MANHATTAN (CN) – New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s former staffer kept it clean in sharing the dirty details of a “rated-R” phone call pressuring him to shuffle the governor’s schedule to meet with a developer whom prosecutors place close to a bribery scheme.
“Trying to keep it PG,” Cuomo’s ex-deputy director for state operations Andrew Kennedy told a judge on Tuesday.
Kennedy had been censoring what he described as the four-letter words of Joseph Percoco, who stands accused of trading favors in return for “low-show” jobs for his wife worth more than $300,000.
One of the men accused of bribing him, COR Development’s president Steven Aiello, had been upset about being snubbed on Cuomo’s schedule when the governor toured near one of his construction sites in September 2015.
Around that time, Kennedy testified Tuesday, he received an angry phone call from Percoco telling him to give Aiello better treatment.
“He was upset and direct with me,” Kennedy said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Podolsky probed Percoco’s demands.
“What, if anything, did Mr. Percoco want you to do as a result of these – what he was upset about?” the prosecutor asked.
“Get the governor to the project at the Inner Harbor,” Kennedy replied, referring to the multimillion-dollar development project along Syracuse’s Onondaga Lake.
After Percoco’s call, the governor added a stop to his tour, and prosecutors showed jurors a photograph of Cuomo shaking hands with Aiello at a construction site.
One week ago, federal prosecutors told jurors that a phone call from Percoco was akin to a call from the governor himself. Percoco had a reputation as Cuomo’s “right-hand man” and an honorary member of a New York political dynasty harking back to the days when Albany’s most powerful post was occupied by Mario Cuomo.
At the elder Cuomo’s funeral, the sitting governor called Percoco his father’s “third son.”
Prosecutors claim that strong words from Percoco also got results in pressuring Kennedy to prevent COR from having to employ union workers for a parking lot in Syracuse.
Under New York law, certain projects benefiting from state funding must sign “labor peace agreements,” and Kennedy testified that Percoco grew frustrated when the Empire State Development Corp.’s scrutiny into the matter.
“Why is an ESD attorney holding up this project?” Percoco groused, according to Kennedy’s testimony, abbreviating Empire State Development.
The attorneys later dropped the issue, and COR received its wish to contract without unionized workers.
On cross-examination, Percoco’s attorney Barry Bohrer questioned Kennedy about his own reservations with COR’s treatment. He said the state delayed payments on a construction project involving a State University of New York-affiliated film hub.
“Fix now, or else,” Kennedy complained in December 2014.
With more than a decade in public service, Kennedy showed the hallmarks of cynicism about what he called the “Albany game.”
Defense attorney Milton Williams, who represents fellow COR executive Joseph Gerardi, probed Kennedy’s views on lobbying in New York’s capital with pointed questions about the lobbyists swirling around the governor.
“And your dealing with lobbyists, that was part of the Albany process, something that you characterize as the Albany game, correct?” Williams asked.
“My job was to meet with lobbyists and business executives that had projects that were proposing to create jobs and investments throughout New York State,” Kennedy replied. “So my calendar was full of meetings with lobbyists and businesses.”
Kennedy added that he had been referring to all state lobbyists, not just those in Cuomo’s orbit.
The government’s star witness Todd Howe, who is expected to testify next week, is a lobbyist whom prosecutors say was at the heart of the corruption scheme.
Williams claimed that Kennedy told government agents: “A friend of Howe’s is a friend of the governor’s,” in a meeting on April 25, 2017.
“I don’t recall specifically saying that,” Kennedy said.
Trial continues Wednesday with testimony from FBI agent Kathleen Garver, from the bureau’s Buffalo field office.