Corruption charges brought by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office last week against two former top aides to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and others involve a power plant project in the Hudson Valley. And it’s a topic in at least one state election as calls mount for an investigation into the plant’s permitting process.
Bharara’s office alleges former Cuomo aide Joseph Percoco solicited and accepted more than $287,000 in bribes from Competitive Power Ventures, the energy company behind the CPV Valley Energy Center site now under construction in Wawayanda, Orange County. The charges allege the involvement of another former top Cuomo aide, Todd Howe, and the former head of external affairs and government relations for CPV, Peter Galbraith Kelly, Jr., and that some of the alleged bribes also went to Percoco’s wife. Assemblyman James Skoufis is the Democratic incumbent in the 99th District, which includes Wawayanda.
“I took it upon myself the very morning that these allegations erupted, I sent all $750 that was contributed to my campaign committee from CPV and donated it to charity,” Skoufis says.
That was September 22. The following day, Skoufis’ Republican opponent, Colin Schmitt, demanded full disclosure from Skoufis.
“The biggest scandal in state of New York local history is based in the 99th Assembly District,” Schmitt says.
Saying $750 is a significant contribution in an Assembly race, Schmitt called for Skoufis to disclose any involvement and/or communication concerning CPV.
“We see there’s obviously a grave concern because elected officials are tripping over themselves to donate this money back but, quite frankly, we have our sitting assemblyman who allowed this to happen, whether he had knowledge or not, we don’t know, but we’re asking for full disclosure,” Schmitt says. “When did he meet with CPV officials? Did he meet with Todd Howe? Did he meet with Mr. Kelly, members who are charged with these crimes.”
“For him to somehow suggest that I had any involvement in what was happening in the governor’s office is ridiculous,” says Skoufis. “I’ve met with CPV in my office. I’ve met with opponents to CPV in my office, like any good legislator should do hearing from both sides on different projects and issues. Beyond that, to suggest I had any involvement what was happening in the governor’s office is absurd.”
And here’s Schmitt.
“If nothing’s wrong, then there should be no problem,” says Schmitt. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant. We hear that always. We hear that about cleaning up corruption in Albany.”
Both Skoufis and Schmitt say they supported the project prior to the corruption charges but now wonder under what conditions permits were issued. Skoufis says he is urging state officials to take action.
“I have specifically called on the state to review every single state permit that is issued to CPV,” Skoufis says.
Republican state Senator John Bonacic released a statement saying the charges are disturbing and that he is asking the attorney general to conduct an independent investigation into CPV’s permitting process. A spokesman for state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman declined to comment.
In addition to calls for an independent investigation and permit reviews come calls to halt construction amid the charges. That echoes what former Congressman Dennis Kucinich said back in May, when he joined protestors in front of the CPV power plant under construction. His visit came days after it was revealed that alleged ties between a former top aide to Cuomo and the plant’s permitting process were the subject of a federal probe. Here’s what Kucnich said at the time.
“This is the time for the governor to use his executive authority with a cloud of criminality over this project and say ‘we’re going to stop it right in its tracks, it’s not going forward,’” Kucinich said. “Stop it now. Don’t wait, don’t wait.”
In a May 2 letter, Cuomo’s counsel wrote to the heads of the New York Power Authority, Public Service Commission and Department of Environmental Conservation, directing them to immediately suspend all communications with CPV or CPV Valley amid the investigation.
The CPV Valley Energy Center is to be a 650-megawatt combined-cycle natural gas power plant. An emailed statement from Thomas Rumsey, Vice President of External Affairs for CPV says, "CPV takes the charges handed down last week very seriously. We are extremely disappointed in the alleged conduct, which is in direct contradiction to CPV's core values and expectations of our staff. Braith Kelly is no longer employed at the company. We will continue to cooperate fully with this investigation until a final determination is made."