ALBANY — Billionaire businessman and political donor John Catsimatidis on Friday defended allowing Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to use his private jet to visit the storm-damaged U.S. Virgin Islands and said it had nothing to do with the governor’s approval of a new law that could benefit one of his companies.
“I didn’t even know he was signing a bill,” Catsimatidis said on Focus on the State Capitol, a talk radio program hosted by former New York Post state editor Fred Dicker. “I don’t do any quid pro quo . . . I never, ever discussed it with him.”
At issue was Catsimatidis’ decision to make his private jet available to Cuomo for the governor’s trip to the Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma. That came just days after Cuomo approved a bill that adds Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties to downstate jurisdictions that must blend biodiesel into all home heating oil. Among his many holdings, Catsimatidis owns a biofuels company that could benefit from the new law; a report in 2015 said he was lobbying for the law then.
Catsimatidis, who also hosts a radio show where the governor is an occasional guest, said he received a “phone call from the governor’s office” asking if his jet might be available. He declined to say who made the call, but said he insisted on getting clearance from the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics before granting permission. The commission did approve, saying there was no individual benefit to Cuomo.
“It was a clean, legal deal approved by the ethics” agency, Catsimatidis told Dicker. He said he hadn’t talked about the biofuel bill “in months,” even with his paid lobbyists in Albany and wasn’t aware of its status.
Catsimatidis owns the Gristedes supermarket chain, ran for the Republican nomination for New York City mayor in 2013 and has been a generous political donor to Republicans and Democrats.