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The Libouses

August 12, 2014

This Tom Libous, he’s a bad man, right? 

He betrayed the public trust. He’s on the take. He sold his votes. He lied, schemed and conspired. He’s done all of this and more and he deserves to be humiliated, driven from office and thrown in jail, right?

Normally, we adhere to Mario Cuomo’s philosophy in matters like this. Cuomo famously defended a rival, Chief Judge Sol Wachtler, when he was involved in a compromising situation with a woman who was not his wife. The incident threatened to undermine everything Wachtler had built in a long career in public service.

Because Wachtler was a possible gubernatorial candidate, Cuomo was expected to do what others were doing and feign shock and outrage at the allegations. Instead, Cuomo urged everyone not rush to judgment on Wachtler. He said Wachtler was a great jurist. He said he hoped and actually prayed that things would work out for him.

Well, we’re going to flip Mario’s construct around and say that we hope Libous is a crook. We hope that even though he’s a well-respected and well-liked guy in Albany, he turns out to be the architect of some vast criminal enterprise that will soon be revealed in all its sordid details.  

Why do we hope that? Because if Libous isn’t akin to Dr. Evil planning world domination, something very disturbing is going on.

In this regard, some of the best legal minds we know – people who have served as prosecutors in top tier agencies, are shocked by recent developments.

They say the feds’ actions are very unusual. They say you just don’t go after a man with terminal cancer, you don’t go after his son and now his wife, unless you think he’s really dirty. They say the only other possibility is that prosecutors are trying to flip him to get to someone else – a bigger fish.

Federal agents raided Libous’ home last week and seized the computer and files of his wife, who serves on the state Workers Compensation Board. There was no word on what wrongdoing Mrs. Libous might have been involved in.

This comes a short while after the senior Libous was indicted for not remembering accurately the details of his son’s hiring by a law firm. The Senator was supposed to have helped the son get the job.

And it comes after the son was indicted on a tax evasion charge – for not reporting about ten thousand dollars in annual income.

All of this is the culmination of a federal probe going back at least five years – making the Libouses, deservedly or not, the first family of “corruption” in New York. 

So what are we to make of it all?

Perhaps a super-aggressive, relentless and heartless prosecutor is just what Albany needs.  Perhaps the pursuit of Libous will send a message to all the other lawmakers on the need for scrupulous adherence to the rules.

And yet, coming after the Bruno fiasco, which we regard a bungled case by the prosecution and definitely not a witch hunt, the feds need to be very careful. If they don’t come up with serious wrongdoing that validates their aggressive pursuit of the Libouses, we think it will be a setback in the effort to fight corruption.

We’ve seen it happen before. Several iterations of state ethics panels have been revealed to be incompetent, ineffectual and even tainted.

Could the feds fall down now in a similar way? Already there is a lot of whispering in legal circles about the vaunted U.S Attorney at the center of the probes:  He’s only interested in headlines. He plants stories in the press.  He plays political games.  He’s angling for something.

Again, we hope not – to all of that. We hope the US Attorney knows something that we don’t. We hope that his choice of targets and his methods are indeed the product of carefully considered, sound prosecutorial discretion and judgment.   And we hope Libous turns out to be Al Capone.

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