The New York State Attorney General’s office has expanded its sexual harassment investigation into Gov. Andrew Cuomo to include looking at whether one of the governor’s top advisers offered access to COVID vaccines for political connections.
Investigators spoke to three Democratic county executives who said they were caught off guard when they received calls from Larry Schwartz, a volunteer adviser overseeing vaccine distribution across New York, sources told the Wall Street Journal. In phone calls centering on vaccine allocation, Schwartz reportedly asked if they would be calling for the governor’s resignation.
Schwartz is said to have contacted at least six executives in early March, just as Cuomo was facing demands from within his own party to resign amid sexual harassment claims and allegations of nursing home mismanagement. The governor at the time was also making personal phone calls to state lawmakers to drum up support for remaining in office.
Schwartz has said he didn’t link vaccine allotment to political considerations.
Lindsey Boylan, a former Cuomo staffer who accused the governor of repeated sexual harassment, also accused Schwartz of “criminal abuse of power.”
“Larry Schwartz is not a public servant,” she wrote on Twitter. “He is an enforcer who represents the worst of @NYGovCuomo‘s corrupt administration. Linking life-saving vaccine access to political support for the governor is a criminal abuse of power.”
Schwartz, an executive at an airport concessions company, resigned from his post as vaccine czar last week after the state legislature repealed an ethics order by the governor for unpaid state advisers. If Schwartz had stayed on in his position, he would have been banned from lobbying the Cuomo administration for two years after departing the administration.
The same order also exempted unpaid “adviser” volunteers from other ethics rules, including some transparency guidelines and rules on open meetings, public records keeping and financial disclosures, according to the report.
The repeal of the governor’s ethics exemption order was led by state Sen. John Liu, a Democrat from the Queens borough of New York City who has been an outspoken critic of the governor.
On Thursday, Liu claimed that the ethics exemptions allowed by Cuomo’s now-repealed executive order made a mockery of the notion that high-level state volunteers were working in the public’s interest.
“What does political loyalty have to do with public need for vaccine doses?” Liu asked last week. “These so-called volunteers can say until they’re blue in the face, ‘Oh, I’m only doing this for the public interest,’ but without disclosing any other interests they have, it’s impossible for the public to agree with those contentions.”
Richard Azzopardi, longtime Cuomo adviser and spokesman, shot back at Liu: “Larry Schwartz was working 16-hour days while [Liu] was sitting in his … underwear,”
The governor has recently been embroiled in several scandals, including allegations of sexual misconduct from former aides and other women; accusations that his administration underreported coronavirus deaths in the state’s nursing homes; reports that he improperly had state employees work on the production of a book; and claims of a possible cover-up of structural problems with a bridge named for Cuomo’s late father.
Meanwhile, Schwartz said in a statement through Azzopardi that he had always intended to step down from his coronavirus-related duties “as we achieved certain milestones,” according to the Albany Times Union.
Fox News’ Dom Calicchio contributed to this report.