Staten Island Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, the GOP mayoral candidate, is calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to appoint a special counsel to investigate Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance amid reports that he has received $178,000 from lawyers or members of their firms with clients who were under investigation by the DA’s office.
Out of $620,000 that Vance has raised this election cycle, he has taken at least $178,000 from law firms that work on criminal defense. The New York Daily News reported that by the time Vance had a meeting with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s attorney as part of his probe into the mayor’s failed efforts to help Democrats take the State Senate in 2014, the lawyer’s firm, Kramer Levin Naftalis, as well as its partners, gave Vance $70,000 — and Vance kept the contributions from the firm.
Vance’s campaign spokesman told the Daily News the money from the firm “were not made by lawyers involved in an active investigation and were made almost a year prior to the investigation you reference.”
“The cloud that hangs over District Attorney Vance and his office is creating a crisis of confidence in the criminal justice system in perhaps the busiest and most high profile district attorney’s office in the nation,” Malliotakis wrote. “Because of all these factors and to restore the public’s trust, I call on you to issue an Executive Order enabling a special counsel to investigate whether any criminal, civil or election laws have been broken.”
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Vance, a Democrat, has faced scrutiny over not bringing charges against Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein in 2015 over his alleged assault of Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez. He also ended an investigation into Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. amid allegations that they misled potential buyers at Trump SoHo by exaggerating sales figures.
The New Yorker reported that the NYPD got audio of Weinstein admitting to fondling Gutierrez. And the International Business Times reported that David Boies, a lawyer for Weinstein, donated $10,000 to Vance’s campaign after he decided not to bring charges. Vance’s office said that Boies did not represent Weinstein in the matter. Trump’s attorney, Marc Kasowitz, had donated $25,000 to Vance’s campaign in 2012, and the district attorney gave back that money after Kasowitz became involved in the Trump SoHo case on behalf of Trump’s children. Kasowitz then gave $32,000 in 2013 to Vance’s campaign after the case was dropped.
Malliotakis claimed that the focus of the media is what forced Vance to suspend his campaign fundraising and noted a pattern of prominent individuals receiving special treatment from the Manhattan DA’s office “as a payback for campaign donations from members of the individuals’ criminal defense team.”
In a recent Daily News op-ed, Vance announced that the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity at the Columbia University Law School will conduct an independent review of how he tackles campaign contributions and present recommendations in 90 days. He has directed his campaign “not to accept a single dollar more” going forward.
He maintained that he has never permitted an individual’s “wealth, power, race, or campaign contributions to influence my decisions” but that he’s come to learn that New Yorkers “deserve to be confident about it as well.”
“I never intended to start a conversation about money in criminal justice. But I see now that it’s long overdue,” he wrote. “Campaign finance reform is criminal justice reform, and I have a unique opportunity to push the ball forward. As the process we set into motion today should make clear, I intend to use it.”
Steve Sigmund, campaign spokesman for Vance, dismissed Malliotakis’ call for a special counsel.
“This is a silly ploy from a desperate candidate,” Sigmund said in a statement. “It’s also a ridiculous and wasteful demand, given that every donation was legal and that District Attorneys and DA candidates throughout the state raise money from lawyers in the same way.”
The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A mayoral spokesman previously told Observer that while City Hall is not privy to the entirety of the evidence and “won’t second-guess the prosecutors who are,” the allegations against Weinstein are “obviously very serious” and that it is why the NYPD handled them “so thoroughly.” De Blasio also said that he received $500 from Weinstein in 2001 and that it is an account that “obviously has long since closed.”