creative-accounting practices of individual lawmakers. “Several legislators,” the Moreland report says, “appear to lease or purchase expensive vehicles with campaign funds while personally claiming tens of thousands in travel reimbursement from the state.” The report stopped short, however, of calling out individual bad actors and made no mention at all of CSNY.

In early January, during his State of the State address, Cuomo cited the commission’s interim report as evidence for the need to pass new ethics proposals. “Ethics reform says to the people of this state: ‘Yes, I saw the news articles too, and it bothers me and I’m troubled by it,’ ” Cuomo said. Later that month, when he released his proposed state budget, Cuomo included a number of reforms: anti-bribery measures; the creation of an independent enforcement office for election-law violations; tighter campaign-fund-raising laws; and increased disclosure requirements for legislators’ outside income. 

But even as the governor was leveraging Moreland’s findings to pass his legislation, commission members believed he and his lieutenants were attempting to defang their investigations. Long Island congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy had just announced that she would retire. Cuomo, according to commission sources, repeatedly nudged Rice to quit Moreland and run for the seat, and at another point he said he’d remove her if she didn’t leave voluntarily. Meanwhile, after several months, K2 had completed most of the number-crunching on Perry’s lobbyist database. But in January 2014, the data analysis stalled as the administration raised questions about K2’s contract.

Moreland’s leaders suspected Cuomo would shut down the commission if the governor’s ethics reforms passed as part of the bargain for a state budget. So Rice and others pushed to make sure possible criminal cases were referred to a range of jurisdictions. Moreland’s investigators referred possible criminal cases to several U.S. Attorneys. The Northern District — which encompasses Albany — got five leads, involving state legislators who may have abused per diem rules. Moreland investigators sent the Dov Hikind case and one other to the Eastern District, which covers Brooklyn. Bharara and the Southern District took up Moreland’s investigations into Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, the two most powerful people in the State Legislature.

Bharara had eagerly testified at the Moreland Commission’s first public hearing, telling its members, “It is your challenge, amid high hopes, to hold public officials to account, to expose obscure corners of graft and greed, and to restore faith in honest government.” His proposal to strip convicted public officials of their pensions drew cheers from newspaper editorial pages. 

As the investigations unfolded, Moreland’s staffers stayed in touch with Bharara’s office, as well as with other federal prosecutors, in part to make sure they weren’t infringing on one another’s cases. After issuing their report, commission investigators grew worried that some of their work might be buried if Cuomo shut down Moreland, concerns they relayed to the Southern District. “Preet was disgusted by what the governor was saying about Moreland on the one hand and what he was doing on the other,” a legal colleague says.

Rice departed the commission in January 2014. (She declined to comment on Moreland’s proceedings, but a spokesman says her decision to run — successfully — for Congress had nothing to do with Cuomo’s advice.) As the end loomed for the commission, staffers feared their files were being accessed without their knowledge. “I was emailing myself all kinds of documents because I didn’t know when we’d lose access to the server. And I was like, ‘If we lose access to the server and they delete it …’ ” says Janos Marton, a lawyer who was one of Moreland’s investigators. 

On a Saturday at the end of that March, during a conference call with reporters to discuss the nearly final state budget, Cuomo made official what commission members had anticipated: that he’d disband Moreland if the Legislature adopted his ethics proposals. Two days later, the Legislature passed the budget. The commission was dead.

The governor’s intent was for the Moreland Commission files to be distributed to a number of jurisdictions, including the Southern District, but Bharara remained concerned that the findings of the nascent investigations would disappear with the commission. On April 3, Bharara sent a letter to the Moreland Commission asking it to preserve documents. Days later, the Southern District and the FBI dispatched agents and a truck to the commission’s offices and carted off every laptop and piece of paper. Then Bharara went on WNYC’s “Brian Lehrer Show.” “I don’t know what went on and what deals were struck,” he told Lehrer, “[but] there was an appearance that cases were being bargained away in exchange for a political deal.”

“With a couple of lines, he set off the storm,” a Cuomo insider says. As more stories about the governor’s alleged interference began appearing in the press, Cuomo argued that it was impossible for him to meddle in Moreland because the commission belonged to him. “It’s my commission. My subpoena power, my Moreland Commission. I can appoint it, I can disband it. I appoint you, I can un-appoint you tomorrow,” the governor told the editorial board of Crain’s. “So, interference? It’s my commission. I can’t ‘interfere’ with it, because it is mine. It is controlled by me.”

In July 2014, Bharara went after Cuomo directly for his role in Moreland, writing a sternly worded — and quickly leaked — letter to the governor in which he threatened to investigate Cuomo for witness tampering and obstruction of justice. Bharara also invited Schwartz and Mylan Denerstein, Cuomo’s former chief counsel, to the U.S. Attorney’s office in lower Manhattan to discuss the administration’s role in Moreland.

Cuomo had been willing to take the short-term hit in bad press from unplugging Moreland. What he didn’t fully anticipate, though, was how his actions would stoke Bharara’s anger and ambition. A Democrat who has worked with Cuomo thinks that this failure was a product of the governor’s greatest weakness. “He didn’t anticipate Preet because Andrew is a tactician, not a strategist,” the government veteran says. “The Moreland Commission, from start to finish, was an exercise in zero forethought and planning. This was not a giant conspiracy. Andrew had this vision of that first press conference, with all these prosecutors sitting up there and announcing they were going to root out corruption. That was the best day of the commission’s life. I don’t think he had a plan beyond that. It wasn’t on his mind that the commission could turn on him, or that anyone beyond the commission might be interested.”

For Bharara, the commission turned out to be both a provocation and a research gift. Now armed with Moreland’s leads, the prosecutor went about finishing the commission’s work. He reissued subpoenas to the firms employing Silver and Skelos and got documents Moreland had been denied. The papers and witnesses exposed how Silver had allegedly leveraged his political power to make $4 million in outside income through two schemes. In the first, prosecutors say, Silver pressured real-estate developers to hire a small law firm, Goldberg & Iryami; the firm then funneled part of its fee to Silver, even though he did no work for it. In the second, far more lucrative arrangement, Bharara claims that a doctor directed patients with asbestos-related illnesses to Silver, who signed them up as clients for Weitz & Luxenberg, a major personal-injury law firm. Silver received more than $3 million in fees; the doctor, prosecutors say, got $500,000 in state grant money for medical research with Silver’s help.

In January 2015, Cuomo delivered a strikingly upbeat State of the State speech, complete with a PowerPoint slide depicting himself, Dean Skelos, and Silver as the “Three Amigos,” because they’d become such close collaborators, delivering four straight on-time budgets after years of blown deadlines, pre-Cuomo. That night, the Times’ website dropped another bombshell: Bharara would be arresting Silver on corruption charges. In an added layer of irony, Bharara would use Cuomo’s own 2011 ethics reforms to help indict Silver. Silver has pleaded not guilty.

The prosecutor announced the actual indictment with a press conference full of charts and quips where he told reporters to “stay tuned” for more Albany-corruption cases. The hype earned Bharara a rebuke from Judge Valerie Caproni, who is presiding over the Silver case; she warned that Bharara’s media blitz was verging on the prejudicial. “The court,” Caproni wrote, “is troubled by remarks by the U.S. Attorney that appeared to bundle together unproven allegations regarding the defendant with broader commentary on corruption and a lack of transparency in certain aspects of New York State politics.”

In May, Bharara convulsed the state capital again by charging Skelos with extortion and soliciting bribes in a convoluted attempt to help his son, Adam. According to the indictment, Skelos supposedly persuaded a New York real-estate executive to pay commissions to Adam, helped Adam get a consulting job for which he was unqualified at an environmental firm, used his office to help the firm get a multimillion-dollar government contract, and leaned on the pollution-control company to pay his son more or risk losing Skelos’s support for the contract bid. Both Skeloses have pleaded not guilty.

It is unusual, and perhaps unprecedented, for a U.S. Attorney to pursue an extended investigation of state government. That may have been one of the reasons the governor’s team underestimated Bharara, figuring he would lose interest in Albany after scoring a few headlines. “For the first time in Cuomo’s tenure, he had somebody like himself messing with him,” says an Albany insider who knows the governor well. “Andrew had always been the guy who threw the banana peel, which is why he didn’t see what was going on with Preet for a long time.”

As the trials of Skelos and Silver begin this month, Cuomo has held on to his perch, despite Bharara’s zealous efforts. In pursuing Skelos, Bharara reeled in at least one well-connected informant, Charles Dorego, a lobbyist for the real-estate industry who was involved with the Committee to Save New York. Yet a source familiar with the investigation says Bharara subpoenaed CSNY’s records more than a year ago — which is a good sign for Cuomo, in that nothing incriminating has emerged from the documents in all that time.

Bharara’s frustration at not being able to make the biggest Albany case of all seems to be growing. In July, as part of a pretrial filing in the Silver case, Bharara submitted a letter to Silver’s defense attorneys (who submitted it to the court in early September) asserting that Rice and another Moreland co-chair, Milton Williams Jr., as well as Perry, had told prosecutors “they believed the governor and his staff were intervening in the activities of the Moreland Commission in a manner that, at times, led them to question the independence of the Moreland Commission.”* The short paragraph seemed like a warning that Bharara is still watching, and that he is still capable of using Moreland to damage Cuomo politically, even if the governor never crossed any criminal lines.

The governor has lately been regaining his political footing, tacking left by raising the state’s minimum wage and expanding New York’s protections for the transgendered. Bharara, though, isn’t going away. In September, he opened a new front in his war with Cuomo. The prosecutor has started delving into the “Buffalo Billion,” one of the governor’s highest-profile, most expensive pet projects, which is investing a billion dollars to spur the development of high-tech, medical, and tourism businesses in western New York. Bharara subpoenaed the SUNY Polytechnic Institute to examine its role in choosing the builder of a solar-panel factory. A 2013 request for proposals, which was later revised, had been written in such a way that it appeared to rule out developers other than LPCiminelli. The company’s president, Louis Ciminelli, is a top Cuomo donor and, along with entities he controls, has given $90,800 since 2011. Cuomo has said he had no knowledge of or involvement in the process.

Buffalo is a long way from Bharara’s office in lower Manhattan. But as the trials of Silver and Skelos provide a high-stakes test of the prosecutor’s Albany crusade, the new investigation is a reminder of just how far Preet Bharara is willing to roam to show Andrew Cuomo what he thinks the rules of state government should be.

*This article appears in the November 2, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.

*This article has been corrected to show that Bharara’s letter was sent to Silver’s defense attorneys, who then submitted it in court. Bharara did not submit the letter himself.