New York

When Percoco improperly used Cuomo’s office, the governor was often there

There were at least a dozen times in 2014 when Perecoco's schedule overlapped with Cuomo
Joseph Percoco leaves his trial at Federal District Court in Manhattan, Jan. 24, 2018.
Joseph Percoco leaves his trial at Federal District Court in Manhattan, Jan. 24, 2018.

NEW YORK — During the late spring and summer of 2014, Joseph Percoco was a very busy man, frequently coming and going from the Manhattan offices of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, often arriving by 9 a.m. and sometimes staying till sunset.

His presence was often unremarkable; Percoco was one of the governor’s closest aides and friends.

But during that period, Percoco was not working for the governor. He had been detached from the office of the governor to work as Cuomo’s campaign manager, a position that is supposed to be separate from official government work.

Further blurring the lines, when Percoco entered the building — usually going directly to the 39th floor at 633 Third Ave., where the governor’s office is — Cuomo was often there.

A comparison of Cuomo’s public schedules for 2014 to evidence introduced in Percoco’s continuing federal corruption trial show at least a dozen instances in which the two overlapped, sometimes for hours at a time, from May to July 2014, and in December 2014, shortly before Percoco returned to the state payroll.

It was not immediately clear whether Percoco saw the governor during his visits to Cuomo’s offices, but his use of the office seemed to potentially violate laws intended to separate government from campaign activity.

Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said the mere presence of Percoco in the governor’s Manhattan office was troubling, indicating that Cuomo’s staff either didn’t know about the rules prohibiting a campaign manager from using a government office, or chose to disregard it.

“It’s pretty crystal clear you’re not supposed to run political campaigns out of the governor’s office,” he said. “And that’s what this looks like.”

The overlaps are frequent: On May 13, 2014, for example, Percoco arrived at the Manhattan office at 8:23 a.m., taking an elevator directly to the 39th floor, according to the records of his electronic access card submitted on Monday by prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan. And at 9:30 a.m., Cuomo began a meeting in his office, followed by another at 10:30 a.m., according to his schedule.

And when Percoco swiped out of the building — at 12:20 p.m. — the governor was also seemingly on the move. At 12:40 p.m., Cuomo had a Manhattan fundraiser, an event that Percoco, as campaign manager, would likely have had a hand in planning.

Two days later, on May 15, Percoco arrived early again, and stayed till 2:13 p.m. Cuomo had a 1 p.m. meeting nearby. Two weeks later, Percoco was back at the office again, staying for 1 1/2 hours during the afternoon while the governor had a 1 p.m. meeting.

Such synchronicities were not uncommon. Of the nearly two dozen days that Percoco’s card was shown to have swiped into 633 Third Ave. from May 5 to July 14, Cuomo had meetings in the same office almost every day, though his schedules do not indicate how long they lasted, and do not show Percoco in attendance.

Percoco returned to Cuomo’s staff on Dec. 8, 2014, according to state payroll records. In the week before that, however, he had apparently been a regular presence on the 39th floor again, with records showing he was in the building for three consecutive days, for hours at a time. And on each of those days, the governor had a series of meetings in his office.

Testimony from his former colleagues bears out that Percoco was often at the Third Avenue office. “I might see him for two or three days in the office and then not see him for a long time, and then he might be there again,” said Linda Lacewell, the governor’s chief of staff, who testified last week.

Circumstantial evidence suggested that Percoco conducted business while at the Manhattan office; prosecutors presented evidence that from May 1 to Dec. 7, 2014, 837 calls, made over 68 days, were placed from the telephone on the desk that Percoco used at 633 Third Ave.

Federal investigators have accused Percoco of receiving more than $300,000 in bribes in return for official actions on behalf of developers and a power company during his time working for the governor. Cuomo, a Democrat seeking a third term in the fall, has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

The governor’s office has not commented on the Percoco trial, which is to start again on Monday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan with the expected testimony of Todd R. Howe, a former aide of Cuomo’s and a friend of Percoco’s. Howe, who has pleaded guilty to corruption charges, is testifying for the prosecution.

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