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New York attorney general expands graft-hunting powers

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said on Monday he had amplified his ability to root out public corruption by joining with the state comptroller, who has separate and broad auditing powers.

Schneiderman said his accord with Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, a fellow Democrat, will enable him to probe and bring charges over "any wrongdoing involving government spending, including member items, contracts and pension fraud."

Governor Andrew Cuomo has made ethics reform, including forcing legislators to reveal details about their outside income, a primary focus in the wake of a series of public corruption scandals.

Various investigators are examining several state lawmakers' roles and benefits they may have received from projects funded by the state budget.

A spokesman for DiNapoli had no immediate comment.

New York state's comptrollers are powerful figures in their own right. They are, for example, the sole trustees of the $132 billion state pension fund.

The pension fund in recent years was the center of a corruption probe led by Cuomo when he was attorney general. Cuomo said the previous comptroller, Alan Hevesi, turned the fund into a piggybank for consultants.

Cuomo's probe netted eight guilty pleas, including one from Hevesi, who accepted luxury trips from a fund manager.

The comptroller's audit powers cover some contracts signed by the governor's office and state authorities, which also have issued billions of dollars of debt. Although state comptrollers can issue subpoenas, they must rely on prosecutors to pursue any misdeeds they uncover.

Schneiderman is appointing public integrity officers in the attorney general's 13 regional offices to provide the staff and expertise to pursue any evidence of misdeeds the comptroller uncovers.

(Reporting by Joan Gralla; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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