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DA Fitzpatrick responds to Albany corruption, Cuomo's plan to pardon nonviolent juvenile offenders

Tom Magnarelli
DA William Fitzpatrick being sworn into office on Tuesday.

Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick was sworn into office for a seventh time on Tuesday.  At the swearing-in ceremony, Fitzpatrick reflected back on his public service, which has included serving on a commission that investigated corruption in the New York State Legislature. The same legislature that has seen its leadership upended by guilty verdicts on federal corruption charges.
Fitzpatrick was appointed a co-chairman on the Moreland Commission more than two years ago when it was set up by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to investigate corruption in the state legislature. The commission ended in 2014 when the legislature passed some ethics reform. The commission then turned over its materials to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Bharara recently won successful guilty verdicts against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Majority Leader of the Senate Dean Skelos on corruption charges, such as bribery and taking kickbacks.

Fitzpatrick said he anticipates Bharara will continue to have a busy year in 2016. The DA said the problem with legislators who think they can get away with ethics violations is they have no shame.

“If 30 legislators being arrested, convicted, indicted and in some cases getting sent to prison doesn’t get your attention, good Lord, what does?” Fiztpatrick asked.

Fitzpatrick said there was good news out of the Moreland Commission for central New York.

“There wasn’t a single legislator that represents Onondaga County whose name even came up in our investigation of corruption,” Fitzpatrick said.

Skelos and Silver could face decades in prison.

Juvenile Pardons

In response to Cuomo announcing executive pardons to 16- and 17-year-olds convicted of non-violent crimes, Fitzpatrick said more specifics are needed.  The action would wipe criminal records clean if the offenders stay conviction-free for 10 years. Fitzpatrick said while the details need to be worked out, he has no problem with the governor’s proposal.

“A person who has that conviction, that’s a stigma that sticks with that person for the rest of their lives," Fitzpatrick said. "If you get caught shoplifting, should you at 30 be denied a job when for 20 years, 15 years you’ve kept a clean record? It's a minor drug offense and you've kept clean and you've raised a family. Shouldn't you have the right to a fresh start? I think so."

Fitzpatrick said he might be in favor of raising the age limit to include those who committed non-violent crimes in their early 20s. He said he agrees with the governor on excluding sex offender and violent criminals. The plan would affect about 10,000 people and 350 people annually.   

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.