The FBI and federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have begun a preliminary investigation into how New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration handled nursing home residents who contracted COVID-19 in the early months of the pandemic, a person familiar with the matter told CBS News.
Cuomo senior adviser Richard Azzopardi said only that the Justice Department "has been looking into this for months," adding, "we have been cooperating with them and will continue to." The investigation was first reported by the Albany Times Union.
The FBI and the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of New York declined to comment.
The Cuomo administration has faced significant criticism after the state was forced to disclose that the COVID-19 death toll for nursing home residents is nearly 15,000. The state had previously said only 8,500 nursing home residents died from the virus — but that number did not include residents who died after they were taken to the hospital.
Cuomo admitted Monday that his failure to be open about the nursing home deaths fostered confusion and incorrect conclusions.
"The void we created by not providing information was filled by skepticism and cynicism and conspiracy theories which furthered confusion... you don't provide the information, something will provide the information," Cuomo said. "Most of all, the void we created allowed disinformation."
Top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa said late last week that the administration "froze" when the data wasby both state lawmakers and by the Justice Department.
"Basically, we froze because then we were in a position where we weren't sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice or what we give to you guys and what we start saying was going to be used against us,"Wednesday.
Cuomo has also faced criticism for the state health department's March 2020 decision to return residents with COVID-19 from hospitals to nursing homes. That order was later reversed.
Cuomo has said this was in keeping with federal guidelines at the time, when the top priority was keeping hospitals from being overrun. He said patients were only received at nursing homes if a given home verified it was able to accept them, as required by New York law.
Among the 613 nursing homes in New York, Cuomo said 365 received a patient from a hospital. He also said that 98% of the homes already had COVID-19 in their facilities.
For months last year, Cuomo's daily coronavirus briefings on cable and live streams were a popular source of information about the handling of the pandemic and. But now, Cuomo is being criticized by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers — some of whom have called to end his emergency powers.
Pat Milton and Caroline Linton contributed to this report.