Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said a federal probe that is scrutinizing economic development projects is focused on just two people — his former top aide and a lobbyist — and no one else in his office.
Federal investigators, however, haven’t characterized the limits of the inquiry.
Newsday and other news outlets previously have reported that investigators are looking, in part, at Joseph Percoco, Cuomo’s former right-hand man, and Todd Howe, a lobbyist who formerly worked for both the governor when he was secretary of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and for his father, the late Gov. Mario Cuomo. The governor said those two were the focus and pushed back against the idea his administration was the hub.
“If anything, the state was victimized here,” Cuomo told reporters at an event in the Adirondack Mountains.
Last year, investigators subpoenaed the state’s economic development agency and SUNY Polytechnic Institute for records pertaining to the Buffalo Billion, a key Cuomo development initiative. Further, the state attorney general has subpoenaed SUNY Polytechnic and others regarding Albany-area projects, focusing in part on communications with campus president Alain Kaloyeros, a key player in state-based high-tech ventures.
Last week, federal investigators subpoenaed Cuomo’s office, known as the “executive chamber,” for documents and communication regarding Buffalo Billion projects. Though they didn’t subpoena any individuals, investigators sought communications from some high-ranking administration officials, including Bill Mulrow, the governor’s secretary, and Jim Malatras, the director of state operations, a source said.
Percoco took a leave from state office to run Cuomo’s re-election campaign in 2014. But he also did outside consulting work with companies that had business before the state: COR Development, which is the primary builder in Cuomo’s massive state-supported harbor development in Syracuse, and CHA, an Albany-area engineering firm.
Percoco returned to the state payroll in December 2014.
“No,” the governor said when asked if it had been “incumbent” upon him to find out whom Percoco worked for while not on state payroll. He said it was up to the individual to disclose potential conflicts of interest.
Blair Horner, of the New York Public Interest Research Group, a good-government group, said Cuomo had a responsibility to ask Percoco if he represented any companies doing business with state.
Percoco “was running the governor’s political campaign,” Horner said. “The governor was aware Percoco could have outside clients. I think the governor had a responsibility to make sure he had no conflict. It was not one of thousands of employees, it was arguably the staffer closest to the governor.”
Cuomo said he hasn’t been subpoenaed himself.
Cuomo said he wasn’t aware of Howe’s financial problems, as reported by The New York Times. Those incidents included a felony conviction for submitting a $45,000 deposit to a bank account without depositing any money, then trying to withdraw from the account.
“I wouldn’t call us close friends, but he worked for the state for a number of years,” the governor said. “But I had no knowledge of his personal affairs . . . I would see him at events.”
Howe has not responded to several requests for comment. After news of the subpoena broke, he was fired from WOH Government Solutions, a lobbying firm that represented several of the companies named in the investigation so far.
Cuomo said he continues to push for his ethics reforms that address only the State Legislature, not other branches of government. Cuomo is pushing for a limit on outside income of lawmakers and the authority to rescind their public pensions if any are convicted of corruption.