ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) – As federal prosecutors wage the latest battle against Empire State corruption, The New York Times claims in court that the governor’s office stonewalled its access to public records on his former right-hand man.
The petition for relief in Albany County Supreme Court comes just over a month after a federal judge in Manhattan heard not-guilty pleas from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s former top aide Joseph Percoco and eight other men accused of bid-rigging the once-promising development initiative “Buffalo Billion.”
Before earning a reputation as Cuomo’s “gatekeeper” between from 2012 to 2014, Percoco also served as deputy secretary in the gubernatorial administration of Cuomo’s father.
In addition to 47-year-old Percoco, others charged in the scheme with close ties to Cuomo include Buffalo developer Louis Ciminello and Alain Kaloyeros, the former president of State University of New York Polytechnic Institute.
The New York Times notes that its reporters, Jesse McKinley and Vivian Yee, filed four separate requests that summer under the Freedom of Information Law for state records on Howe and Percoco.
Cuomo’s office is among those encompassed by the New York State Executive Chamber, which denied the reporters’ requests.
“The chamber denied each of the four FOIL requests on the same grounds: the requested records, if they exist, are exempt from disclosure under N.Y. Pub. Off. Law § 87(2)(e),” the Jan. 13 petition states.
But the Times notes that this statute contains four exemptions from FOIL’s general disclosure requirement for records that “are compiled for law enforcement purposes.”
“In none of its denial letters did the chamber specify which of these four exemptions it was invoking,” the petition states.
McKinley signed an affidavit with the complaint that notes that the chamber cited a subpoena from federal prosecutors in Manhattan, and “an additional independent investigation,” in saying disclosure of the sought-after records would interfere in law-enforcement investigations or judicial proceedings.
As to each request, the Times maintains “that the records requested were not compiled for law-enforcement purposes and that the records did not satisfy any of the other requirements of § 87(2)(e).”
“By withholding the records, the chamber is hindering the newsgathering efforts of the Times,” McKinley’s affidavit says.
If any of the records are exempt, the Times notes, the chamber has a duty to segregate and release the nonexempt sections.
A spokesman for the executive chamber has not returned an email seeking comment.
The Times demands immediate access to the records, plus attorneys’ fees.
It is represented by in-house counsel David McCraw.
Announced during Cuomo’s 2012 “State of the State” address, the Buffalo Billion initiative flushed $1 billion into the western New York metropolis bordering Lake Erie and known as “The Nickel City.” The once-proud border city had been bustling economic hub, known for being a trade route to the Midwest with a booming grain, steel and automobile industry. It took a sad downturn, however, in the mid-20th century.
The departure of Midwestern industrial giants sent millions of residents elsewhere, and with them, fewer tourists to such sites as the four buildings designed there by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
“Buffalo Billion” had been intended to restore the city to its former glory with a quick influx of cash, and FBI agent Adam Cohen told reporters that the project gave hope to Buffalonians everywhere.