Albany sheriff: Cuomo could face misdemeanor in groping case

Gov. Andrew Cuomo talks on the phone while walking with his dog Captain at the New York state Executive Mansion, Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021, in Albany, N.Y. An investigation found that Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women in and out of state government. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo could face misdemeanor charges if investigators substantiate a criminal complaint accusing the governor of groping an aide last year, the Albany County sheriff said Saturday.

Sheriff Craig Apple promised a “very comprehensive” investigation in partnership the Albany County district attorney’s office but said it would be premature to commit to a timeline or say whether Cuomo himself will be questioned.

“We have a lot of fact-finding to do. We have a lot of interviews to do,” Apple told reporters. “I’m not going to rush it because of who he is. And I’m not going to delay it because of who he is.”

The complaint, filed this week, is the first known instance where a woman has made an official report with a law enforcement agency over alleged misconduct by the Democratic governor. The executive assistant has sat down for an interview set to be televised Monday.

The aide says Cuomo reached under her shirt and fondled her when they were alone in a room at the Executive Mansion last year. The woman also told investigators with the attorney general’s office that Cuomo once rubbed her rear end while they were posing together for a photo.

Cuomo’s lawyer, Rita Glavin, has said the allegation was fabricated.

“He is 63 years old. He has spent 40 years in public life, and for him to all of the sudden be accused of a sexual assault of an executive assistant that he really doesn’t know doesn’t pass muster,” Glavin said.

Apple declined to release the complaint Saturday but described the allegation as “sexual in nature.” He said his office has a “proven record” of helping victims, adding that he does not fear retaliation for moving forward with such a high-profile investigation.

“I’m the county sheriff. I’m not going to be intimidated. I’m not going to be coerced,” he said. “That would not play out well for anybody.”

Cuomo has faced renewed calls to step down after an independent investigation overseen by the state attorney general’s office concluded he sexually harassed 11 women and worked to retaliate against one of his accusers.

The attorney general’s report describes a series of times Cuomo allegedly acted inappropriately with the aide described as Executive Assistant #1, culminating with the groping encounter at the mansion in November 2020.

According to the woman, Cuomo pulled her in for a hug as she prepared to leave the governor’s office at the mansion. Told that “you’re going to get us in trouble,” Cuomo replied, “I don’t care,” and slammed the door shut. He slid his hand up her blouse, and grabbed her breast over her bra, according to her account.

“I have to tell you, it was — at the moment, I was in such shock that I could just tell you that I just remember looking down seeing his hand, seeing the top of my bra,” she told investigators.

She said she pulled away from Cuomo, telling him, “You’re crazy.”

Investigators said the aide didn’t remember the exact date, but provided a photograph dated Nov. 16, 2020, that she said was close to the day of the incident.

The woman’s lawyer, Brian Premo, told The Associated Press that she testified she wasn’t groped the same day she took the photo.

Apple said he’s requested investigative materials from the attorney general’s office and spoken with Albany County District Attorney David Soares and his office. He said he hopes to meet with Soares in coming days and receive the materials in the upcoming week.

The sheriff said he will likely have the aide come in for a series of interviews at some point but also stressed he did not want to “revictimize these victims and have them tell their story over and over again.”

“I think we’ve all read the attorney general’s report,” he said. “At this point, I’m very comfortable and safe saying she is, in fact, a victim.”

Cuomo has adamantly denied touching the woman’s breasts, saying, “I would have to lose my mind to do such a thing.”

Rita Glavin, Cuomo’s lawyer, said on CNN Saturday evening that she would like to see the criminal complaint and said of the sheriff: “He hasn’t done any investigation and he’s drawn a conclusion.”

It was not clear Saturday why the county sheriff’s office was leading the investigation and not Albany city police. But Apple said the complaint occurred in the city of Albany, and that the city and state Capitol buildings are both in Albany County.

“I’m the sheriff of this county and I have jurisdiction,” he said.

The sheriff said his office will decide whether to file criminal charges against Cuomo but said he hopes to reach agreement on that decision with the district attorney first.

The state Assembly’s judiciary committee plans to meet Monday to discuss the possibility of impeachment proceedings against Cuomo. Nearly two-thirds of the legislative body’s members have already said they favor an impeachment trial if he won’t resign.

District attorneys in Oswego, Manhattan, suburban Westchester and Nassau counties, and the state capital of Albany have said they asked for investigative materials from the attorney general’s inquiry to see if any of the allegations could result in criminal charges.

Oswego County DA Gregory Oakes said he spoke Friday with a lawyer for Virginia Limmiatis, a woman who told the attorney general’s investigators that Cuomo touched her inappropriately during an event in the county in 2017.

Oakes said by phone Saturday that his investigation is in “very preliminary stages,” and he hopes to speak with Limmiatis, if she’s willing. “I want to proceed in a way that’s respectful of her and her wishes,” he said.

An attorney for Limmiatis didn’t immediately respond to request for comment.

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AP writer Jennifer Peltz contributed reporting from New York.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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