A top New York State prosecutor said on Tuesday he is dropping a criminal charge accusing former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of groping an aide after concluding the burden of proof could not be met in court.
Albany County District Attorney David Soares’s decision came three days before the Democratic ex-governor was due to answer the misdemeanour charge before a judge and follows a decision by other state prosecutors to drop similar charges.
“While we found the complainant in this case cooperative and credible, after review of all the available evidence we have concluded that we cannot meet our burden at trial,” Soares said in a statement.
Soares said he was “deeply troubled” by the allegation but was requesting that a complaint that the Albany sheriff filed in October be dismissed.
Cuomo resigned in August after a state investigation concluded he had sexually harassed 11 women. He had served 10 years as governor of the fourth-most populous US state. While avoiding criminal charges, Cuomo still faces likely civil claims resulting from the allegations amid other legal troubles.
The Albany complaint did not name the woman, but she has identified herself as Brittany Commisso, who was one of Cuomo’s executive assistants at the state-run governor’s mansion.
Commisso “had no control over the filing or prosecution of criminal charges. She had no authority or voice in those decisions,” her lawyer, Brian Premo, said in a statement on Monday.
“The only thing she has any power over is her resolution to continue to speak the truth and seek justice in an appropriate civil action, which she will do in due course,” he added.
Commisso says Cuomo slid his hand up her blouse and grabbed her breast when they were alone in an office at the governor’s mansion in Albany in late 2020.
Her testimony was included in the report, released in August by state Attorney General Letitia James, that concluded Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women. Cuomo has disputed the report’s findings as inaccurate and biased.
“I knew, and he knew, too, that that was wrong,” Commisso told investigators for the Attorney General’s Office. “And that I in no way, shape or form invited that, nor did I ask for it. I didn’t want it.”
Cuomo has vehemently denied groping Commisso.
“I would have to lose my mind to do some — such a thing. It would be an act of insanity to touch a woman’s breast and make myself vulnerable to a woman for such an accusation,” Cuomo told lawyers investigating sexual harassment accusations for the attorney general, a fellow Democrat.
The development in Albany comes after two prosecutors in the New York City suburbs separately announced that Cuomo would not face criminal charges for allegations involving other women.
A Long Island prosecutor announced on December 23 that there would be no charges after a female state trooper on Cuomo’s security detail told state investigators that he ran his hand across her abdomen at an event at Belmont Park in September 2019.
Five days later, the district attorney in Westchester County announced Cuomo would not face charges stemming from allegations from that same trooper and another woman that the former governor planted unwanted kisses on their cheeks.
In both instances, the prosecutors said the allegations were credible, but that they could not pursue criminal charges.
On Monday, a lawyer for Cuomo said the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office told him it had closed an investigation into how Cuomo’s office handled nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic. The office declined to comment and had not disclosed what it was looking into.
But Cuomo faced public scrutiny over his administration’s reporting of nursing home residents’ deaths when the pandemic hit in 2020 and over an order that barred the homes from turning away recovering hospital patients because they had COVID-19.
The state attorney general, meanwhile, has been investigating Cuomo’s use of aides to help craft and promote his pandemic memoir. Cuomo said they volunteered, using their personal time.
The New York State ethics commission last month ordered Cuomo to repay more than $5m in compensation for the book, titled, American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.