Disgraced former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was hit Thursday with a misdemeanor complaint for forcible touching—before his accuser or the prosecutor signed off on charges.
The complaint filed in Albany City Court means that Cuomo will have to appear in court on Nov. 17. His lawyer accused the sheriff who filed the complaint of playing politics.
Forcible touching, a Class A misdemeanor, is punishable by up to one year in prison or three years probation. To get a conviction, prosecutors must prove that Cuomo “forcibly” touched the alleged victim, aide Brittany Commisso, “for the purpose of degrading or abusing such person, or for the purpose of gratifying the actor’s sexual desire.”
The charge, first reported by New York Focus, marks the first criminal action taken against the ex-governor since Attorney General Letitia James’ bombshell report in August. Her independent investigation concluded that Cuomo sexually harassed at least 11 current and former female staffers and displayed a “pattern of inappropriate conduct” that was repeatedly covered up in the “hostile” and “unsafe” work environment.
Commisso has alleged that Cuomo groped her breast, and she filed a complaint with Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple—but was apparently caught off guard by the filing of charges.
“It was my client’s understanding that the district attorney’s office was in agreement with the sheriff’s department that it was going to conduct a thorough, impartial and apolitical evaluation of the case, and only after completion of the investigation, speak to my client to allow her to make an informed decision as to whether she would proceed as a victim in the case," Commisso’s attorney, Brian Premo, told the Albany Times Union.
“Like the district attorney’s office, she was informed about this recent filing through media.”
Premo later told the Times Union that Commisso “was surprised by the turn of events but she has been and will remain a resolute cooperating victim in pursuit of blind justice.”
The newspaper says the sheriff’s office filed paperwork with the court, intending to obtain a summons for Cuomo next week after consulting with the DA and Commisso. The court then issued the summons, which was leaked to a news outlet.
According to the criminal complaint, the incident happened on Dec. 7 on the second floor of Cuomo’s mansion. The complaint says Cuomo “did intentionally and for no legitimate purpose, forcibly place his hand under the blouse first of the victim... and onto her intimate body part.
“Specifically, the victims [sic] left breast for the purposes of degrading and gratifying his sexual desires, all contrary to the provisions of the statute in such case made and provided.”
The complaint makes note of several attached exhibits to back up the allegation, which are not yet publicly available. They include a “text message from Andrew M. Cuomo’s cell phone,” BlackBerry messages on New York State Police devices, cellphone records, and New York State Police aviation records for Dec. 7, 2020.
Cuomo resigned in August but has vehemently denied all allegations of sexual misconduct or unwanted advances, calling them “playful” encounters that were misconstrued.
In a Thursday statement, Cuomo’s lawyer, Rita Glavin, insisted he “has never assaulted anyone” before suggesting the confusion was part of a conspiracy against Cuomo.
“Sheriff Apple’s motives here are patently improper. Sheriff Apple didn’t even tell the District Attorney what he was doing,” Glavin said. “This is not professional law enforcement; this is politics.”
But Mariann Wang, a lawyer for two accusers not involved in the Albany incident, said her clients were “enormously grateful for the courage of the women who have come forward to speak the truth about Cuomo’s misconduct.”
“Cuomo is being held to account as he should be, including by being forced to answer a criminal charge,” she said. “We hope that all men who abuse their power by abusing women will see this and understand that there will be real consequences to their profoundly damaging behavior.”
In August, Apple confirmed his office was investigating the mansion incidents and said he would not be swayed by Cuomo’s stature.
“I’m the county sheriff. I’m not going to be intimidated,” he told reporters at the time. “I’m not going to be coerced. That would not play out well for anybody.”
Cuomo announced his resignation three days later but maintained he had done nothing wrong.
“I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances. I am 63 years old, I’ve lived my entire adult life in public view. That is just not who I am and that’s not who I have ever been,” he said at the time.
Last week, an attorney for Cuomo said he was seeking an independent investigation into James’ report, claiming in a 150-page submission that the probe was “not fair, not right, and biased.”
Hours before the misdemeanor charge became public, the Associated Press reported that James, whose scathing report brought Cuomo down, planned to run for his old job.
“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, ” James said in a Thursday statement. “The criminal charges brought today against Mr. Cuomo for forcible touching further validate the findings in our report.”