Ex-New York governor Andrew Cuomo charged with misdemeanour sex offence

Cuomo (above) resigned as state governor after a probe found he had sexually harassed 11 women. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - A criminal complaint charging former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo with a misdemeanour sex offence was filed on Thursday (Oct 28) in a court in Albany, the state capital, the first prosecution stemming from a misconduct scandal that led to his resignation.

The filing from the Albany County Sheriff's Office, accusing Cuomo of groping a woman under her blouse, was first confirmed by New York state courts spokesman Lucian Chalfen, in an e-mailed statement referring to the alleged offence as a "sex crime".

Cuomo, 63, who stepped down two months ago under mounting calls for his ouster from prominent fellow Democrats, including President Joe Biden, is to appear in court on Nov 17 under a summons issued on Thursday but not yet served, the Albany Times Union newspaper reported.

Cuomo's lawyer, Rita Glavin, said in a statement to local media outlets that he was innocent and questioned Sheriff Craig Apple's handling of the case, saying he "didn't even tell the district attorney what he was doing."

"This is not professional law enforcement; this is politics," she said.

Albany County district attorney David Soares issued a statement suggesting that the sheriff's office had acted independently of local prosecutors.

"Like the rest of the public, we were surprised to learn today that a criminal complaint was filed in Albany City Court by the Albany County Sheriff's Office against Andrew Cuomo," he stated, adding that his office would comment no further.

A copy of the complaint posted online by WNBC-TV in New York said Cuomo had engaged in the misdemeanour offence of "forcible touching" on Dec 7, 2020, at the governor's executive mansion by placing "his hand under the blouse shirt of the victim... and onto her intimate body part".

The complaint goes on to say that Cuomo had groped the woman's breast "for purposes of degrading and gratifying his sexual desires", but the name of the alleged victim has been redacted.

The week prior to Cuomo's resignation, former gubernatorial staffer Brittany Commisso filed a criminal report with the Albany County Sheriff's Office alleging that the then-governor had groped her breast at the Executive Mansion in Albany late last year.

The New York Post said Cuomo was expected to be arrested next week and charged with a misdemeanour in the alleged groping of a former aide.

It said the anticipated charge resulted from a probe by Mr Soares, citing a source briefed on the matter.

Cuomo resigned as governor in August after 10 years in office, following a probe that found he had sexually harassed 11 women.

New York Attorney-General Letitia James said a five-month independent investigation concluded that Cuomo had engaged in conduct that violated federal and state laws.

"The criminal charges brought today against Mr Cuomo for forcible touching further validate the findings in our report," she said in a statement on Thursday.

The former Democratic governor has long denied wrongdoing, though he has said he accepted "full responsibility" for what he called ill-conceived attempts to be affectionate or humorous.

"In my mind, I've never crossed the line with anyone, but I didn't realise the extent to which the line has been redrawn," he said in announcing his resignation.

Cuomo's exit capped a months-long downfall, derailing the political career of a man once considered a possible US presidential contender, and whose daily briefings early in the Covid-19 pandemic raised his national profile.

Cuomo's resignation spared him from possible removal from office through impeachment proceedings in the state legislature, which appeared likely even though that body is dominated by fellow Democrats.

The independent investigation found that Cuomo had groped, kissed or made improperly suggestive comments to women, including current and former government workers, and retaliated against at least one woman who accused him of sexual misconduct.

Like his father, Mario Cuomo, Andrew Cuomo was elected to three four-year terms as governor.

He was hailed as a national leader last year at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic after delivering daily news conferences as his state became the US epicentre of the public health crisis.

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