Michael Amon

Cuomo called Dopp’s wife after probe

Posted in Newsday by michaelamon on November 25, 2009

April 2, 2008 p. A22
ALBANY – In the days after his report touched off the Choppergate scandal, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo picked up the phone and made a delicate call.

On the other line was Sandy Dopp, a close friend of 20 years and the wife of Darren Dopp, the Eliot Spitzer spokesman suspended after Cuomo’s report in July on the use of the New York State Police to smear Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. Cuomo named Darren Dopp – who did not speak to his investigators – as one of several officials who acted inappropriately.

On the phone with Sandy Dopp, Cuomo told her that her husband was taking too much blame for the scandal and should tell his side of the story to the attorney general’s office, said three people familiar with that call. Cuomo made multiple calls to Sandy Dopp last August and September.

But aides said Cuomo only discussed personal issues with Sandy Dopp and they contend there was nothing improper about the calls because Darren Dopp’s lawyers did not object. The calls offer a fuller picture of attempts to speak to Dopp, who eventually contradicted Spitzer’s denials of involvement in Choppergate.

The calls to Sandy Dopp came at the same time that a number of investigatory agencies were jockeying for interviews with her husband. Cuomo’s chief of staff, Steven Cohen, was negotiating an interview with Darren Dopp through his attorney, Terence Kindlon, as were Albany prosecutors, the Public Integrity Commission and the Senate Investigations Committee.

The phone calls briefly intrigued Albany prosecutors, who questioned Sandy Dopp about them in February during their Choppergate probe. District Attorney David Soares said he found nothing improper, and the calls were not part of his Choppergate report.

Because calling the wife of a witness represented by counsel could, under certain conditions, violate New York State ethics laws, Cuomo took elaborate precautions before calling Sandy Dopp, even though she was a close friend, his aides said. A top aide sat in on each call last summer, and Darren Dopp’s lawyers did not object, Cohen said. Those efforts complied with the law, experts said.

The calls came at a rough time for the Dopps, whom Cuomo had counted as friends since Darren’s stint working as an aide for his father, Gov. Mario Cuomo. Darren was the only Spitzer staffer punished for Choppergate, and friends said they were worried.

“Sandy was, you know, very upset, understandably, by everything that was happening around her,” said Kindlon.

In the calls, Sandy Dopp complained to Cuomo that her husband was being made “the fall guy,” said Cohen, who sat next to Cuomo during some calls. Cohen quoted Cuomo replying that: “All one can ever do in such situations is tell the truth – the truth will set you free.”

According to people familiar with the calls, Cuomo also replied that he could reopen his investigation and hear Darren Dopp’s side of the story. Cuomo’s aides disputed that version of events, however.

Cohen said the calls were “humanitarian” and related to “how the Dopp family was coping.” In a rare public statement, Dopp said his wife “very much appreciated the Attorney General’s concern and graciousness during a difficult time.”

Through his attorney, Dopp declined the attorney general’s office’s overtures last year and instead spoke with county prosecutors and the Public Integrity Commission.


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