Trial paints picture of iron fist at top of Cuomo administration

Trial paints picture of iron fist at top of Cuomo administration

Trial paints picture of iron fist at top of Cuomo administration

By Tom Precious

NEW YORK – It’s still an open question yet whether Joe Percoco engaged in a bribery scheme to steer money his way from executives who he helped with business pending before the Cuomo administration.

But as his corruption trial continues in a Manhattan courtroom, what has come into focus via emails, photographs and other evidence submitted by prosecutors, along with testimony from a string of well-placed witnesses, is a portrait of Percoco ruling with an iron fist and a sharp tongue from the highest perch of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration. Sometimes rude, seemingly unfazed by people who failed to adequately serve Cuomo, Percoco tapped into his personality and influence with a bottom line zeal: protect and promote Cuomo.

To Albany insiders, it’s not exactly a stunning revelation.

His case involves alleged bribes that the prosecution claims were steered to Percoco by executives with two companies – a downstate energy firm and a Syracuse real estate development company – allegedly in return for influence that Percoco wielded with government agencies in order to financially benefit the two firms.

Percoco’s official title had been executive deputy secretary to Cuomo. From the trial evidence and witness testimony so far, “Cuomo enforcer” might have been a more accurate job title.

A couple of years ago, a then-top state official told the Buffalo News about the story of a staff member who worked for Cuomo. The official, who told the story on the condition that his name and the staffer’s name was not used, described how the staffer was desperate to move on from the hectic world of the Capitol’s second floor where the mission is made clear to staffers: your life, day and night, is to serve Cuomo.

After a time, the staffer was offered a job – not in the lucrative private sector, but with another state government agency. The staffer got the nerve up to personally tell Cuomo of his plans. The source says Cuomo wished him well and thanked him for his service.

Five minutes later, Percoco called the staffer. “You (expletive) traitor. You’re not going anywhere,’’ Percoco snapped at him. The staffer remained on the job, at least for a time.

Similar stories have made the rounds at the Capitol for years. And it wasn’t just Percoco keeping people from leaving.

After two weeks of the Percoco trial, similar stories are coming out from people testifying under oath.

Last week, Andrew Kennedy offered his own tale for the court. A former deputy state operations director, Kennedy was asked about the time he considered leaving his job in June of 2014. He had been offered a job at the University at Albany, about a 10-minute drive from the Capitol. Cuomo’s re-election campaign at that point was in full swing and Percoco had left the payroll – to run Cuomo’s campaign – after telling people he would not be coming back to his job with the governor after the race was over.

Kennedy, long praised by people who do business in Albany as straight-shooting professional, wanted the new job. It didn’t happen. “Later that month, it was – I was encouraged to reconsider taking that position,’’ he told prosecutor Matthew Podolsky, an assistant United States Attorney.

Performing the role of encourager with Kennedy was Larry Schwartz, Cuomo’s secretary, which is the highest staff level job in the office. In his testimony, Kennedy said Schwartz told him to stay because it was a busy time. If Kennedy didn’t agree to stay, Kennedy said Schwartz told him “the governor’s office would call the university and ask them to reconsider offering – providing me the job.’’ Such a call from an office ultimately responsible for how much state aid the SUNY campus received was no idle threat.

Percoco cleared people for getting jobs for the Second Floor, the spot in the Capitol building that houses the offices where dozens of Cuomo’s top staffers work. According to testimony, he took the responsibility of “retainer” with equal force.

Loyalty is key

Cuomo runs a busy office, where top aides are on call 24 hours a day. Loyalty to him is key. During a public meeting of his cabinet, Cuomo once joked – sort of – that he once didn’t bother staffers on major holidays like Christmas. Those days had ended, Cuomo said a couple of years ago during a public event.

When trusted aides left, it caused a problem for Cuomo. In turn, it caused a problem for Percoco, the point person assigned to keep a stable – if not always happy – staff environment.

“You got things done by having really good people working really hard on the projects that were on the governor’s agenda, right?’’ Barry Bohrer, Percoco’s lawyer, asked of Linda Lacewell, Cuomo’s chief of staff. She was the prosecution’s second witness in the trial.

“Yes,’’ she said.

“So from your standpoint, when people left state government, people with whom you worked for a long period of time and could count on and trust, that made life harder, didn’t it?” he asked her.

“And there was, shall we say, a gravitational pull; you wanted to keep people if you could in senior positions for as long as possible, right?” he asked her. “Yes,’’ she said.

Another witness, Seth Agata, a former Cuomo counsel who now heads a state ethics agency, was asked how Percoco could prevent someone from leaving their job with Cuomo. “Phone call either to the individual asking them to stay or, perhaps, to an employer asking to hold off taking the individual on,’’ he said.

‘Vast power’

Prosecutors have been laying out a case of enormous strength held by one individual – Percoco. Assistant United States Attorney Richard Boone called him “one of the most powerful men in New York State government.’’

“For years, he was a top aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo. And he had a very long and a very fancy title: executive deputy secretary to the governor,” Boone said. “But he didn’t really need a title, because everyone in state government knew who Joseph Percoco was: He was the governor’s right-hand man. He influenced who met with the governor and who worked for the governor. And wherever the governor went, Percoco went. And you will learn that he decided to sell his power and betray the people of New York for hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.”

Such “vast power,’’ as one prosecutor called it, enabled him to be position to help those who allegedly bribed him, according to prosecutors. That help included government advantages for a power company, relaxed labor union standards on a Syracuse parking garage project that saved the developers money in wages and, in a pay raise for one of the Syracuse developer’s sons who worked in Cuomo’s office, prosecutors allege.

“This is another stupid blunder. Another we had no idea. BS,’’ Percoco wrote in an email to a Cuomo personnel staffer about the failure to quickly get the son of Steven Aiello a pay hike. The increase then quickly went through.

Inner circle

Albany has a long tradition of immense power being given to the top aides for governors and legislative leaders. Some performed the nitty-gritty detail work of state government that governors neither had the time, or in some cases, ability to handle. In the Legislature, there have been aides to Senate majority leaders and Assembly speakers who could single-handedly kill a bill pushed by a rank-and-file lawmaker.

In Percoco’s case, his power came from the trust he earned with Cuomo and his family going back to the days of the late Gov. Mario Cuomo’s administration. Percoco – working influential labor forces, county party leaders and others – was among a select few in the inner circle who helped Cuomo restore his political fortunes in the Democratic Party after a disastrous first run for governor in 2002.

Just how trusted was Percoco? The trial early on revealed that Percoco’s laptop – seized by FBI investigators when his home was raided in 2016 – contained an array of personal family and financial details about Andrew Cuomo. And when Percoco traded up houses from a modest one on Staten Island to a large home in a tony enclave in Westchester County, it was Cuomo who would motorcycle over to see his longtime buddy.

There is perhaps no better example of Percoco’s access to Cuomo than the revelations about the use of his former government office. Percoco left the state payroll in April 2014 to go work as manager of Cuomo’s re-election campaign. He told people he wasn’t coming back to his state job after the campaign. But two things happened: His job was not filled and his Manhattan government office – steps from Cuomo’s – was kept vacant.

On the 39th floor of a midtown office building, Percoco, however, still kept showing up to his old government office. He used it dozens of times, prosecutors say. One government exhibit showed private citizen Percoco attending a gathering of top Cuomo officials, including the governor, military, law enforcement and transportation officials.

Percoco in December 2014 did return to Cuomo’s government payroll – in his old job and old office.

The governor’s public events, one witness testified, involves dozens of staff members to coordinate. In September 2015, a year after Percoco is accused of having taken bribe money from Cor Development executives in Syracuse, Cuomo was in Syracuse for a traveling “Capitol for a Day” series of events. There were photo ops, a meeting with his cabinet, and a tour of a historic hotel and a Budweiser brewery.

During the day, according to testimony, Kennedy got a call from Percoco. He was upset that Cuomo’s schedule that day did not include a stop at a project – funded partly with state money – run by Cor Development. He ordered Kennedy to make sure Cuomo didn’t leave Syracuse without making a stop by the site under construction at the time.

Kennedy and others scrambled to add the appearance, which can often take much planning to pull off a single stop by the governor and his entourage. Asked how long he had to pull the event together, Kennedy replied: “15 to 20 minutes.’’ Before the day ended, a government photographer snapped a shot of Cuomo with Cor’s Steven Aiello, one of four men on trial this week in the alleged Percoco bribe scheme.

 

Corruption trial: Percoco used government office while running Cuomo campaign

Corruption trial: Percoco used government office while running Cuomo campaign

Corruption trial: Percoco used government office while running Cuomo campaign

By Tim Knauss

tknauss@syracuse.com,

syracuse.com

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – After he resigned his high-level state job to run Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s re-election campaign, Joseph Percoco continued to show up at his state office in the governor’s suite, according to evidence revealed today from the trial of Percoco and three business executives.

Some 837 phone calls were made from Percoco’s office desk in the executive chamber during eight months in 2014 that Percoco was off the state payroll running the campaign, prosecutors said today.

Among those phone calls were several on Dec. 3, 2014, the day when prosecutors say Percoco pressured a state agency to rescind its decision to require Cor Development to sign a union agreement in return for using state grant money.

Prosecutors allege that Percoco got the “labor peace agreement” dropped in return for bribes from Cor executives Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi, his co-defendants. All three men deny the charges.

Aside from the bribery allegations, the phone records illustrate the blurry line between Percoco’s state job as executive deputy secretary to Cuomo and his role as Cuomo’s campaign manager, for which he left state employment in April 2014.

Percoco returned to the state payroll in Dec. 7, 2014, several days after he intervened in the labor peace agreement, prosecutors say.

Linda Lacewell, Cuomo’s chief of staff, testified last week that she saw Percoco from time to time in his former office at the governor’s New York City offices during the time Percoco was working for the campaign.

“I might see him for two or three days in the office and then not see him for a long time, and then he might be there again,” Lacewell tesified.

No one else used the office while Percoco was away, Lacewell said.

Read our continuing trial coverage

A summary of phone records entered by prosecutors as evidence today suggests that Percoco used his old 39th floor office in the executive chamber offices with some regularity while he was working on the campaign.

Prosecutors said phone logs show calls were made from his desk phone on 68 days during the period. That averages about a dozen calls per day. Some 114 of the calls were to Percoco’s home, to his wife’s cell phone, or to lobbyist Todd Howe‘s cell phone.

 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, right, and Joseph Percoco, Executive Deputy Secretary, are seen at a press conference in 2013. Percoco is on trial for alleged bribery and extortion.

Howe, who has pleaded guilty to eight felonies, is expected to testify against Percoco and the other defendants. Prosecutors say Howe and Percoco worked together to help Cor avoid the requirement of a labor peace agreement at the Syracuse Inner Harbor.

Until Percoco intervened, officials at Empire State Development were pressing Cor officials to negotiate an agreement with a local union, prosecutors say.

Here’s how the issue was finally resolved on Dec. 3, 2014, according to a timeline presented by prosecutors.

8:06 a.m.: Percoco’s swipe card is used to enter the governor’s executive offices in New York City.

10:52 a.m.: Gerardi emails Howe with concerns about the labor peace agreement, asking whether Howe has heard “anything with JP on this.”

10:52 a.m.: Howe forwards the email to Percoco, writing: “???”

11:37 a.m.: Call from Percoco’s New York City office desk to his office in Albany.

11:39 a.m.: Percoco emails Howe: “Stand by.”

11:44 a.m.: Call from Percoco’s office to Howe.

11:49 a.m.: Howe emails Gerardi and Aiello: “Just hung up with JP. (An Empire State Development employee) is being informed as I type this that ESD HQ in NYC does NOT concur with his read on this. … JP said we should stand by and let the message sink in over the next several hours and then look for ESD to reach back out to you, with a ‘different’ perspective.”

A section of New York’s public officers law prohibits state employees from using “the property, services or other resources of the state for private business.” According to a 1993 opinion from the New York State Ethics Commission, that means that election campaigns must not utilize state resources.

“No state resources of any type, including telephones, office supplies, postage, photocopying machines or support staff assistance, can be used in the furtherance of the campaign,” the commission wrote.

It is not clear from the prosecution records whether Percoco worked on Cuomo’s campaign from his executive chamber office. Prosecutors are trying to prove a different point: that Percoco was able to intervene in state business even while he was off the state payroll.

 

The Case Against Cuomo

The Case Against Cuomo

The Case Against Cuomo

BY

SUSAN KANG

The corrupt New York governor’s progressive reputation is a carefully stage-managed illusion.

Since Trump’s election, New York governor Andrew Cuomo, the son of popular former governor Mario Cuomo, has positioned himself as a leader of the #Resistance.

When Trump withdrew from the Paris Accords, Cuomo announced that he was joining with other blue-state governors “to sustain and strengthen existing climate programs . . . and implement new programs to reduce carbon emissions.” When Trump decided not to extend Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in September, Cuomo urged his constituents to call their representatives and demand support for the DREAM Act.

Cuomo recruited Bernie Sanders to stand beside him as he unveiled his Excelsior Scholarship to New York public colleges, which Sanders called “revolutionary,” and he regularly reminds voters of his fights to legalize gay marriage equality, raise the age of criminal liability, and increase the state minimum wage.

New Yorkers get regular email notifications from Cuomo touting these moves and expressing the governor’s outrage at Trump’s misdeeds. But Andrew Cuomo is no Berniecrat. He’s merely figured out how to manipulate New York state’s opaque, oligarchical political system to give himself a left-liberal sheen without risking his connections to his richest donors.

What Cuomo’s emails don’t mention are the range of progressive and social-democratic bills that would effectively shield vulnerable New Yorkers from the worst excesses of the Trump government, but have died at various stages of the legislative process.

For example, the NY Climate Change and Community Protection Act (endorsed by over one hundred labor, community, and environmental groups) would institute strict emissions controls, publicly invest in renewable energy sources, and create an estimated one hundred thousand jobs — it’s the most ambitious climate change law in the entire United States. This bill, and many others, including the New York Health Act (which would establish single-payer health care) and the New York Liberty Act (a state sanctuary law which would protect New Yorkers from deportation), have passed the New York State Assembly multiple times but failed to become law.

And though the New York State Assembly passes some of the most left-wing bills in the country, their failure to become law is a central part of the Cuomo story and illustrates why New York progressives love to hate their governor. On paper, New York is a solidly blue state. Over 60 percent of voters chose Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in the past three presidential elections, and the lower house of the state legislature has a solid Democratic majority. But a corrupt system of bipartisan collusion ensures Republican control of the upper chamber — and Cuomo encourages and benefits from this manufactured partisan split.

It’s an open secret in Albany that Cuomo is committed to maintaining Republican control of the state senate, where creative redistricting deliberately gives the upstate GOP minority an advantage. The governor could have used his veto power over districting maps in 2012, or used some of his vast campaign resources to elect a stronger Democratic majority in the upper chamber. Instead he has carefully maintained this structural barrier to the passage of progressive bills.

But gerrymandering alone isn’t enough to give the Republicans effective power over Albany’s agenda. For that, we can thank the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group of eight Democratic senators who broke away from the Democratic caucus to forge a power-sharing agreement with Republicans. In 2012, after Democrats claimed a slim majority in the upper house, four of those Democrats — Jeffery Klein, Diane Savino, David Valesky, and David Carlucci — agreed to caucus with the Republicans, giving the GOP the majority. Since then, the IDC has doubled in size and remained loyal to the Republicans.

This arrangement benefits all the key political players — above all, Cuomo and his presidential ambitions.

Senate Republicans can control redistricting and enjoy the perks and resources of majority status, including the ability to control New York state’s over $150 billion budget. IDC members get pork for their districts, stipends for chairing committees, bigger budgets, expanded staff and access to big centrist Democratic donors (such as charter schools, real estate interests, and hedge funds). Cuomo continues to cut spending and prevent tax increases (particularly on high incomes and property taxes) to appease donors, and casts himself as a moderate progressive who gets things done. Meanwhile, Democrats in the Assembly and Senate can take strong left-liberal positions on a number of social-democratic bills, like single payer, knowing full well that the Senate majority leader will never allow it the leave committee for a floor vote.

The Assembly blames the Senate. Democratic senators blame the IDC. The IDC blames the Democrats and the Republicans. And Cuomo is spared the need to veto popular social-democratic bills like single payer, which would tarnish his image with Democratic primary voters. This carefully choreographed blame game stymies all attempts by progressive activists to pass reforms. Meanwhile, millions of New Yorkers, including women, people of color, school children, low-income families, and the uninsured and under-insured suffer under Trump’s policies.

The Real Andrew Cuomo

Thanks to this bipartisan run-around, many of Cuomo’s key victories have been far more hollow than they might seem. For example, the Excelsior Scholarship program — already criticized for its extremely strict courseload and grade requirements and its “last-dollar” structure, requiring students to use all federal grants and scholarships toward tuition before state help kicks in — was made even worse by Republican meddling: the GOP added provisions requiring four years of state residency after graduation, or else the tuition scholarship reverts to a loan.

Republicans in 2017 also watered down the Raise the Age law, which was written to bring all sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds accused of crimes to family courts rather than criminal courts. But the final Raise the Age bill only redirected misdemeanor cases to family court, while nonviolent felony cases would go to a “youth section” of regular criminal court. Those accused of violent felonies will go through regular criminal courts and thus face the litany of abuses to which the criminal justice system exposes minors. This failure to “raise the age right” was heavily criticized by juvenile justice advocates and black state senators.

Perhaps in his presidential run Cuomo will claim to have evolved on key issues, as he did when he changed his stance on fracking. Following the cues of fellow would-be presidential frontrunners, Cuomo came out in favor of a national Medicare for All — but if Cuomo really wanted accessible medical care, the ultra-blue state where he actually has power would already have passed the New York Health Act.

Indeed, while Cuomo might blame the Republican senate or IDC for the bill’s failure, he has bragged elsewhere about his ability to create bipartisan coalitions to pass his pet projects. In Cuomo’s 2014 political memoir, All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life — itself a focus of controversy thanks to its huge cash advance from the publisher and dismal sales, resulting in a personal profit of about $250 per book — he discussed his skilled and effective maneuvering to pass gay marriage in 2011. Cuomo convinced the reluctant Senate leader at the time to release the bill to a floor vote and made sure he had sufficient Republican Senate support. On health care, meanwhile, he’s chosen not to use political capital to be a bold progressive leader. Cuomo’s timid posture speaks volumes about his actual political positioning.

The case against Cuomo lies not only in his association with the unpopular centrist wing of the Democratic Party, but also in how he governs. Despite claiming a mandate to clean up Albany, Cuomo functions as “an old school political boss, who exploits and worsens the most dysfunctional components of NY state politics to make it worse” according to Bill Samuels, a former friend of the Cuomo family and founder of Effective NY, which advocates for reform of Albany.

His “three men in a room” style of state governance perpetuates the oligarchical tendencies of New York government. He created and quickly shut down a high-powered anti-corruption body, the Moreland Commission, in 2013 when it became clear that he might be implicated in the commission’s own inquiries. This became a major talking point for his 2014 primary challenger, Zephyr Teachout, who surprised observers by claiming over 35 percent of the primary vote on a “shoestring budget” and with no institutional support. And just like Hillary Clinton in 2016, Cuomo had a clear enthusiasm problem, winning votes but little excitement or energy.

Those who vote for Democrats should avoid repeating the mistakes of Hillary Clinton’s overly confident 2016 campaign. Despite his posturing to the contrary, Andrew Cuomo follows the worst aspects of the Clinton playbook. According to January 2018 campaign filings, Governor Cuomo has over $30 million in campaign funds, relying heavily on large donors. A New York Times analysis of his most recent filing shows that only 0.2 percent of his donors give less than $200 – testimony to the complete absence of grassroots excitement or support for Cuomo.

In contrast, the average contribution was $4,800, with large corporations and real estate interests providing donations well above $100,000. These real estate donations occurred through the LLC loophole in NY campaign law, a law that Cuomo himself has denounced as “egregious.” This contrasts not only with Bernie Sanders’s extremely successful small donor fundraising experience, but also the recent moves by mainstream Democrats to rely more on smaller grassroots donations.

We are currently about a year away from when candidates will declare their presidential intentions, and Cuomo will likely continue positioning himself as the #Resistance leader America needs, as he did in his speech to the New York City Women’s March, and as he implied by staging his photo-op with Bernie Sanders. But if we want to see what New York’s governor really thinks of the insurgent left, we should heed his own words in the concluding chapter of his 2014 memoir. Cuomo rejected economic populism within the Democratic party as the impulse of an “extreme left” that seeks to “punitively [raise] taxes on the rich and [transfer] the money to the poor.”  He equated supporters of left redistributive measures — “fueled by emotion and truly outraged at the unfairness of the system” — with Tea Party extremists, holding views regarded as foolhardly by sensible, moderate New Yorkers. He dismissed Occupy Wall Street and its “incendiary, divisive” rhetoric, seeking to demonize the very wealthy.

No amount of woke-washing can hide what Cuomo really is: another uninspiring “socially liberal, fiscally conservative” Clinton leftover.

 

Cuomo falling short on vows to ‘Clean Up Albany’

By Carl Campanile

January 28, 2018 | 6:59pm

Gov. Cuomo campaigned for office in 2010 vowing to “Clean Up Albany” by cracking down on fat-cat campaign contributions and “pay-to-play” political corruption.

In a 115-page booklet of proposed ethics reforms, the state’s then-attorney general railed against business-as-usual policies that he said let the rich and powerful run roughshod over average citizens.

“Currently New York law amplifies the voice of wealthy individuals and special interests and entrenches incumbents at the public’s expense,” Cuomo wrote.

But in the eight years since he was first elected governor, only one of the Democrat’s ambitious reform plans has been signed into law — a pilot program intended to encourage small-money donations and a wider field of candidates in the 2014 race for state comptroller.

“And as Cuomo gears up to seek a third term in November — and possibly mount a 2020 bid for the White House — former top aide and confidante Joseph Percoco is on trial for allegedly pocketing more than $300,000 in “pay-to-play” bribes.”

Government watchdog groups now say Cuomo has failed to deliver on his high-minded agenda.

“Promises made and not yet kept. Lots of rhetoric, not much action,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Alex Camarda, policy director of Reinvent Albany said, “It’s very fashionable for candidates to run on cleaning up Albany.”

“Once they’re elected it becomes less of a priority. That’s true of the governor and the legislators across the board.”

Cuomo’s office defended his record.

“Gov. Cuomo has successfully passed five separate ethics packages, and every year continues to fight for these reforms, which the legislature has blocked repeatedly,” said Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi.

Azzopardi also slammed some watchdog groups for hypocrisy, saying they have resisted disclosing their own donors.

The Republican-led state Senate, in particular, has blocked Cuomo’s campaign reform proposals, arguing that limiting donations will tilt the playing field to Democrats. They also are philosophically opposed to having taxpayers finance campaigns.

Cuomo did win approval of other reforms to enforce the current campaign laws and require public officials to disclose more information on their side business dealings That includes the creation of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, and independent counsel at the state Board of Elections.

He also succeeded in getting lawmakers and voters to approve a constitutional amendment that forfeits the pensions of public officials convicted of public corruption.

 

LOVETT: Corruption case against ex-Cuomo aide spurs GOP ad campaign attacking governor

LOVETT: Corruption case against ex-Cuomo aide spurs GOP ad campaign attacking governor

LOVETT: Corruption case against ex-Cuomo aide spurs GOP ad campaign attacking governor

KENNETH LOVETT

ALBANY — The state Republican Party is readying a digital ad campaign and rapid-response team in anticipation of the start of the federal corruption trial Monday of Joseph Percoco, a former longtime aide and close friend of Gov. Cuomo.

Republicans hope the trial and accompanying campaign can help weaken the two-term Democrat in his re-election year.

The idea is to try and tie Cuomo, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, to the federal corruption charges against Percoco and other former aides and associates, said GOP spokeswoman Jessica Proud.

“This trial is a window into the dark culture of corruption created by Andrew Cuomo,” Proud said. “His insatiable quest for power and control permeates his every decision, rule of law be damned.”

Proud added that “it’s important for us to tie Cuomo, despite his attempt to distance himself from it, to the pay-to-play culture he created. He allowed all of this to happen.”

The digital ads, which should begin running across the state later this week, will look to incorporate information that comes out of the Percoco trial. Proud wouldn’t say exactly how much the Republicans are spending, but she noted it would be “significant.”

In addition, the Republican Party will have a rapid-response team at the courthouse every day throughout the trial, which is expected to last several weeks.

Manhattan GOP Chairwoman Andrea Catsimatidis has said she will be there the first day.

State GOP Chairman Ed Cox, lawyers and other legal experts are also expected to spend time over the next few weeks watching the testimony and then making themselves available to the media afterward.

Percoco is accused of accepting bribes from a company looking to build a power plant in Orange County and from a Syracuse development firm. His is the first of two federal corruption trials slated for this year and linked to Cuomo’s upstate economic development projects involving former aides and associates to the governor.

Cuomo has said he did not know of the alleged crooked action. He has been interviewed by federal prosecutors but said he does not expect he’ll be asked to testify at Percoco’s trial.

“He has consistently abused the taxpayers of New work for his own gain and we are going to make sure voters understand why he is the one who is guilty,” Proud said.

A Democratic insider loyal to Cuomo said it’s the Republicans who “need to respond” to scandals of their own, including four upcoming corruption trials involving former GOP elected officials. The Dem mentioned the trials of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, former state Sen. George Maziarz, ex-Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, and former Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto. (The source even mentioned Cox’s late father-in-law, President Richard Nixon.)

The insider also said Republicans need to answer for “(President) Trump’s 25% tax hike on New Yorkers — and they have no response, rapid or in November.”

The GOP efforts will begin even as the party has yet to pick a candidate to challenge Cuomo, who has solid poll numbers and $30.4 million in his campaign account.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb and former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra have said they are seeking the Republican nomination. State Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco is also considering a run and said he will make his decision by the end of the month.

The Republicans are not the only ones looking to use the trial against Cuomo.

A coalition of progressive activists sent a letter calling on Cuomo to cancel all state permits for a planned power plant at the center of the Percoco trial.

“This is undoubtedly a painful moment in your governorship,” the letter states. “We urge you to take stock and take the actions needed to remedy the stain of corruption by undoing the fruits of corrupt deals.”

The groups called on Cuomo “to send a clear message to all New Yorkers: Any entity that tries to bribe state government will never profit from corrupt deals.”

Among the organizations signing the letter are Citizen Action of New York, Food & Water Watch and NYS Tenants & Neighbors.

Administration officials said a May 2016 order directing all state agencies to cease all communications and regulatory actions surrounding the project remains in effect.

One person who may actually help Cuomo during the trials is President Trump.

Republicans and Democrats say Trump has overshadowed all things politics since taking office.

“Donald Trump has redefined our news and whatever he does — if he puts out a tweet — the world turns over immediately,” Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf said.

State Senate Deputy Minority Leader Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat who has had a tense relationship with Cuomo, hired a communication director who most recently worked for one of the governor’s chief Democratic foes.

Gianaris hired Alexander Marion, who was the spokesman for Stephanie Miner until she had to leave office because of term limits in January.

Gianaris said he didn’t hire Marion to take a shot at Cuomo. He said he hired him at the recommendation of Miner, who is considering running in a Democratic primary against Cuomo.

Gianaris noted he and Miner have known each other for decades, since they both worked for Cuomo’s late three-term father, Gov. Mario Cuomo.

Cuomo accused of corruption in affordable housing suit

Cuomo accused of corruption in affordable housing suit

Cuomo accused of corruption in affordable housing suit

BY KYLE CAMPBELL

JANUARY 17, 2018

A group of West Village Houses tenants have accused Gov. Andrew Cuomo of participating in a pay-to-play deal that helped fund his political ambitions.

According to attorney Massimo D’Angelo, Cuomo misled tenants about the long-term affordability of their homes when he worked for landlord Andrew Farkas in the mid-2000s.

Now, with the tenants facing $8,000 rent hikes apiece, they have filed a complaint urging Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate the conversion of the 420-unit West Village Houses complex from the Mitchell-Lama program into free market housing.

“We’re showing the people of New York the underlying corruption in this city,” D’Angelo said. “It really runs rampant and I don’t think people understand or appreciate that.”

According to D’Angelo, an attorney with the law firm of Adam Leitman Bailey, PC., Andrew Farkas, the property’s former owner, misled tenants about the building’s affordability requirements and engaged in pay-to-play politics with Cuomo, an arrangement that began when the now-governor was running the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

D’Angelo is representing more than two dozen tenants who couldn’t purchase their units when the 42-building complex was converted to co-ops in 2006.

Although he believes his clients have a sound legal argument for keeping their apartments affordable in perpetuity, D’Angelo said it’s important to expose the corruption at play.

The saga began in 1997 when HUD, under Cuomo’s watch, partnered with the Justice Department to prosecute a city landlord for taking kickbacks from Farkas’s Insignia Group. The following year, the parties settled for $7.4 million, a sum D’Angelo and others have deemed “a slap on the wrist.” Farkas sold his commercial real estate company for $910 million later in 1998.

After leaving HUD in 2001, Cuomo was hired as a vice president of Farkas’ new endeavor, Island Capital, where he reportedly collected more than $2 million in salary along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, filling his coffers as he ran for governor in 2002 and attorney general in 2006.

Before taking office, Cuomo played an integral role in the West Village Houses co-op conversion, a fraught, two-year process that resulted in the majority of the units being sold to occupants and a promise to keep the other 99 units affordable but only for 12 years, at which point the city will no longer subsidize them.

This limitation is being challenged in court as unlawful. Although Cuomo’s entanglement with Farkas, his company and his money have been well documented in the public record, they have never been the subject of a corruption probe and no impropriety has ever been suggested.

However, D’Angelo said, in this case, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

“Cuomo was at the helm of Island Capital Group,” D’Angelo said. “He was instrumental in putting this deal together while he was also getting all types of campaign contributions from Farkas after he essentially paved the way for him to become a billionaire. In politics, what comes around goes around.”

Neither Cuomo nor Farkas responded to requests for comment by press time.

A spokeswoman in the Attorney General’s office confirmed the complaint was received and is being evaluated, although she declined to provide a timetable for when action would be taken.

Of the 99 units that were kept as affordable rentals immediately after the conversion, only about 30 remain that way, with other owners moving, taking buyouts or dying. Most remaining renters are senior citizens and many are sick or disabled, Constance Rodgers, a representative from the tenant group, said. Of the two non-seniors, one has called the complex home her entire life.

If the price freeze is lifted, rents would rise from between $1,000 and $1,500 per month to more than $9,000.

A 26-year resident of the West Village Houses, Rodgers said she, like most of her neighbors, considered buying her apartment during the 10-year window that residents were allowed to do so. However, she found the expense to be untenable.

“Even if I put down 20 percent, I was going to have a mortgage that was a little more than what my rent was at the time and a maintenance fee that was more than my monthly rent,” she said. “So I was doubling my nut, which I couldn’t do as a single mother teacher.”

D’Angelo is confident the tenants will prevail against the complex’s new owner BRG West Village, a subsidiary of the Benedict Realty Group, because of precedents. First is the complex’s use of J-51 tax abatements, which are exemptions the city allows for owners who make widespread improvements to affordable housing developments on the condition that the facilities remain affordable.

The other advantage the tenants have is a guidance order issued by the attorney general in 2015 that makes it difficult to change a building’s certificate of incorporation from affordable housing to market rate.“

BRG West Village could not be reached for comment.

 

N.Y. Republicans beat Democrats in fund-raising in 2017

N.Y. Republicans beat Democrats in fund-raising in 2017

ALBANY — Despite the sustained attacks on Washington Republicans by Gov. Cuomo and other top state Democrats, federal filings show the state GOP actually outraised the New York Democratic party in 2017.

The two state parties each have federal accounts. According to the latest filing, the New York Republican federal account received a total of $1.9 million in contributions in 2017, including $756,000 from individuals.

The party has more than $622,000 on hand heading into the 2018 election year.

Meanwhile, the state Democratic committee’s federal account raised $1.15 million, including just $91,000 from individuals during the same time period. The Dems finished the year with about $265,000 on hand.

State GOP spokeswoman Jessica Proud said the fundraising advantage “positions us well for our congressional battles this year.”

“It’s embarrassing the Democrats have every statewide office and the governor even did his (public relations) tour with (House Democratic Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi and we still outraised them, which positions us well for our congressional battles,” Proud said.

She also revealed that donations to the Republican’s state account are at their highest levels since Chairman Ed Cox took over in 2009.

In all, the state Republican Party on Tuesday will report having raised a total of $6.5 million in 2017, an off election year, after having raised $8.5 million in 2016.

That’s up considerably from the $5.1 million the party raised in the last gubernatorial election year in 2014 and $3.9 million in 2015, the last off-election year.

But Democratic Party officials say that in addition to raising $1.15 million for its federal account, the Dems in July also reported having received $1 million through its state “housekeeping” account that will be used for Cuomo’s “New York Fights Back” campaign targeting six House Republicans this year.

Most of those contributions came from major unions.

While the money donated to the state party housekeeping account cannot be used directly on campaigns, it can be used as part of the coordinated House effort for things like polling, field work, issue advocacy, and digital and grassroots organizing, officials said.

State Democratic Party Executive Director Geoff Berman said the combined $2 million will help “toward turning these red congressional seats blue, and taking the first steps to reverse the damage done to New York by Trump’s Washington enablers.”

“But let’s be clear — no amount of money is going to save these Congress members, who turned their back on their own constituents, raised their taxes, and conspired to take away their health care,” Berman said.

The six targeted GOPers are Reps. Lee Zeldin (Suffolk County), John Faso (Columbia County), Elise Stefanik (Essex County in the Adirondacks), Claudia Tenney (Oneida County), Tom Reed (Steuben County in the Southern Tier) and Chris Collins (Erie County).

 

BY KENNETH LOVETT

Amid Deep Freeze, New Englanders Can ‘Thank’ N.Y. Gov. Cuomo For Their High Energy Bills

Amid Deep Freeze, New Englanders Can ‘Thank’ N.Y. Gov. Cuomo For Their High Energy Bills

Amid Deep Freeze, New Englanders Can ‘Thank’ N.Y. Gov. Cuomo For Their High Energy Bills

Northeast U.S. around Christmas, Bloomberg reported that in New England, natural gas spot prices rose more than threefold to the highest in over three years and “turned the region into the world’s priciest market,” with gas for next-day delivery on Enbridge’s Algonquin system settling at $35.35 per million British thermal units.

A few days later, the spot prices in New England had fallen back to $19.75, as reported by MassLive.

When one considers that the NYMEX price for natural gas on that day was sitting at a few cents above $3/mmbtu, that’s some pretty pricey gas that New Englanders were paying for. Back in the “old days,”  i.e., before the advent of the production of natural gas from shale formations, a winter event like this, combined with a storage level that is well within the 5-year range, would have sent that NYMEX price up dramatically, where it would have lingered until things warmed up. But in today’s world, that price represented a rise of barely 10%.

So what, you might ask, is going on in New England?  As MassLive reported, the biggest reason for what will be a short-term blowout in natural gas prices for power providers is a lack of pipeline capacity.

“Chicago does not have the same pipeline constraints as New England and parts of New York,” said Stephen J. Leahy, vice president of policy and analysis for the Northeast Gas Association, an industry trade group.

MassLive cited “popular resistance” to new fossil fuel infrastructure in Massachusetts, but for this unhappy circumstance, New Englanders can largely thank their neighbors in New York State, and more specifically, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.  Per the U.S. Energy Information Administration, New York generates more than 40% of its electricity using natural gas, and more than half of the state’s residents heat their home with the fuel, which in the rest of the country is quite abundant and cheap.

The trouble for New Yorkers – and for everyone in New England by extension – is that, as I reported back in April, Gov. Cuomo has spent his entire term in office demonizing natural gas.  Not only did his administration take the extraordinary, completely unwarranted action of outlawing hydraulic fracturing operations in the state, the Governor himself has made a point of personally working to obstruct the building of much-needed new pipeline capacity to bring natural gas from the Marcellus Shale into the state from Pennsylvania and West Virginia, whose residents and state governments are profiting immensely from oil and gas operations.

As if it weren’t bad enough that Cuomo’s actions are denying thousands of New York residents the right to exercise their property rights and causing the state’s residents to pay higher prices for home heating and electricity, Cuomo’s obstruction costs New Englanders as well.

Why? Geography.  It’s impossible for any company to construct a pipeline to move natural gas from the Marcellus region to New England without going through New York , which forms a land barrier between the two regions.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a report early in 2017 quantifying the cost of Cuomo to New York and the New England region. It said residents of the Northeast pay 44% more than the national average for electricity and 29% more for natural gas, while regional manufacturers pay 62% more for their electricity supply than the national average.

The report claimed that without the building of new pipelines, by 2020 New York would lose out on 17,400 jobs, $971 billion in labor income, and $1.6 billion in economic benefit.  For the region: 78,000 lost jobs, $4.4 billion in lost labor income, and $7.6 billion in lost gross domestic product.

So, while this current price spike is temporary in nature and will ease off as the weather warms up, the sad reality is that the political actions by the governor of a single state are costing residents of an entire region of the United States dearly.  If you live in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire or Maine, you might want to think about writing Gov. Cuomo a “thank you” note when you open up your next utility bill and see what he’s costing you.

BY DAVID BLACKMON

Chuck Schumer’s three decades of immigration lies

Chuck Schumer’s three decades of immigration lies

Chuck Schumer’s three decades of immigration lies

Will we let him lie us into the end of America?

Posted January 22, 2018 by Daniel Horowitz

How far we have fallen as a political system: An entire political party is now willing to shut the government down over a policy exclusively for illegal aliens, not Americans. Even more appalling is that the very leader of the shutdown is a man who has lied to us numerous times on immigration and has created the very immigration crisis we face today by pushing similar amnesty policies before. Most ironic, Schumer himself once expressed support for the very policies he is now calling racist and over which he has triggered the Schumer Shutdown.

On Thursday, Politico reported that Chuck Schumer told President Trump there will be no deal unless Sen. Tom Cotton is removed from the negotiating table. After all, the American taxpayer is not allowed to have a voice in the room who actually cares about the citizenry at least as much as illegal aliens. The problem is that Schumer and most other Democrats once upon a time supported what Cotton is trying to accomplish, at least in rhetoric. The reason Schumer is so disgruntled over the presence of people like Tom Cotton and Stephen Miller is because they have matched his knowledge of the immigration issue and deftly expose his double talk on the issue — double talk that has allowed him to get away with immigration fakery for 32 years as a member of both the House and the Senate.

The endless lies: “Immigration works for Americans”

Every bad outcome on immigration has emanated either from the unelected branches of government (administrative and judicial) or legislation that was sold to the American people as doing the opposite of its actual intent. This is true of the 1965 and 1990 immigration bills, the 1980 refugee bill, and the 1986 amnesty bill. It is widely known how Kennedy and other Democrats promised in 1965 that the new immigration system would not flood the country with poor chain migrants, undermine assimilation, and become a burden on Americans. What is less known is that the 1990 expansion of the ’65 Hart-Celler Act was actually designed to fix the flaws of the original bill (the flaws that were never supposed to exist), but once again did the exact opposite.

In 1989, there was a bipartisan consensus that there was too much chain migration, that there were too few immigrants of particular merit, and that the orientation of the immigrants wasn’t diverse enough. What they meant by diversity was that the Hart-Celler Act spawned a monopoly of immigration from Latin America and Asia, while locking out European immigrants. Schumer was lobbied heavily by the New York Irish community to increase immigration opportunities from Ireland, which eventually evolved into the diversity visa lottery. Contrary to popular thought, the diversity lottery was not designed to bring in more immigrants from the third world. Rather, it was designed to rectify the chain migration from the third world that locked out European immigration. And indeed, for the first three years of the diversity lottery, 40 percent of the visas were allocated to Ireland.

When the comprehensive bill was first introduced in the Senate Judiciary Committee by Sens. Alan Simpson and Ted Kennedy, it actually had a points system that prioritized English language proficiency and limited chain migration. But even as the bill was quietly being made into yet another expansionist bill, contrary to its initial pitch, Chuck Schumer was still promoting the bill as a way of moving from chain migration to a skills-based system and fostering more, not less, immigration from Europe. On October 3, 1990, Schumer lamented on the House floor how “only 4 percent of all immigration is employer-sponsored,” which “hurts our economy” and “hurts every American.” He said that this bill would correct that problem by making immigration based on skills because “immigration should be job related … it should help America grow economically.” He also said “immigration should be as diverse as it once was,” because “countries like Ireland, Italy, Poland, and Nigeria … cannot get people into this country, even though there are many people of that ancestry here.”

Not only did Schumer lament family-based migration shutting out merit-based migration, he actually touched on America’s ancestry and lamented the monopoly of Latin America over Europe. And he did so almost 30 years ago, when we were at the foot of the mountain of chain migration from those countries. That was 30 million immigrants ago, almost all brought here though chain migration, many of whom came in as a result of immigrants who came here after enactment of the bill Schumer supported, which was supposed to rectify what he admitted harmed America’s economy.

Yet he lied to us in 1990 about fixing legal immigration, just as he lied to us in 1986 about amnesty.

During debate over the ’86 amnesty, Schumer said the following:

“What is it not? It is not millions of people cascading across the border. … It is not welfare benefits for those folks immediately. In fact, it’s in the bill right now that they cannot get AFDC benefits. … It is not immediately wives, husbands, and children will come across. Not the case.”

Guess what? The highest rates of welfare usage are now from the countries of origin most associated with illegal migration; namely, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

But it goes a step further.

Now those lies are home to roost

Schumer admitted amnesty was a gamble. Now he’s shamelessly asking us to gamble our future on the failed results of his first gamble.

As reported by the New York Times, following passage of the amnesty, Schumer said something amazingly prescient:

”The bill is a gamble, a riverboat gamble. There is no guarantee that employer sanctions will work or that amnesty will work. We are headed into uncharted waters.”

To this day, we are paying for Schumer’s self-admitted gamble on amnesty and lies about enforcement with an entire new generation of illegal immigrants that he promised wouldn’t exist. We are paying for his lies about the 1990 bill that it would fix chain migration, as we are witnessing a wave of chain migration even the skeptics could never have imagined back then. We are paying for his lies about the diversity lottery, which was supposed to reorient immigration towards Europe and has instead opened the floodgates from the Middle East and has brought in some terrorists.

And here we are three decades later with this same man now leading the Democrat Party and shutting down the government in order to promote amnesty for the very people that came from his original amnesty. Are we to continue taking this man seriously?

Either way, it’s important to observe that once upon a time, Schumer at least felt the need to lie to the American people and actually speak like Tom Cotton and Stephen Miller. Even as late as 2009, Schumer had to speak with clarity on illegal immigration:

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Except back then, very few called him out. Now he feels uncomfortable because Cotton has matched his institutional knowledge about the issue and is able to call BS on his duplicitous talk of enforcement.

Now Cotton has a bill that finally fulfills the bipartisan promise on chain migration. And Goodlatte has a bill incorporating both the Cotton bill and some sort of amnesty for 700,000 illegals. And Yet Schumer is rejecting something that he has expressed support for, on an issue for which he is personally responsible.

We’ve been doing amnesty since 1986, and we’ve been lied to about immigration in general since 1965. We haven’t been fixing legal immigration to end chain migration, which was a bipartisan promise that Schumer agreed to in 1990. Isn’t it time to first fulfill the promise to Americans before pursuing another amnesty?

There’s an important lesson from Schumer and Kennedy in the 1990 bill. Aristide Zolberg, one of the leading immigration historians of recent memory, asked the question in his scholarly book, “A Nation by Design,” how a bill that was introduced amidst anti-mass migration sentiment in the country wound up “moving in the opposite direction?” Citing other commentators, he noted that “while public support for a reduction in legal immigration was broad, it was not well-organized. … In contrast, a liberal coalition of well-organized organized groups, including ethnic organizations, churches, and employer associations, articulated strong opposition to proposals for restricting legal immigration.”

Schumer has moved full speed ahead on lies and subterfuge on immigration for decades because there was no organized and precise voice to give power to the silent majority on this issue. Nobody has stood for the forgotten American taxpayer, who must bear the burden of terrible immigration policy. That is changing with voices like Cotton and Stephen Miller. Which is why Chuck Schumer is no longer speaking the language of the American citizen — because there is now somebody on the playing field to hold him to account.