updated 7/24/2008 3:03:53 PM ET 2008-07-24T19:03:53

Three former aides to ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the former head of the state police were charged with ethics violations Thursday over travel records released to discredit a political rival, a scandal that consumed Spitzer's administration before it was wrecked by another involving a prostitute.

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Spitzer himself was not charged. The state Public Integrity Commission harshly criticized the Democrat, saying he reneged on public promises to cooperate fully in the investigation, but said it did not have enough evidence to charge him over the misuse of travel records concerning then-Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, a Republican.

The commission found former Spitzer aides Darren Dopp, Richard Baum and William Howard and former state police head Preston Felton conspired to smear Bruno by releasing his travel records to a reporter. At issue were trips by Bruno in May and June 2007 to New York City on days he met with lobbyists and attended Republican fundraisers.

Ethics violations
Felton, who was acting state police superintendent and had been appointed by Spitzer, faces two ethics violations that could each carry a $10,000 fine. Now retired, he is accused of working with Dopp, then Spitzer's communications director, to compile and in some cases re-create records of Bruno's travel on state aircraft operated by state police.

Dopp is accused of one violation of the code of ethics in the Public Officers Law. Baum, Spitzer's former secretary, and Howard, formerly a top public security aide, settled their cases by accepting charges that carry no penalty. None of those accused remain in state government.

The commission, created as part of Spitzer's early government reforms, found Dopp and Felton used the state police to serve Spitzer's and their own interests in a way that compromised the agency.

"Such misconduct erodes public confidence in the integrity and independence of the state police," the commission stated. Spitzer appointed the majority of its members.

By not charging Spitzer, the commission drew sharp criticism from former Ethics Commission Executive Director David Grandeau, whose panel was replaced by the Public Integrity Commission.

"The whitewash is continuing," Grandeau said Thursday. "It's been a year of making sure Eliot doesn't get blamed."

No evidence
A spokeswoman for Spitzer said the report "makes clear there is no evidence that he violated the Public Officers Law."

"Indeed the report confirms what Governor Spitzer has said throughout: that he understood the information to be public and accordingly its release was proper and obligatory. He is saddened by the toll this investigation has taken on public servants who were simply trying to do their jobs," Brandy Bergman said in a written statement.

Spitzer resigned March 17 of this year after he was identified in a federal prostitution investigation. He has not been charged in that investigation, which is continuing.

Dopp didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. Howard declined to comment. Felton had no published telephone number and couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Baum's attorney, Steven Reich, said in a written statement that his clien't settlement "allows Rich to avoid lengthy and expensive legal proceedings and move on to a new chapter in his life."

The commission said evidence shows Baum "received (and ignored) e-mail communications" that showed there was a plot to generate negative publicity about Bruno to Spitzer's benefit, even though the governor's aides had already concluded Bruno wasn't violating state policy on the use of state aircraft.

Dopp and Felton could request a public hearing to contest the findings. If more evidence comes out of those hearings, more charges could be brought, possibly against Spitzer, the commission said.

Acting on a reporter's request
Dopp and the other aides had insisted they were following the legitimate request of an Albany Times Union reporter for public information.

In his testimony to the commission, Dopp "does not indicate Spitzer ordered the documents' release, but instead states Spitzer said the documents had to be released because according to Dopp they were public documents."

"According to Dopp, Spitzer and Baum relied on Dopp's judgment that the documents were public documents subject to disclosure," according to the report.

Of Spitzer, the commission said that failing to supervise subordinates was not in itself a violation. "Similarly, the release of information or documents to the media about a political opponent, without knowledge that such information was confidential or improperly compiled or created ... does not violate the Public Officers Law," the panel wrote.

The commission, however, criticized the Spitzer administration for claiming executive privilege and seeking to withhold 109 documents "without legitimate basis."

The report also complained that the executive chamber created "numerous improper obstacles" to the investigation by withholding documents and gradually releasing information over 10 months.

In 2007, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's investigation of the case found improper conduct by Spitzer aides, but no crime.

Bruno retired from the Legislature last week.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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