During the funeral of three-term Gov. Mario Cuomo at the beginning of 2015, Andrew Cuomo described Joseph Percoco, who had been a trusted aide to both Governors dating back to when he was 19 years old, as "my father's third son."
The following year, as Federal prosecutors began investigating Mr. Percoco's activities for possible crimes connected to the Governor's upstate development project known as the Buffalo Billion, Andrew Cuomo began putting distance between himself and his former top adviser. He publicly disassociated himself from Mr. Percoco when he was convicted in early 2018 of taking more than $300,000 in kickbacks from people connected to the project, stating, "Joe Percoco is paying the price for violating the public trust."
A Truth Spoken in Jest?
That was an inadvertent reminder that Mr. Percoco might not have been kidding when, during a 2012 birthday party for Mario Cuomo, he described Andrew as "the older brother I never had—and never wanted."
But at least one member of the Cuomo family has since acted as if Mr. Percoco deserved something better than the harsh kiss-off he got from the Governor upon being convicted. According to a June 15 New York Times story, Andrew's younger sister, Madeline Cuomo, organized a fundraising effort that tapped longtime aides and allies of both Governors to contributed money to pay Mr. Percoco's legal bills and establish a trust fund for his children.
The Times story quoted a February 2020 email Ms. Cuomo sent to what it described as his top political fundraiser, "several prominent Albany lobbyists and the head of Northwell Health," that stated, "Joe and his family are grateful for all your support to date. Unfortunately, his fight is far from over, and in order to continue his legal battle he'll need financial resources."
She continued, "My family and I will be participating in that effort, and I hope we can count on you to join in that effort."
The Governor through a spokesman told The Times he had not been aware of the efforts to cover his legal fees or endow a trust fund—which has reportedly raised $75,000—for Mr. Percoco's daughters.
Denied Brother Was Involved
Ms. Cuomo said to Times reporters that she never told her older brother about the fundraising initiative, and that Andrew Cuomo "was neither involved with, nor privy to, my independent effort. I still believe helping a friend is the morally right thing to do."
She told The Times she had "known Joe most of my life, and I care for my friend."
Ms. Cuomo stated in that email early last year to a group of people whose ties to her family dated back to Mario Cuomo's early years in politics, "I have always believed that what we shared as a group would last a lifetime and beyond, because we were connected in spirit—heart and soul. And I think we should do everything we can to support one of our own."
Mr. Percoco, besides holding positions under the current Governor that included Secretary, a job that for Mr. Cuomo has carried the unofficial role of political enforcer for three of the people who served him, managed his 2014 re-election campaign. The campaign committee paid the initial $80,000 in legal fees he incurred following his 2016 indictment by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan. The Times story said that according to several people who have been asked to contribute to his appeal of the conviction that drew him a six-year Federal prison sentence, his legal bills have gone well above $1 million.
His role in the 2014 campaign offered some reason to doubt Mr. Cuomo's credibility. During the trial, several aides testified that Mr. Percoco had been a constant presence in the Governor's Manhattan office despite state laws prohibiting political operatives from conducting their business from government offices.
Poked Hole in Claim
While the Governor told reporters he had not been aware that Mr. Percoco—who had taken a leave of absence from his state duties to run the campaign—had been working from his old desk in the Midtown office, a couple of aides described him as a constant presence and noted that his office was adjacent to Mr. Cuomo's.
Federal prosecutors at the time stated that there was no evidence that the Governor participated in or was aware of the corrupt schemes that sent Mr. Percoco and another top aide to Mr. Cuomo, Alain Kaloyeros, to prison. The bribes to Mr. Percoco, including more than $300,000 paid to his wife, Lisa, for a "low-show" teaching job for one of the contractors seeking business from the state, were in return for his using his influence. Mr. Kaloyeros, whose background was in education, was convicted of devising requests for proposals for contracts connected to the Buffalo Billion in such a way that it was virtually assured that the only qualified bidders would be three firms whose principals had been major political contributors to Andrew Cuomo over the years.
The revelation of his sister's work in raising money to cover the legal costs and assist the daughters of a man with whom both Mario and Andrew Cuomo had been close come at a time when the Governor is the target of multiple investigations by both state and Federal officials. They concern matters including the way in which a provision was added to the state budget in the spring of 2020 indemnifying hospitals and nursing homes from liability for their handling of nursing-home residents and the reported deletion of a politically damaging death count in a state Health Department report that exceeded the state's official number by more than 3,000 nursing-home residents from the coronavirus at a time when Mr. Cuomo was negotiating a $5.1-million book contract regarding his efforts to get the pandemic under control.
He is also being probed by veteran attorneys tapped by State Attorney General Letitia James and a separate inquiry by the Assembly Judiciary Committee regarding allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct by more than a half-dozen past and present female aides.
Hanging in There
The Governor has denied wrongdoing in all those matters and has insisted he will seek and win a new term, even as many leading state officials, from U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to his counterpart in the State Senate, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, have called for him to resign.
His potential legal predicaments lent a certain irony to a comment made by Sandy Frucher, a longtime adviser to Mario Cuomo who for a while headed the Governor's Office of Employee Relations, when asked why he had contributed to the funds for Mr. Percoco.
"It wasn't a big deal," he told The Times. "Joe was someone I knew and worked with in government for a long time. Everybody needs legal counsel."
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