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Questions raised about Percoco’s use of state office

Joseph Percoco leaves a federal courthouse in Manhattan

Joseph Percoco leaves a federal courthouse in Manhattan on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. Credit: Charles Eckert

After Joseph Percoco resigned as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s top adviser to run his boss’ re-election campaign, he continued to use his office in the executive chamber suites in Manhattan dozens of times in 2014, court records show.

On more than 50 of those occasions, Cuomo, in his duties as governor, was there on the same day, according to state records, raising critics’ questions about whether the governor noticed his aide using public resources down the hall while on campaign duty and how well the administration kept the public and private functions separate.

New York’s public officers’ law prohibits state employees from using the “property, services or other resources of the state for private business.” A 1990s opinion from the state ethics commission said that effectively means election campaigns cannot use state resources.

The records came to light this week as part of an ongoing corruption trial in which Percoco is accused of helping rig state construction contracts for Cuomo donors in exchange for bribes. Percoco has pleaded not guilty and his lawyers have contended his business dealings with contractors, conducted as a private citizen while off the state payroll, were perfectly legal.

Cuomo isn’t accused of wrongdoing. He has said he knew nothing about the alleged kickback scheme, and another aide testified the governor was shocked to learn of the investigation of one of his closest confidants.

But critics have said testimony has shown ethics breaches the governor or his top staff should have known about — especially Percoco’s use of his government office from May 1, 2014, to Dec. 7, 2014. Percoco was off the state payroll but used his Manhattan office — near the governor’s in the executive chamber — to make calls on 68 days during that period, according to evidence submitted by federal prosecutors at the trial.

A check of Cuomo’s travel scheduled during the same window shows he was at the Third Avenue offices on the same day as Percoco on 55 occasions. During 2014, Cuomo spent much of his time at the Manhattan offices.

A Cuomo aide declined to comment Friday and pointed to the governor’s previous statements that he wouldn’t discuss the trial or comment while it is ongoing.

Percoco’s defense attorney acknowledged during the trial that both Percoco and Cuomo were in the same Manhattan office on some days. Attorney Barry Bohrer, when questioning an FBI agent in court, specifically referred to May 8 and Sept. 3, noting that the governor also had “private events” at his offices those days and suggested they were tied to the campaign. Bohrer’s query came in part to build a justification for Percoco being in the offices.

Republicans have seized on testimony about Percoco’s presence in the Democratic governor’s office to raise questions about whether the administration kept separate private and public functions. GOP state chairman Ed Cox noted that Cuomo chief of staff Linda Lacewell acknowledged she saw Percoco “in and out” of the government offices when he was supposed to be on the campaign.

“Ms. Lacewell testified under oath that Mr. Percoco kept his government office directly next to the governor’s in the Executive Chamber, was ‘in and out’ regularly and acknowledged he still worked on some official state matters,” Cox said in a statement, adding the testimony “revealed” Cuomo “was perfectly content — and perhaps insistent — with these blurred lines.”

Blair Horner, a longtime watchdog with the New York Public Interest Group, questioned how Percoco was able to keep his “swipe” identification card to gain entrance to public offices. He also questioned how closely the administration monitored the figurative walls meant to keep public and private functions separate.

“At best, it’s careless,” Horner said. “And it’s possible the governor was misled. But it should be crystal clear to everyone that you’re not supposed to run campaigns out of a government office.”

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