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Westchester County Exec Addresses Bharara Probe

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Office of the Westchester County Executive
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A corruption probe being conducted by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has extended to Westchester County. That’s according to a report in the New York Post. Now Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino is responding.

The July 25 New York Post article says the newspaper has learned that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s corruption probe into two donors to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has tentacles into Westchester. Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino confirmed his office was subpoenaed.

“We were subpoenaed, which is not unusual,” says Astorino. “They asked for things that we turned over right away, typical informational stuff and so they’ve had that and they’re going to do whatever they’re going to do.”

Astorino, a Republican who ran for governor in 2014, says his office turned over this information, including emails and phone records, in May. The subpoenas reportedly are in relation to donors Jona Rechnitz and Jeremy Reichberg.

“I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m not concerned about that,” says Astorino. “This is an investigation that is necessary because, unfortunately, out of the 13,000 donors that we have,  two may have done something wrong in New York City and elsewhere and, because it touched us, we’ve got to go through this and that’s OK, that’s part of the process.”

The Post reports that Reichberg, a Brooklyn resident with no known previous ties to Westchester County, was named a volunteer county police chaplain in June 2013 and that a few days later, entities tied to Rechnitz donated $25,000 to Astorino’s re-election campaign. Again, Astorino.

“Everthing was done above board. Everything was put on our financial disclosure forms as it should be,” Astorino says. “And so, as far as we’re concerned, everything was done the right way and legally. And this is a process that we have to go through and we will. But everything we were asked to turn over we did.”

Political scientist Dr. Gerald Benjamin of SUNY New Paltz says the issue seems to be more with the donors than the county executive.

“They’re following the donor path. And it stands to reason that people who would seek influence through donations in one locality would probably try to seek that same influence in other localities,” says Benjamin. “It doesn’t assure that they have achieved that but it stands to reason that that technique would be used by them, widely.”

Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, spoke earlier this year with WAMC’s Dr. Alan Chartock, addressing corruption in general.

“In recent times, the New York Legislature has been marked by regular bribery, rampant kickbacks and a rancid culture. Recent events paint a portrait of the show-me-the-money culture in the worst possible way. It continues, by the way, to be a bipartisan affair, Republican and Democrat, in the Assembly and in the Senate, upstate and downstate."

Meanwhile, Astorino describes the two donors when he met them.

“Just typical as any donor would be. Supported our cause just like the other 13,000 people did,” Astorino says. “Look, if I knew then what we know now, I wouldn’t have sat down with them ever.”

Astorino says he knew nothing about the donors’ connection to de Blasio, a Democrat, besides the following.

“I did know that they had supported him but other than that…  donors support a lot of different people, so,” Astorino says.

Astorino says he returned the money via charity. He was speaking in Croton-on-Hudson.

“The money that we received from that gentleman we have already given back to charity. That was in 2013, so that money had actually been spent in that campaign,” Astorino says. “Rather than return it to him, I thought it would be better to give it to charity, which we did. We gave, I think, $5,000 to Hudson Valley Honor Flight, some to domestic violence organizations and the like. I felt very strongly that that money should be returned.”

Astorino is contemplating another run for governor, in 2018.  

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