Taxpayers in New York state are going to be responsible for the legal fees charged by a high-powered lawyer who is defending Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo against allegations that he and his administration covered up COVID-19 nursing home deaths, the attorney revealed Tuesday.
Former ranking federal prosecutor Elkan Abramowitz acknowledged he’s been retained by Cuomo but he would not say how much New Yorkers are shelling out for his fees, the New York Post reported.
However, The Post noted that in 2016, Abramowitz charged New Yorkers $937.50 an hour — which he called a “discounted rate” — to represent the governor after he prematurely closed down the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption.
The Post went on to report that his firm, Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello, collected some $3.1 million in legal fees in connection with that case, records from the state comptroller’s office that were posted online revealed.
Those files were later obtained by then-U.S. Attorney for Manhattan Preet Bharara to help convict former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, on allegations of extortion and fraud, The Post added.
As to this latest legal case, the state comptroller noted that Abramowitz’s “sole source” contract with Cuomo’s office is not yet available to be seen by the public. The contract does not have to be competitively bid, the paper noted.
Allegations that Cuomo purposefully hid the number of nursing home residents who died from the virus stem from a leaked video call between his top aide, Melissa DeRosa, and state Democrats in which she appeared to admit to the cover-up.
In the recording, DeRosa blamed the deception on then-President Donald Trump’s tweets about Democrat governors killing nursing home patients, which she said made the Cuomo administration fearful of a Department of Justice investigation. As such, Cuomo’s office “froze” and subsequently lied about the death toll before apologizing.
“He starts tweeting that we killed everyone in nursing homes,” DeRosa said, according to the New York Post, which first reported the conversation. “He starts going after [New Jersey Gov. Phil] Murphy, starts going after [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom, starts going after [Michigan Gov.] Gretchen Whitmer.”
The former president then “directs the Department of Justice to do an investigation into us,” DeRosa added.
“Because then we were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice, or what we give to you guys, what we start saying, was going to be used against us while we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation,” she said. “That played a very large role in this.”
“So we do apologize,” DeRosa said, asking state Democrats to understand the “context” of the alleged deception. “I do understand the position that you were put in. I know that it is not fair. It was not our intention to put you in that political position with the Republicans.”
As for Abramowitz, Cuomo hired him in early March as a result of an ongoing FBI and Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s Office investigation which began following the Post’s reporting of de Rosa’s admission to state Democrats.
Two other law firms have also been retained to represent Cuomo’s staff, the newspaper noted further, adding that some 14,000 nursing home residents died in eldercare facilities or in hospitals after contracting the virus, state records indicate.
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