Cuomo Takes Harding Scalp in Pension Scandal
Today, Harding gave Cuomo a very different kind of boost towards the state's top job - although this time it was hardly voluntary: The 74-year-old political fixer and lobbyist entered a guilty plea this morning to felony charges, a move that makes his the biggest scalp taken so far in Cuomo's two-year old probe of pay-to-play schemes in the state's pension funds.
Harding helped Cuomo even more by agreeing - as part of his guilty plea deal -- to cooperate in Cuomo's ongoing investigation against political adviser Hank Morris and others accused of turning former state comptroller Alan Hevesi's office into a shakedown racket.
In an appearance this morning before New York State Supreme Court Judge Lewis Bart Stone, Harding was described as resigned and almost cheerful, a marked change from his glowering demeanor when he was indicted back in April. "He's lighter too, he's lost a few pounds," said a courtroom observer of the heavyset attorney who had crested to more than 300 pounds earlier this year.
The veteran political operative provided the court with a lengthy two-page allocution plea in which he detailed how he had been a political sponsor of Hevesi ever since 1977, backing him in runs for assembly, mayor, and city and state comptroller posts. He confessed that after Hevesi was elected to his state comptroller's job in 2002, "Morris inserted me as a placement agent on certain investment transactions with the New York State Common Retirement Fund so that I could receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees to reward me for my political support of Alan Hevesi."
Harding also dug a deep hole for former pension fund chief David Loglisci, who also stands indicted, by stating that he "acted in concert" with Morris and Loglisci as they "corrupted" the pension fund's investment process by steering some $800,000 in placement fees to Harding that the lawyer had done nothing to earn.
Not that too many voters would have remembered this bit of political history, but Harding's guilty plea presents yet another headache for Cuomo's possible Republican gubernatorial challenger, Rudy Giuliani: Harding was Giuliani's key political adviser, helping the former prosecutor twice win election as mayor. He also made a small fortune for himself when he used his Giuliani contacts to become the city's most sought-after lobbyist during the Rudy years.
Cuomo also announced a second guilty plea today that gives him even more leverage against Morris and Loglisci: Pension investment guru Saul Meyer also pled guilty to a felony, admitting that he cut a deal to steer 35 percent of fees and profit to Morris in exchange for having the state pension funds invest with his investment fund. In a telephone press conference, Cuomo said that Meyer was "the gatekeeper" for reviewing other investments for the state. "The gatekeepers are the linchpin," said Cuomo. "He was a corrupted gatekeeper."