ALBANY — The state Joint Commission on Public Ethics on Tuesday backed its executive director after calls for his firing prompted by testimony in the corruption trial against a top aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse), who is running for governor, had made a formal request for the dismissal of JCOPE Executive Director Seth Agata, who is Cuomo’s former counsel. DeFrancisco also called for “an immediate JCOPE inquiry into serious illegalities that occurred within the offices of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo.”
DeFrancisco cited Agata’s testimony in the trial of former Cuomo confidant and top aide Joseph Percoco that he witnessed Percoco using state offices in 2014 while off the public payroll and running Cuomo’s re-election campaign. State ethics laws prohibit the use of public resources to run political campaigns
Percoco was convicted last week on three counts of soliciting and taking bribes. The charges stemmed from an alleged scheme to pocket bribes in exchange for helping Cuomo campaign contributors win state contracts and permits.
On Tuesday, JCOPE Chairman Michael Rozen said the commission has “the utmost confidence in Executive Director Seth Agata, and remain fully committed to his serving in this role. He has demonstrated the highest integrity, and his reputation for professionalism is well-earned.”
Rozen, a Cuomo appointee, wouldn’t address DeFrancisco’s specific concerns about what the Republican claims are violations of law.
“The commission does not, and will not, discuss anything that is or may be the subject of an investigation,” Rozen said. “Thus, whether or not an investigation occurs is not public information by law . . . It is only upon the issuance of a Substantial Basis Investigation Report that any investigative matters are made public.”
The former state lobbying commission executive director, David Grandeau, had made a similar complaint in February after Agata testified that he had conferred with Percoco while Percoco was Cuomo’s campaign manager and a lobbyist. Grandeau said he’s received no reply.
JCOPE has been criticized by good-government groups since Cuomo created the ethics and lobbying board in 2011. Since then, JCOPE has had former Cuomo appointees as chairmen and as top staff. An original JCOPE member, Ravi Batra, resigned in 2012 complaining that JCOPE wasn’t independent of Cuomo.