“Governor Cuomo? The gentlemen don’t have an appointment but said you’d want to see them...”
Over a year ago I wrote about the discovery of a curious aspect of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s staffing situation. Nearly half (roughly 40%) of the people working directly for Cuomo were paid by other government departments rather than falling under the payroll umbrella of the executive branch. While not technically illegal in the view of most legal analysts at the time, it was yet another indicator of a general lack of transparency in the state capitol. But as it turned out, that practice continued after it was exposed and crossed over into some other investigations which were already underway. And now the FBI is involved. (America Rising and the Albany Times-Union)
“The FBI is investigating the Cuomo administration’s practice of hiring employees to work in the governor’s office, while actually paying them through various state agencies and public authorities, the Times Union has learned. The practice of hiring pricey political appointees to work for the Executive Chamber – but paying them through other entities – has allowed Cuomo and prior governors to increase the size of their staffs while escaping criticism for inflating the Executive Chamber budget.”
America Rising notes that 2017 saw more developments on this front. The Times-Union reported back in May that Cuomo’s office had been hiring Obama and Clinton Aides and paying their salaries out of other government funding pools.
As we discussed last year, one of Cuomo’s closest aides, senior policy advisor Steven L. Aiello (whose father was indicted in a federal investigation last year and is going to trial in January) was actually paid by the Division of Military and Naval Affairs. One of Cuomo’s speechwriters, Tom Topousis, was collecting a $125K salary which was paid by the Office of Children and Family Services. There was a lengthy list beyond those two and questions were raised about why those other offices were taking the hit from their own budgets just so Cuomo could expand his staff without the costs showing up in the executive branch budget.
The strange thing, as I mentioned above, is that this practice has been going on for decades, with governors of both parties engaging in it. And it’s not technically illegal. In fact, departments trade off workers on a regular basis for more legitimate, albeit short-term reasons. (When our region was hit with catastrophic flooding in 2011 I recall stories of accountants and attorneys filling sandbags for days on end.) So why is the FBI interested? It may come back to the upcoming trial of the father of aforementioned policy adviser Steven Aiello.
“The Cuomo hiring practice is also a sidebar to the January corruption trial of former top Cuomo aide Joe Percoco and three others. The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office alleges that Percoco accepted bribes from Syracuse developer Steven F. Aiello, a co-defendant in the upcoming trial. One of the government favors done in exchange for bribes, according to prosecutors, was Percoco facilitating a $5,000 raise for Aiello’s son in a new job in Cuomo’s office in 2015.”
So if Cuomo’s aide is proven to have been taking bribes from Aiello and the “generous donor’s” son conveniently got a raise and a transfer to work for the Governor while being paid by a different department, does that implicate the Governor? Tough to say. During the period when Preet Bharara was conducting multiple investigations into the Governor’s office (until he was fired by President Trump) the local press was wondering if anyone under indictment was going to flip on the Governor. We’re still not seeing any indication of that, but the upcoming investigation and ongoing trials are certainly going to make for some interesting reading while Andrew Cuomo prepares to run for another term as Governor and a potential shot at the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.