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Ex-top Cuomo aide received payments from firms in Buffalo Billion probe

ALBANY – State records made public late Monday morning show a trusted former senior adviser to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo received large consulting payments from two big state contractors during 2014.

Joseph Percoco, who is among those being eyed in a federal probe that began looking into the Buffalo Billion program last year, reported getting up to $125,000 in payments from the two companies, CHA Consulting and Cor Development. Federal investigators have been looking into the payments to Percoco.

It is uncertain whether Percoco received the payments while he was working with the state or during a period when he was on leave that administration officials said at the time was to work on the governor’s re-election campaign.

Both companies do business with the state in various programs administered by the Cuomo administration. Albany-based CHA did civil engineering work on the SolarCity project at RiverBend in Buffalo, as well as other upstate projects run through SUNY Polytechnic. Cor, based outside Syracuse, also has dealings with the SUNY Polytechnic upstate economic development program.

In his 2014 filing with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, Percoco, who left the state payroll for a time to work on Cuomo’s re-election campaign, listed three sources of outside income: Cuomo’s campaign, CHA Consulting and Cor Development. For Cuomo, he reported an income range of between $100,000 and $150,000. For CHA, he made between $20,000 and $50,000 and from Cor he reported making $50,000 to $75,000. The disclosure law does not require precise dollar amounts, but income ranges. For both companies, Percoco listed the money as being for “consulting fees.’’

According to payroll records from the state comptroller’s office, Percoco began in the attorney general’s office shortly after Cuomo was elected in 2006; he was making $120,000 a year. He moved on to the governor’s office with Cuomo as a program associate. In early 2014, before his temporary leave, his job title on payroll records was listed as confidential assistant to Cuomo, making $155,974. In December, after Cuomo’s re-election, Percoco rejoined the office with the same title, but a pay bump to $169,000. At the time of his departure this past January, with the same confidential assistant title, his pay was $175,828.

The disclosure form for 2014 also notes his wife, Lisa Toscano-Percoco, had a salary of between $75,000 and $100,000 from an entity called Chris Pitts LLC.

Percoco’s 2013 disclosure form was not provided. Officials said Percoco left the payroll on April 20, 2014 – several weeks before the May 15 deadline that year when he would have been required to file a disclosure form about his financial activities during the 2013 calendar year. He then re-joined Cuomo’s office on December 8, 2014.

As part of an investigation of the Buffalo Billion economic development program begun last year by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan, prosecutors are looking at possible outside income deals that Percoco may have had either while he was on the state payroll or when he temporarily left his job in 2014 to work on Cuomo’s campaign. With the Buffalo Billion contract awards process still being looked at, the work by Bharara is believed to have expanded his probe to other areas of the state.

Cuomo has long viewed Percoco as his most trusted staff member, turning to him for everything from fixing thorny political and policy problems to making sure the governor’s public events went off smoothly to be his fishing trip companion. His unofficial job titles range from fix-it expert to free safety.

The Cuomo administration Friday said it had hired an outside lawyer to review the Buffalo Billion program. That announcement came just hours after Cuomo’s office received a subpoena as part of Bharara’s probe.

That outside lawyer, Bart M. Schwartz, said Friday that “the state has reason to believe that in certain circumstances and regulatory approvals they have been defrauded by improper rigging and failures to disclose potential conflicts of interests by lobbyists and former state employees.’’ The administration did not name the individuals, but Percoco’s name quickly surfaced on Friday. The administration on Friday also banned state officials from having contact with Todd Howe, a lobbyist with Whiteman, Osterman & Hanna; Howe, like Percoco, is a longtime friend of Cuomo. Both Percoco and Howe both worked in the administration of late Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, the current governor’s father, and Andrew Cuomo has relied on both men for a variety of tasks.

Earlier in the day, CHA said it is providing information to federal prosecutors in the Buffalo Billion probe.

“We are cooperating fully with the U.S. Attorney’s office and have been responding to their requests. Based on those discussions, it is our understanding that we are not a target of the investigation,” said Michael McGovern, a lawyer with Boston-based Ropes & Gray who is representing CHA.

McGovern, who works out of the firm’s Manhattan office, specializes in white-collar criminal defense work and for seven years was a prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District in Manhattan.

CHA’s president has not responded to phone calls and emails left with him since Friday, the day when Cuomo’s office was served with a subpoena from Bharara. The statement from McGovern was provided to The Buffalo News Monday morning.

CHA is a national firm whose work included civil engineering on the big SolarCity manufacturing plant that will be owned by the state of New York. The SolarCity project, along with other Buffalo Billion projects, have been signature economic development efforts by Cuomo.

The Buffalo Billion probe intensified in June when subpoenas were issued to Cuomo’s economic development agency and SUNY Polytechnic, which oversee the Buffalo Billion program, as well as to LPCiminelli and McGuire Development, two Buffalo companies that won contracts for current and future projects of the Buffalo program.

Cuomo is expected, for the first time since Friday, to make a public appearance Monday evening in Manhattan.

Percoco has not made any comments, and his lawyer has declined to answer questions about the matter.

CHA has been a major contractor with the state for years, and has done work on a number of SUNY Polytechnic projects in upstate during the Cuomo administration.

CHA, and its predecessor company, also have been major campaign contributors to state and local candidates and political committees. Since 2009, it has given approximately $600,000 to a variety of political campaigns in New York, according to state Board of Elections records.

Its biggest recipient during that time has been Cuomo; the company has donated $196,000 to the governor’s campaign fund since 2009.