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Darrel Aubertine as NYS Commissioner of Agriculture in 2012. Photo: NYS
Darrel Aubertine as NYS Commissioner of Agriculture in 2012. Photo: NYS

Aubertine denies link to vote trading allegations

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Allegations surfaced in the New York Post this week that longtime North Country politician Darrel Aubertine traded votes for campaign cash in 2008. The Cape Vincent Democrat denies the claims.

Martha Foley spoke with David Sommerstein to sort out who's saying what.

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David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

Martha Foley: So we know Darrel Aubertine most recently as New York's commissioner of agriculture. Before that he was state Senator for Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties, and that's the timeframe of these allegations. What are the claims?

David Sommerstein: This all centers around embattled New York City politician Malcolm Smith. He's about to be tried in a corruption trial.

The New York Post reported this week on federal court papers filed for that trial. They say Malcolm Smith admitted to an FBI informant that he gave thousands of dollars in campaign cash to about 10 State Senators in exchange for them voting for him to be Senate Majority Leader. This was the lead-up to the 2008 election, when Democrats would eventually win their first Senate majority in decades. Smith was in fact voted as Majority Leader.

Now, the Post says the court documents don't name which Senators Malcolm Smith said he gave the campaign cash to.

But the Watertown Daily Times picked up the story and found according to Board of Elections filing, Smith had given Darrel Aubertine $9,500 in September and October of 2008. That's the time frame of the allegations against Smith.

MF: So there's no explicit connection in the court papers between Malcolm Smith and Darrel Aubertine. Aubertine is no longer in an elected position. He's now a special assistant to state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. What has Aubertine said?

DS: I wasn't able to reach Darrel. But WWNY-TV in Watertown was. And Aubertine told WWNY that "conversations never took place as far as giving support to anybody" in exchange for campaign contributions.

It's important to note that it's very common for politicians to contribute to one another's campaigns. If all this proved to be true, it still remains to be seen whether it would be an ethical violation or a legal one that could be prosecuted.

MF: Aubertine stepped down as agriculture commissioner and then chose not to run for the North Country's Congressional seat, despite a political vacuum following the retirement announcement of Bill Owens. Is there any indication that those decisions are connected to this?

DS: There's obviously going to be speculation about that. Aubertine was the leading Democratic name to surface after Bill Owens announced his retirement. But there's absolutely no indication at this point that this Malcolm Smith situation had anything to do with Aubertine's decision-making. Aubertine is a guy with a long record of public service in the North Country, stretching back a couple decades. He has a strong reputation as an honorable guy. But it's also fair to point out that this is exactly the kind of muddle and scandal that has plagued Albany for decades.

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