N.Y. Pay-To-Play Ringleader Pleads Guilty

Nov 23 2010 | 11:58am ET

Henry Morris, the chief political consultant to New York's former comptroller and the man at the center of the state pension fund's pay-to-play scandal, has pleaded guilty.

Morris, who was initially charged with 123 counts, pleaded guilty to only one, a violation of New York's sweeping anti-financial fraud law. He agreed to pay $19 million in restitution to the New York State Common Retirement Fund and faces up to four years in prison. He has also been barred from the New York securities industry.

The formal plea and allocution comes three weeks after Morris struck a plea deal with outgoing New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. But the deal had not yet been finalized; New York State Supreme Court Justice Lewis Stone said he wanted more time to consider the agreement in "one of the most important cases relating to corruption in government in the state of New York and perhaps one of the almost seminal cases involving that in the country."

Cuomo's office explained that the deal would save all sides from a long, costly trial. Cuomo himself is set to be sworn in as New York's next governor in January.

Morris, who had previously confidently proclaimed that he had committed "no crime," was accused of demanding kickbacks and political contributions to then-New York Comptroller Alan Hevesi in exchange for allocations from the Common Retirement Fund. Hevesi himself pleaded guilty to corruption, as did the pension's former chief investment officer and three others, including former hedge fund manager Barrett Wissman.

The case also ensnared some of the biggest names in the alternative investments world, including the Carlyle Group, Quadrangle Group and Riverstone Holdings. All three of those firms have settled civil actions in the case.


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