US Attorney Preet Bharara has warned Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “independent’’ investigator not to interfere with the federal corruption probe involving the Buffalo Billion project, related state contracts and two longtime friends of the governor.
A source close to the criminal probe said the warning was blunt and direct and that Cuomo’s private-sector investigator, Bart Schwartz, conceded to several state officials that “he has been warned by federal authorities to stay away from anything’’ related to Bharara’s ongoing investigation.
“In meetings with state lawyers, Schwartz and his people let it be known that they’ve been told to stay away from anything that Bharara is looking at,’’ said the source.
“Basically, what Schwartz is only doing is reviewing public documents and monitoring contracts and other things going forward, not investigating what went on in the past,’’ the source continued.
The source’s contention contradicts a claim by Schwartz, a former federal prosecutor whose appointment was announced last month — just minutes after it was revealed that Bharara had served Cuomo’s office with a sweeping subpoena — that he would assist Bharara’s probe by reporting “any information I find to the US attorney.’’
That claim was repeated last week by senior Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa, who said of scandal-related information turned up by Schwartz, “First and foremost it goes to the Southern District [Bharara’s office].’’
A second source said Schwartz, who will be paid a yet-to-be-determined fee by the state, was actually hired to deflect public attention from the seriousness of Bharara’s probe, which involves former top Cuomo aides Joseph Percoco, now executive vice president at Madison Square Garden, lobbyist and former Cuomo employee Todd Howe, and contractors connected to the $1 billion effort in Buffalo.
“Basically, ‘independent investigator’ Schwartz is a high-priced lawyer who is providing political cover for Cuomo, trying to deflect the embarrassment of having Bharara putting the governor’s entire upstate economic-development program under the microscope of a criminal investigation,’’ the second source said.
While Bharara — whose ongoing probes of state government corruption led to the convictions of the two former leaders of the Legislature, Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos — has refused to say when his investigation of Cuomo’s office will wrap up, one source close to the probe predicted, “The public will be hearing something in July or August.’’