Investigators say they have text messages, security entry swipes and New York State Police aviation records backing up the claims of Brittany Commisso, who alleges former Gov. Andrew Cuomo groped her at the Executive Mansion last year.
But the legal jeopardy Cuomo faces in the coming weeks is not yet fully clear, attorneys said on Thursday following the disclosure of a criminal complaint filed by the Albany County Sheriff’s Office.
Cuomo attorney Rita Glavin has denied the allegations again in a statement Thursday, and attacked Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple’s handling of the case so far. Cuomo is due to appear in court on Nov. 17.
The criticism of the investigation didn’t end there. Later on Thursday, Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi in a statement blasted Apple in a statement, calling him a “cowboy sheriff.”
But if convicted, Cuomo could face up to a year in jail under the state’s misdemeanor forcible touching law.
“The whole point of this law is so that these victims can find some relief in the court system when a violation like this happens to them,” said Leslie Silva, a parnter at the law firm Tully Rinckey.
And yet, a formal criminal trial may not happen. Cuomo could strike a plea in the case, and be sentenced to a court-ordered diversionary program.
Cuomo’s lack of a criminal record could likely play a factor as well.
“This is not necessarily going to end in a big public trial or a conviction,” Silva said. “That really remains to be seen at this point.”
The forcible touching charge Cuomo is expected to face remains a relatively new one in the state’s criminal code.
“The definition of force is so broad that it encompasses a lot of contact,” said attorney Paul DerOhannesian. “I think many individuals aren’t aware of how broad New York laws are when it comes to unwanted sexual contact.”
And questions also remain over the criminal complaint itself. Pages of evidence and records compiled by investigators were not released by the state Office of Court Administration on Thursday.
“There’s a lot of documents that are quote ‘attached’ to it that have not been disclosed yet,” DerOhannesian said. “I think the public will learn a lot more once those documents are made avaialbe.”
Cuomo resigned Aug. 24, weeks after the release of a report detailing allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct by 11 women.
The former governor’s legal issues also extend beyond the pending charge in Albany County.
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn as of the summer were conducting a criminal investigation into the state’s reporting of nursing home deaths during the pandemic. Cuomo and his former staffers have denied any wrongdoing.
A legislative report from the Assembly Judiciary Committee, expected to be released sometime this month, was expected to detail a range of controversies that had dogged Cuomo for much of the year, including allegations his office provided preferential COVID testing to those close to him.
That component of the legislative investigation has reportedly fallen away after Glavin, Cuomo’s attorney, claimed multiple state lawmakers received COVID tests in the early days of the pandemic.
Cuomo has been able to afford a team of attorneys to represent him, dipping into a campaign war chest that as of the summer contained $18 million.
At the same time, Cuomo allies have lashed out at the investigators, criticzing both the state attorney general for moving toward a run for governor as well as lawmakers in the state Assembly.
Attorney General Letitia James, who is expected to announce her own bid for governor soon, said in a statement Thursday the criminal complaint is further vindication of the report released by her office.
“From the moment my office received the referral to investigate allegations that former Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, we proceeded without fear or favor,” she said. “The criminal charges brought today against Mr. Cuomo for forcible touching further validate the findings in our report.”