Hudson Valley residents gathered outside a Manhattan courtroom this week where the corruption trial of a former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo began. They called attention to a power plant currently under construction in the bucolic region of New York State they call home, which they see as the byproduct of illicit backroom deals.
Federal prosecutors accuse Joseph Percoco, Cuomo’s former executive deputy secretary, of accepting over $300,000 in bribes, chiefly from Competitive Power Ventures (CPV), over nearly five years beginning in 2012. A CPV executive, Chris Pitts, provided Percoco’s wife, Lisa Toscano-Percoco, with a no-show job, funneling $287,000 to the couple over several years.
In return, Percoco used his pull with the governor to lobby on CPV’s behalf. The state allowed CPV to purchase “emissions reduction credits” for a power plant in New Jersey and, in a separate deal, Percoco led CPV to believe New York would purchase natural gas from the company’s Valley Energy Center power plant in Orange County — under construction at the time. Another former Cuomo aide, Todd Howe, has pled guilty to helping arrange the bribes while working as a lobbyist and has reportedly turned state’s witness.
Protesters, carrying a patchwork of colorful, handmade signs plastered with anti-fracking and anti-corruption slogans, greeted Percoco Monday morning outside of the Thurgood Marshall courthouse in Lower Manhattan.
‘This project is built on bribes and built on lies.’
“For six years we’ve been fighting this power plant,” said Pramilla Malick of Protect Orange County, who was arrested alongside actor James Cromwell and four other activists for staging a sit-in protest at the Valley Energy Center construction site in 2015. “Well before any indictments were issued, we made it known to state officials that there were improper lobbying and undue backdoor influence underway with this project.”
During the timeframe that prosecutors allege Percoco and his wife accepted bribes from CPV “there were many, many critical state approvals that were issued” for the power plant, Malick noted. “And it’s important to remember that one state official has already pleaded guilty to felony charges. So we know that this project is built on bribes and built on lies.”
A host of environmental groups oppose the plant, which they argue will pollute the surrounding area and contribute to climate change. Activists argue that the corruption charges against Percoco are indicative of a larger culture of illegal lobbying, bribery and backroom dealmaking that places the interests of corporations over the well-being of the state’s residents.
“CPV flies in the face of Gov. Cuomo’s own climate goals,” said Laura Shindell of Food & Water Watch. “It’s estimated to increase New York’s greenhouse gas emissions by an excess of 10 percent if it goes online. That, in addition to the fact that it would poison the surrounding community, in and of itself should be enough of a reason to pull the permits for CPV.” –
CPV began start-up tests at Valley Energy Center on Friday, firing up the 650-megawatt plant for the first time. It is expected to be fully operational in February.
Photo: Environmental activists rallied, Monday, outside the courthouse where Joseph Percoco stands trial on federal corruption charges. Credit: Erin Sheridan.