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Witness: Funds to wife of former aide to Gov. Cuomo raised red flag

When he was told payments were meant for spouse of Joseph Percoco, energy company official tells court it set off warning bells.

Joseph Percoco leaves a federal courthouse in Manhattan

Joseph Percoco leaves a federal courthouse in Manhattan on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

An official from the energy company linked to alleged bribes of nearly $300,000 paid to former Andrew Cuomo aide Joseph Percoco through his wife testified in Manhattan federal court Thursday that the payments were suspicious from the start.

Sean Finnerty, who headed natural gas development at Competitive Power Ventures, said it was a “red flag” when government relations executive Peter Galbraith Kelly told him the money was going to a spouse of a top aide to the governor of New York.

“What the [expletive], Braith!” Finnerty testified he told his colleague, using Kelly’s nickname. “You’re scaring the [expletive] out of me.”

Percoco, 48, of South Salem in Westchester County, and Kelly, 54, of Connecticut, are accused of a bribery scheme to pay $287,000 over 3 years to Lisa Percoco for a “low show” job designing an energy education program for children in return for official help on power plant issues.

Defense lawyers for the two contend the $7,500-a-month payments were legitimate fees, but Finnerty said he questioned them as soon as they appeared on invoices submitted by Kelly for an independent contractor who did website design.

On a conference call, Finnerty said, after Kelly first explained that Percoco was the wife of a Cuomo aide, he immediately said “there’s nothing illegal about it” and “we have an ethics opinion, we’ve had the lawyers look at it.”

“When the first answer out of somebody’s mouth to a pretty basic question is there is nothing illegal about it, it raises a red flag in my mind,” Finnerty testified.

Prosecutors contend there was in fact no ethics opinion or legal clearance, and Finnerty said when he asked for the backup documentations from Kelly he was told it was “not going to be shared with me.

He said he later shared his concerns with company higher-ups, and was eventually told that the payments would be taken out of his budget so he wouldn’t have to clear them.

“We have bigger fish to fry,” emailed one executive at CPV, which was developing a new power plant in the Hudson Valley.

Percoco allegedly tried to help the company get a power purchase agreement from the state to help with financing of the project, and later pushed for an agreement to help the company use New York pollution credits in developing a New Jersey plant.

In a separate scheme, Percoco is also accused of taking bribes from two Syracuse developers in return for favors.

Todd Howe, the lobbyist who prosecutors say set up both bribe schemes and then pleaded guilty and became a cooperating witness, is scheduled to take the stand Monday.

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