By Basil Katz
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Already caught up in a scandal involving a close aide, embattled New York Governor David Paterson was charged on Wednesday by the state's ethics watchdog for unlawfully taking free baseball tickets to the 2009 World Series.
The charge came days after Paterson ditched his short-lived campaign for a new term in office following revelations that he and state police had spoken with a woman who accused a top governor's aide, David Johnson, of assault last year.
After speaking with Paterson, the woman failed to appear in court and her case was dismissed, according to The New York Times, which first reported the story.
Johnson, who has been suspended without pay, was named in the report by New York's Commission on Public Integrity as one of the recipients of the free tickets.
The ethics commission charged Paterson in a 17-page report with violating a ban on free gifts for public officials, and lying about it. He faces civil penalties of at least $40,000 if found guilty.
"There is reasonable cause to believe ... that Governor Paterson solicited, received and accepted an unlawful gift ... and misused his official position to secure complimentary tickets to Game One of the World Series for himself, two members of his staff, his son and his son's friend in violation of (the) Public Officers Law," the commission said.
It said Paterson lied under oath about whether he was planning to pay for the tickets. He finally did pay for them, but only after "a press inquiry after the receipt of the tickets caused the governor to submit a backdated check as payment."
The commission sifted through e-mails between Paterson's staff and analyzed the handwriting on the check Paterson submitted. The handwriting was not his and the date on the check did not match Paterson's statements, the commission
Paterson, speaking with reporters in Albany, denied any wrongdoing. "We are asking to meet with the Public Integrity Commission, based on the facts of the testimony that we dispute," he said. "We also dispute that I solicited anything from the Yankees and acted improperly."
Paterson's involvement in the scandal over the aide's assault case, has raised questions over inappropriate intervention and prompted calls for his resignation.
He has repeatedly insisted he will stay on as governor and that his ongoing leadership is essential to state budget negotiations.
"I feel that the best thing is for me to remain as governor, and I don't think that I have done anything wrong that would merit that I shouldn't be governor," Paterson said in Albany.
Paterson asked Attorney General Andrew Cuomo -- now the front-runner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination -- to investigate the matter.
Paterson, the state's first black governor, took over in 2008 when former Governor Eliot Spitzer resigned over a prostitution scandal. Paterson's term expires at the end of this year.
(Reporting by Basil Katz and Joan Gralla; editing by Mark Egan and Chris Wilson)