Corruption trial: Percoco used government office while running Cuomo campaign
By Tim Knauss
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.
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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.