A federal investigation of two former top aides to Gov. Andrew Cuomo is threatening to taint the Democratic leader’s signature economic development efforts even as it adds to Albany’s reputation for insider dealing.
The probe has revealed a complex web of individuals tied to Cuomo and businesses that stand to make millions through efforts to revitalize the upstate economy. Cuomo has launched his own internal investigation and vowed to “throw the book” at anyone found to have broken the law.
“Did two people act improperly? Did they represent companies they shouldn’t have? Was their undue influence with those companies?” Cuomo told reporters last week. “Those are the questions. We now need the answers.”
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s investigation was revealed last month when Cuomo’s office confirmed the federal prosecutor was examining possible undisclosed conflicts of interest and improper bidding related to the Buffalo Billion initiative and Nano, the governor’s effort to attract high-tech nanotechnology jobs.
A third investigation came from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office, who is investigating possible bid-rigging for a dormitory project on the campus of the SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany
Joe Percoco was known as one of Cuomo’s most loyal advisers, a political enforcer who worked for his father, Gov. Mario Cuomo. During the eulogy for his father last year, Cuomo called Percoco his father’s third son “who sometimes I think he loved the most.”
Percoco was Cuomo’s $156,000-a-year executive secretary when he resigned in 2014 to lead Cuomo’s re-election campaign. According to state financial disclosures, he also made as much as $125,000 by becoming a consultant for COR Development and CHA Consulting, two firms involved in Buffalo Billion and Nano. The firms are also big Cuomo political donors.
Cuomo said Percoco told him he might take consulting clients. But he never asked Percoco to identify them.
Percoco rejoined the administration in late 2014 and received a $20,000 raise from his old salary before quitting a second time in January to become a vice president at Madison Square Garden.
“As a policy, we do not comment on employees, but we can say that Joe is a man of good character and is a respected executive at MSG,” the company said in a statement.
Todd Howe’s ties to the Cuomo family also stretch back decades. He was an aide to Mario Cuomo and later a deputy chief of staff to Andrew Cuomo when the latter led the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. He later went to work as a lobbyist for a firm whose clients included COR, developer LPCiminelli, energy company CPV Valley and SUNY Polytechnic.
Howe has a troubled financial history, including a 2003 bankruptcy, nearly $400,000 in federal tax liens and judgments and a guilty plea to making a false bank deposit of $45,000.
“I wouldn’t call us close friends,” Cuomo said of Howe. “But he worked for the state for a number of years. But I had no knowledge of his personal situation.”
The probe has big stakes in it for Cuomo. The governor regularly cites the Buffalo Billion, a plan to invest $1 billion in Buffalo, and Nano as two of his proudest achievements, and the questions surrounding the programs now threaten to stain that legacy. And COR, CHA and SUNY Polytechnic play key roles in both programs.
“Nobody wants the facts more than us,” Cuomo said.