ALBANY — A former top aide and several others close to Gov. Cuomo are being probed for potential improper lobbying and "undisclosed" conflicts of interest having to do with the governor's signature "Buffalo Billion" economic development program, the Daily News has learned.
A focus of the ongoing federal probe now appears to be former longtime Cuomo aide Joseph Percoco, Alain Kaloyeros, the politically connected head of a State University high-tech research center, lobbyist Todd Howe, who goes way back with Cuomo, Buffalo developer Louis Ciminelli, and an energy company called Competitive Power Ventures, a source with knowledge of the investigation told the News.
Percoco served as the governor's $169,000-a-year executive deputy secretary and had long been his political enforcer until leaving for a job at Madison Square Garden earlier this year. He once worked for Cuomo's father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo.
It's unclear what Percoco's role was with the Buffalo Billion projects. But a separate source said he may have been receiving unreported income that came through Howe related to business before the state.
Percoco, a third source said, might have been paid as a consultant through Howe while working for the governor.
"It sounds like there was self-dealing here," said one source.
The CPV project seems to be separate from the “Buffalo Billion,” the source said. It has to do with a power plant in Westchester County, the source said.
A former Cuomo aide said he was "shocked and devastated" given how loyal Percoco has been to the Cuomo family.
Percoco couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
The Cuomo administration received a subpoena on Friday for documents related to the matter, the source said. Neither the governor nor any of his current staff have been personally served, the source said.
A Cuomo spokeswoman had no immediate comment.
It's so interesting to get this leak about Percoco and Company now, after a week of leaks about criminal investigations into NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio that all started with a leak of a "report" written by Cuomo crony Risa Sugarman at the Board of Elections that had been sent along to the Manhattan D.A. and US Attorney for criminal referral.
That leak went to Ken Lovett of the Daily News.
For a week since, we've gotten multiple disclosures about de Blasio, heard that the investigation into his fundraising was expanding, that his aides and close associates had been subpoenaed in the investigation, that both Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara were looking into him and his fundraising.
That the "report" alleging Team De Blasio had committed felonious acts in their coordinated efforts to raise funds for state Senate Democrats had been written by a Cuomo crony and perhaps greatly helped by Cuomo enforcer Joe Percoco (who had been included in Team De Blasio's emails during the election efforts) suggested to many, including me, that Cuomo was behind the report and the leak so as to do maximum damage to his "friend" Bill de Blasio.
De Blasio himself hinted that on WNYC today as he defended himself against the leaks and allegations of corruption:
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in an interview on WNYC this morning reiterated his defense of his fundraising activities, which have fallen under the scrutiny of state and federal investigators.
At the same time, de Blasio suggested there was a political motivation behind the recommendation by the prosecution referral made by the chief enforcement counsel at the state Board of Elections. Risa Sugarman, an appointee of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, concluded in a memorandum de Blasio’s political team violated campaign finance laws when aiding Senate Democrats’ efforts in taking over the chamber in 2014.
“Everything was done very carefully, meticulously, with legal guidance all along the way, and consistent with what so many other people have done,” de Blasio said. “So that’s why I’m saying it’s very interesting that now it becomes a subject of these questions.”
De Blasio has been at odds with both Cuomo as well as Senate Republicans since taking office in 2011.
Aides to the mayor, in aiding Democratic candidates, directed large-dollar contributions to county Democratic committees in upstate races, which then turned around and transferred the money to individual candidates.
The practice is a commonplace one, but de Blasio’s push was done a large-scale project that hadn’t been seen before.
“I think we have to figure out some of the motivations behind it, because if we specifically followed every step along the way — legal guidance — and did what other mayors and other leaders have done for years and years under the laws of this state, following the letter and spirit of the law,” de Blasio said. “Well, that is how we are supposed to comport ourselves.”
Now to see another leak, once again to Ken Lovett at the Daily News, this one saying that Cuomo's former most loyal aide, Joe Percoco, and other associates are under investigation for the Buffalo Billion mess (see here, here, here, here, here and here for previous Perdido Street School pieces on the Buffalo Billion probe) - well, that is something.
It's almost as if somebody were watching all the leaks and disclosures on de Blasio flying about and thinking to themselves that the guy behind all of those ought to maybe get a taste of his own medicine.
Gee, I wonder who that guy could be?
I mean, it would have to be somebody who could send subpoenas to the governor's office on a Friday and force the Cuomo administration to release this kind of statement:
#BREAKING: Investigation into #Buffalo billion program. Read news release from @NYGovCuomo pic.twitter.com/eXcDYJJBwc— WGRZ (@WGRZ) April 29, 2016
More later - with this news, Perdido Street School blog is up and running again for the coverage of this story.