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Prosecutor drops groping charge against former NY Gov. Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Mike Groll
Office of the Governor
Gov. Andrew Cuomo

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo won’t face criminal prosecution over an allegation that he fondled an aide after a prosecutor said Tuesday he couldn’t prove the case.

Three days before the Democratic ex-governor was due to answer the misdemeanor charge in court, Albany County District Attorney David Soares asked a judge to dismiss a criminal complaint that the county sheriff filed in October.

“While we found the complainant in this case cooperative and credible, after review of all the available evidence, we have concluded that we cannot meet our burden at trial,” Soares said in a statement, adding that he was “deeply troubled” by the allegation.

Soares, a Democrat, didn’t detail why he felt it would be tough to win a conviction.

In a letter to the judge, he said “statutory elements of New York law make this case impossible to prove.” He added that multiple government inquiries into Cuomo’s conduct had created “technical and procedural hurdles” regarding prosecutors’ obligations to disclose evidence to the defense.

Soares said his office considered other potential criminal charges, but none fit the allegations.

Cuomo, who has vehemently denied the allegation, had no immediate comment on the development, first reported by The Times-Union of Albany.

The charges against Cuomo were based on allegations by Brittany Commisso, one of the governor’s executive assistants before he resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations in August.

Commisso says Cuomo slid his hand up her blouse and grabbed her breast when they were alone in an office at the governor’s mansion in Albany in late 2020.

Her lawyer, Brian Premo, said in a statement Tuesday that she “had no control over the filing or prosecution of criminal charges. She had no authority or voice in those decisions.”

“The only thing she has any power over is her resolution to continue to speak the truth and seek justice in an appropriate civil action, which she will do in due course,” he added.

Her testimony was included in a report, released in August by Democratic state Attorney General Letitia James, that concluded Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women. Cuomo announced his resignation a week after the report’s release, which he’s attacked as inaccurate and biased.

“I knew, and he knew, too, that that was wrong,” Commisso told investigators for the attorney general’s office.

Cuomo denied that he had groped her, telling the attorney general’s investigators “it would be an act of insanity to touch a woman’s breast and make myself vulnerable to a woman for such an accusation.”

Cuomo attorney Rita Glavin has said Commisso had an “evolving version” of what happened.

In October, Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple’s office filed a criminal complaint against Cuomo in connection with Commisso’s allegation.

Soares later criticized Apple for “unilaterally and inexplicably” filing the complaint without first consulting with his office. The prosecutor criticized Apple’s filing as “potentially defective” in asking a judge to delay Cuomo’s arraignment from November to January.

Apple has said the court paperwork was processed quickly, before he had a chance to consult with the district attorney. But he said he was confident in the case’s strength.

The Associated Press doesn’t identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they decide to tell their stories publicly, as Commisso has done in interviews.

The development in Albany comes after two prosecutors in New York City suburbs separately announced Cuomo wouldn’t face criminal charges for allegations involving other women.

A Long Island prosecutor announced on Dec. 23that there would be no charges after a state trooper on Cuomo’s security detail told state investigators that he ran his hand across her abdomen at an event at Belmont Park in September 2019.

Five days later, the district attorney in Westchester County announced Cuomo would not face chargesstemming from allegations from that same trooper and another woman that the former governor planted unwanted kisses on their cheeks.

In both instances, the prosecutors said that the allegations were credible, but they could not pursue criminal charges.

Mariann Wang, a lawyer for two women who told independent investigators Cuomo harassed them, said her clients were disappointed by the news Tuesday, but not surprised.

“Unfortunately, our penal laws and system frequently do not properly punish the acts of so many abusive men in power,” Wang said. “Cuomo’s conduct was nonetheless unlawful and deeply harmful to the women who were subjected to it, as the Attorney General and Assembly found in their reports.”

A November report from a law firm hired by the state Assembly’s Judiciary Committee said it found “overwhelming evidence” that Cuomo sexually harassed state employees.

Cuomo could face civil litigation by Commisso and others.

On Monday, a lawyer for Cuomo said the Manhattan district attorney’s office told him it had closed an investigation into how Cuomo’s office handled nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic. The office declined to comment.

The office didn’t disclose what it was looking into, but Cuomo faced scrutiny over his administration’s reporting of nursing home residents’ deaths and over an order that barred the homes from turning away recovering hospital patients because they had COVID-19.

Federal prosecutors have also been investigating the nursing home death data issue.

The state attorney general, meanwhile, has been investigating Cuomo’s use of aides to help craft and promote his pandemic memoir. Cuomo said they volunteered, using their personal time.