NY Governor admits to violating federal law during speech

Just as the New York primary race is drawing to what appears to be an inevitable conclusion, is this a bolt from the blue? During an emotional speech at an event promoting clean water initiatives at Saranac Lake, Governor Andrew Cuomo made a rather startling statement. Recounting what he described as a fond memory, the Governor apparently confessed to participating in a federal offense. The crime in question? He and his family found and collected an eagle feather at the lake. And that’s a violation of federal law. (Press Connects)

At an event in the Adirondacks last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo recounted a treasured memory of the time his family retrieved an eagle feather from Saranac Lake and kept it after one of the beautiful birds swooped near his canoe.

In telling the story, the New York Democrat was unknowingly confessing a crime.

A federal law prohibits non-Native Americans from possessing bald eagle parts, including feathers. The law has been on the books for nearly 80 years, but most Americans, Cuomo included, probably don’t know about it.

When asked what he planned to do about it, a spokesman for the Governor claimed the Cuomos were ignorant of the law and they would need to either return it to the lake or donate it to a US Fish and Wildlife repository. A decision hasn’t been made yet, but the spokesman said they would do one or the other.

It seems to me that there’s a third option. Since he’s not far away, he could have instead chosen to donate the feather to the Oneida Indian Nation. They’re located nearby and could legally take possession of the feather. But that doesn’t address the original crime, does it?

The first offense (assuming this wasn’t just one in a long string of feather heists committed by the Cuomos) is technically a misdemeanor but carries a potential penalty of up to a $100K fine and a year in jail. This is detailed in the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. A second offense moves it up to a felony, allowing for two years in prison and a quarter million dollar fine.

Has anyone actually been prosecuted under this law? You bet they have. In 2009, four men from Washington state and Oklahoma were arrested and prosecuted under the statute. Others have been taken down before them. But to address this subject honestly, those were all people engaged in actively hunting and trapping the birds for the purpose of selling their feathers on the black market. I don’t believe anybody has ever been prosecuted for simply finding one and taking it home. (Though you’re still not supposed to do that.)

So it’s not as much of a career-ending scandal as it might have seemed at first glance. An apology and the surrender of the token should be good enough. But I’d still bet lunch money that Cynthia Nixon will figure out a way to bring it up at her next press conference.