State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has ordered New York Power Authority chief Richard Kessel to "immediately" stop using NYPA funds to make charitable contributions unrelated to the agency's core mission.
The order, contained in a letter to Kessel dated March 21, follows revelations on a conservative website in January showing that NYPA has made thousands of dollars in donations to several charities on Long Island in areas that NYPA doesn't service. NYPA provides power and electricity primarily to upstate homes and business, although it also serves Greenport and Freeport.
Among the donations in 2009: $4,750 to the Merrick Chamber of Commerce and $4,800 to the Chamber of Commerce of the Bellmores. Kessel, who hails from Merrick, couldn't be reached Tuesday but denied any impropriety through a spokesman.
In his letter, Schneiderman said, "It has come to our attention via published press reports that NYPA may be making financial contributions that do not directly relate to NYPA's powers, duties or purposes. If NYPA is currently making these or similar contributions, please terminate them immediately." The letter says NYPA should contact the attorney general's public integrity unit if "NYPA believes it has legal authority" to make the contributions.
NYPA spokesman Bert Cunningham said, "We do have a policy that conforms to the 2007 AG's opinion and we follow it," referring to the previous Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo's ruling on charitable donations by the Long Island Power Authority when Kessel ran it. "We will certainly cooperate with the AG's request."
Schneiderman's letter referred to Cuomo's opinion concerning hundreds of donations by LIPA under Kessel. Cuomo's findings, which followed revelations of the donations in Newsday, "concluded that in the event that a financial contribution did not directly relate to one of LIPA's powers, duties or purposes, then it fell outside LIPA's authority to give."
George Marlin, who operates a website called Street Corner Conservative, which has long been critical of Kessel, first revealed the donations on his site in January after filing a Freedom of Information Law request for NYPA documents.
"I'm delighted the attorney general has spoken out on Richie Kessel's NYPA donations," said Marlin, who sits on the Nassau Interim Finance Authority. "He's playing the same games he played at LIPA."
NYPA donations previously came under scrutiny in 2006 after reports it gave away millions of dollars to its former executives' pet causes, including soccer teams, colleges and public symphonies.