State police head angry over release of records

August 5, 2008 6:26:56 PM PDT
More than 8,500 pages of interviews, e-mails and documents released Tuesday include the angry testimony of the former state police superintendent who compiled specific travel records on Gov. Eliot Spitzer's chief political enemy but said he never intended the records to become public. The testimony of former Acting Superintendent Preston Felton, made a year ago behind closed doors to the Albany County prosecutor, shows the state police veteran was angry the records he provided at the request of top Spitzer aides were released to a newspaper. The records showed exactly where then-Senate Republican Majority Leader Joseph Bruno was traveling in New York City when he used state aircraft.

Felton, who now faces an ethics charge for his role in the scandal that paralyzed New York's government for a year, testified that William Howard, a key Spitzer public safety aide, ordered him in 2007 to create the synopsis of Bruno's travels. The details went beyond what state police in previous administrations would release publicly about a politician's travels, Felton said. Those details are usually kept quiet as a security precaution.

"I will say this to you, when they brought to my attention that those materials were in the newspaper, they had to scrape me off the roof because that's not why, you know, those were given to him (Howard) and it was made plain and clear to him that that's not why they were given to him," Felton said. "My recollection is it wasn't a pleasant situation."

Felton faces an ethics charge by the state Public Integrity Commission that could result in a $10,000 fine for his role in the scandal. Now retired, Felton has refused to comment publicly.

"We're kind of stuck in the middle of this thing," Felton testified a year ago. "You know, provide transportation, don't provide transportation. They, you know, stick us in the middle, and we shouldn't be in the middle, basically."

The Public Integrity Commission, in its report issued July 24 of this year, accused Felton of "knowingly and intentionally" violating ethics law for compiling travel data "that he believed would be provided to the media by the executive chamber."

Felton said Howard was his boss and that he, as head of the state police, worked for Spitzer.

"We're part of the executive department, we have to live with that," Felton testified in the August 2007 interview with Albany County District Attorney P. David Soares. "They changed a lot of things from the old way of doing business. We had to live with that. You know, it's just a fact of life."

Spitzer Communications Director Darren Dopp turned the state police records over to a newspaper reporter who wrote a July 2007 article that was critical of Bruno and, Spitzer aides said internally, might expose Bruno to greater attention by the FBI that was already investigating him. The records were released under the state Freedom of Information Law, often referred to as FOIL.

"What I made clear was this is not a FOILable document," Felton testified.

Howard accepted a lesser ethics charge by the Public Integrgovernor approved the decision to have aides submit written statements instead of personally testifying in the attorney general's initial investigation into the dirty tricks scandal that followed the newspaper article.

Spitzer's approval came even as the governor was saying publicly that he and his administration would fully cooperate with the probe.

The records also show some statements provided by the governor's office were handled in a way that they ended up being "perjury proof" and that two top aides at the center of the travel scandal differed in their recollection. The DA's report did not conclude if the statements by Dopp and Baum were intentionally made perjury-proof. In his testimony, governor's counsel David Nocenti "emphatically denied" he intentionally orchestrated the aides' statements in such a way that Dopp and Baum couldn't face perjury charges.

After first concluding there was no plot, Soares later issued a report in which Dopp accused the governor of ordering the release of the travel records.

There was no immediate comment Tuesday from Spitzer's spokeswoman. He resigned March 17 after he was named in a federal prostitution investigation.

"Thousands of hours have been expended over the past year to uncover that no laws were broken and that politicians will always attempt to undermine their political enemies," Soares said.

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