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The state’s ethics agency has launched a probe into top Cuomo confidante Larry Schwartz, who pressed Democratic county officials on whether they remained supportive of the scandal-plagued governor while he led the state’s coronavirus vaccination campaign, sources tell The Post.
Some of the county leaders griped that Schwartz’s loyalty test — during a period when many other elected officials were calling on Cuomo to resign amid mushrooming sexual harassment and nursing home death scandals — were inappropriate and voiced concerns that their county’s access to the vaccines might hinge on their response to the governor’s vaccine czar.
Staffers at the Joint Commission on Public Ethics last week contacted Democratic county executives about Schwartz’s calls to them gauging their backing of Cuomo, sources confirmed to the Post. The probe was first reported by the Times Union.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone was among the county executives contacted by a JCOPE staffer, a source said.
Bellone, a Cuomo ally who is term-limited, raised $1.1 million over the past six months and is weighing a run for governor should Cuomo not seek re-election to a fourth term next year.
A source for another Democratic county executive also confirmed getting a call from a JCOPE staffer.
JCOPE staffers were “following up on accusations that Larry Schwartz was making calls to county officials based on levels of loyalties” to the governor and then switching the conversation to “receiving COVID vaccines,” a source close to one county executive said.
The JCOPE staffer said calls were being made to “all Democratic county executives” as part of JCOPE’s preliminary “fact-finding” inquiry that will determine whether it will turn into a full-fledged probe.
A JCOPE spokesman declined comment, saying it is forbidden by law to discuss any probe.
JCOPE investigates alleged misconduct by public officials — such as violations of the state’s Public Officers Law — and regulates lobbyists.
Schwartz and Cuomo’s office had no immediate comment.
Schwartz previously defended his calls inquiring about support for the governor, saying it was done as a longtime friend of Cuomo and independent of the vaccine effort.
Cuomo in May said Schwartz “did a phenomenal job” as the state’s vaccine czar and that he was acting as a “volunteer” in that capacity and when he asked county officials about their loyalty to him. Schwartz, a Cuomo-appointed MTA board member, no longer oversees the COVID-19 vaccination effort.
JCOPE has been criticized for going easy on the Cuomo administration. For example, the commission never took formal action against former top Cuomo aide Joe Percoco, even though it was established at his federal corruption trial that he violated the state Public Officers Law by using state resources to run Cuomo’s 2014 re-election campaign.
But in April, JCOPE appointed a former Long Island judge, Sanford Berland, as the first executive director who was not previously employed by Cuomo in the agency’s 10-year history.
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