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State ethics panel fights disclosure of whether it probed Percoco

The state GOP filed a lawsuit seeking to force the group to disclose whether its 14-member panel voted to launch an inquiry.

Joseph Percoco, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's former top

Joseph Percoco, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's former top aide, leaves a federal courthouse in Manhattan after his conviction on corruption charges on March 13. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

ALBANY — In a courtroom Friday, the state ethics commission will argue it doesn’t have to reveal if it ever investigated whether Joseph Percoco, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s former top aide, broke laws meant to prevent government offices from being used to run campaigns.

At issue is telephone and swipe-card evidence presented at Percoco’s bribery trial earlier this year showing he used the executive chamber’s Manhattan office at least 68 times from May to December 2014 when he was running the governor’s campaign and was not on state payroll.

Following the trial — in which Percoco was convicted and sentenced to 6 years in federal prison — Republicans filed an ethics complaint in February against Cuomo’s former aide, saying his use of government offices for a campaign violated the state’s public officers’ law. The Cuomo administration never disputed the evidence but contended Percoco used the offices while working on “transition” matters.

It is unclear whether the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics ever pursued the matter.

State Republican chairman Ed Cox filed a lawsuit seeking to force JCOPE to disclose whether its 14-member panel voted to launch an inquiry. Cox and other critics have said in the past the panel lacks independence from the governor.

Cox noted that state law dictates the panel must vote within 60 days of receiving a sworn complaint whether to pursue it.

The case is set to return to State Supreme Court in Albany on Friday, where the commission will ask the court to dismiss Cox’s lawsuit, contending that forcing it to divulge its actions or lack thereof would undermine it.

“If granted,” Cox’s request “would pose a severe and ill-advised threat to the proper administration and functioning of the commission,” Monica Stamm, counsel for the commission and a former deputy to Cuomo when he was state attorney general, wrote to the court. She said such disclosure would violate confidentiality laws governing the commission. 

Stamm also argued that Cox’s complaint relies on media reports rather than “firsthand knowledge” of Percoco’s possible ethics violations. 

Cox, in a statement, said the panel was “burying” Percoco’s “clear violations” of state law. He added JCOPE has “offered no credible explanation for the failure to act” on his complaint.

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.

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