The FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn have launched an investigation that is examining, at least in part, the actions of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s coronavirus task force in its handling of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities during the pandemic, the Times Union has learned.
The probe by the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York is apparently in its early stages and is focusing on the work of some of the senior members of the governor’s task force, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter who is not authorized to comment publicly.
“As we publicly said, DOJ (Department of Justice) has been looking into this for months,” said Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for the governor. “We have been cooperating with them and we will continue to.”
Azzopardi did not disclose whether any members of the administration have been interviewed or if they have been served with any subpoenas. John Marzulli, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, on Wednesday afternoon said he could not “confirm or deny” whether the office has initiated an investigation.
Nearly three weeks after the governor’s task force was announced last year, the state health department issued an order directing nursing homes and other long-term care facilities that they must accept residents who were being discharged from hospitals even if they were still testing positive for the infectious disease, as long as they were able to care for them properly.
That directive, which was rescinded less than two months later, has been the focus of a firestorm of criticism directed at Cuomo’s administration, including allegations that the order — which the governor said was based on federal guidance — had contributed to the high number of fatalities of nursing home residents in New York. That assertion was largely dismissed in a report by the Department of Health that was released in July.
Last month, the office of Attorney General Letitia James issued a scathing report that concluded the practice may have increased the risk of COVID-19 infections at the congregate facilities and that Cuomo’s administration had delayed reporting that thousands of additional nursing home residents died at hospitals after being infected in their residential facilities.
It’s unclear whether the federal probe by the office of acting U.S. Attorney Seth D. DuCharme is tied to two letters that Cuomo’s administration received from a civil division attorney at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., last year seeking information on the state’s nursing home policies and data.
The controversy boiled over again last week when DeRosa, in a closed-door meeting with key Democrats in the state Legislature with the authority to subpoena and investigate the governor’s administration, told the group that the administration had withheld information lawmakers had requested on nursing homes for months due to the Justice Department’s inquiry.
“Basically, we froze because then we were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice or what we give to you guys and what we start saying was going to be used against us and we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation,” DeRosa told the Democratic lawmakers.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, issued a statement Wednesday urging President Joe Biden to allow Antoinette Bacon, the acting U.S. attorney in New York’s Northern District, to be assigned to investigate Cuomo’s administration in connection with its reporting of nursing home fatalities.
Grassley noted that the U.S. attorney in New York’s Manhattan-based Southern District, Audrey Strauss, is the mother-in-law of DeRosa and should not be involved in any probe.
Earlier this week, Cuomo stopped short of apologizing for his administration’s handling of nursing homes’ fatality data, repeatedly noting they had created a “void” by not providing the information requested by state lawmakers.
“Apologize? Look, I have said repeatedly, we made a mistake in creating the void,” he said. “When we didn’t provide information it allowed press, people, cynics, politicians to fill the void. When you don’t correct this information you allow it to continue and we created the void.”
SOURCE — TIMES UNION ALBANY — The FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn have launched an investigation that is examining, at least in part, the actions of Gov. An…