Subscribe to our Daily Roundup Email
The state’s top ethics watchdog wants to slug Gov. Paterson with a $96,375 fine for allegedly shaking down the Yankees for free tickets to Game 1 of last year’s World Series.
The Public Integrity Commission requested the historic penalty — the first of its kind sought against a governor — after a lightning-quick hearing in the agency’s Albany office.
The recommendation will be passed along to an administrative law judge who will decide the matter, which could take months to resolve.
The proceedings, including the damning testimony of Paterson’s former spokesman and three top Yankees officials, were conducted without the governor, who refused to attend.
Three chairs saved for the governor’s legal team sat empty throughout the hearing, which lasted barely two hours.
Paterson had argued the commission should have held off until a special counsel finished a spin-off investigation into whether Paterson perjured himself during the agency’s original probe.
Paterson’s failure to pay for five VIP seats behind home plate — a potentially illegal gift worth $2,125 to $6,000 from the Yankees, a registered lobbyist — was first reported last November by The Post.
Commission lawyers credited the newspaper with calling Paterson out on the alleged ticket-taking scheme.
“In fact, the governor never intended to pay for any of the tickets until Fred Dicker of the New York Post started asking questions,” commission counsel Bridget Holohan said in her opening statement.
State law bars top public officials from accepting gifts of anything but “nominal” value from entities such as the Yankees that employ lobbyists or that attempt to influence official decisions.
Special Counsel Jeff Schlanger said Paterson “intentionally misled” the commission and added that the governor’s ethical standards “sadly and widely missed the mark.” Paterson has said he attended the ballgame in his “official capacity” and has denied any wrongdoing.
The commission found the “official business” argument didn’t hold water because Paterson didn’t participate in any public ceremonies, events or speeches during the game.
And even if he had performed an official act, that would not have covered the other four attendees, two aides and the two youths, who were at the game with the governor.
Yankees executive Lonn Trost — wearing a pair of World Series rings while in the witness chair — was the first of three Bombers officials to explain how Paterson aides invited themselves to the game and insisted that the gover nor would not pay for the tickets.
More damning, ex- Paterson Communi cations Director Peter Kauffmann, who quit because of the scandal, said Pat erson claimed the Yankees invited him — only to later recant the story.
He said the governor and top aide David Johnson insisted they didn’t have to pay for the tickets — another stance they later abandoned.
“Mr. Johnson was very forceful and adamant about this point,” Kauffmann said. ” ‘The governor doesn’t have to pay for these tickets. These tickets are free.’ ”
The state’s former top judge, Judith Kaye, is investigating the Yankee tickets case after being appointed special counsel by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.
As of July, Paterson had spent $866,000 from his campaign account on legal fees and public relations to defend himself in the scandal.
He had $616,000 on hand to pay any potential fine.