New York state’s ethics agency has appointed a new executive director as it confronts scandals surrounding Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics tapped former state Judge Sanford Berland to head the agency.
His family is a mainstay in Long Island’s Suffolk County — his wife, Susan Berland, is the Democratic majority leader in the county legislature, where she has served for 20 years.
Berland is a graduate of the State University at Buffalo as well as SUNY Buffalo Law School, where he was editor-in-chief of the Law Review.
“Judge Berland will be a strong and independent voice to lead the staff of JCOPE and work alongside my colleagues and I,” said JCOPE Chair Camille Joseph Varlack. “I welcome Judge Berland to the Commission, and look forward to the next chapter at JCOPE.”
Insiders said Berland was the top choice of former JCOPE chairman Michael Rozen, who abruptly resigned in February. Cuomo, who appoints the chair, replaced him with Varlack, a former aide.
Monica Stamm, JCOPE’s counsel, was Cuomo’s choice for executive director but could not secure the votes and the position remained vacant for months, insiders said.
Berland became the consensus candidate.
The Commission’s executive director reports to the 14 Commissioners, six of whom are appointed by the governor and lieutenant Governor and eight of whom are appointed by the leaders of the Legislature.
“Executive Director Berland’s appointment was supported by Commissioners representing both major political parties in both the Legislative and Executive branches of New York State government, as required,” JCOPE said in a press release.
Berland will lead a full-time staff of 50 people and oversee an agency budget of approximately $5.6 million.
JCOPE is looking at claims that Cuomo used state staffers to help draft his “leadership” memoir about responding to the coronavirus last year as well as providing early COVID-19 testing to family and friends. Cuomo has denied any wrongdoing.
The ethics panel has been accused of turning a blind eye to misconduct in the Cuomo administration.
The commission never took formal action against former top Cuomo aide Joe Percoco, even though it was established at his federal corruption trial that he violated the state Public Officers Law by using state resources to run Cuomo’s 2014 re-election campaign.
The panel was set up in 2011 as an independent check on state officials and lobbying activities. Committee discussions are bound by state ethics law to remain private.
The commission was subject to a leak in 2019 after a whistleblower complaint alleged Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie were aware of internal deliberations around a possible investigation of Percoco.
The leak was then investigated by the office of Inspector General Letizia Tagliafierro — a Cuomo appointee who recused herself from the probe — but was unable to be substantiated.
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