DiNapoli: Corrupt NY officials 'might think twice' if they know we're watching

Mark Weiner

Syracuse Post Standard

May 11, 2018

New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli on Friday suggested that more transparency and oversight in state government might have prevented a corruption scheme involving Gov. Andrew Cuomo's top aide.

The aide, Joseph Percoco, was convicted of three felonies in March for running a bribery and extortion scheme involving state economic development contracts. Syracuse developer Steve Aiello of Cor Development was found guilty on a single fraud count.

DiNapoli said those involved in the scheme may not have committed the crimes if his office still had oversight of State University of New York construction contracts and other economic development deals.

"One of the reasons why folks thought they could get away with something is that they knew nobody was really looking, other than the people on the inside who turned out to be benefiting from this," DiNapoli said at a meeting of the editorial board of Syracuse.com and The Post-Standard.

"I can't tell you for sure that had we had more oversight there that it wouldn't have happened," DiNapoli said. "But I can tell you common sense would indicate that if folks think there's another independent set of eyes looking at something, they might think twice before they try to steer contracts to projects in a favored direction."

The state Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would restore the comptroller's authority to pre-screen construction projects at SUNY campuses and related facilities. That authority had been removed about seven years ago.

The "New York State Procurement Integrity Act," authored by Sen. John DeFrancisco, R-DeWitt, would give those powers back to the comptroller. The bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support, 60-2.

DiNapoli, a Democrat, and DeFrancisco, a GOP candidate for governor, touted the bill as a way to restore independent oversight of contracts that were ripe for corruption, bid rigging and kickbacks.

DiNapoli said the legislation also prohibits public authorities from setting up nonprofit entities for contracts, thus evading oversight from the comptroller's office.

The legislation now faces an uncertain fate in the state Assembly, where only one sponsor has emerged. Cuomo has threatened to veto the bill, citing concerns the law could slow the process of bid awards and harm small businesses run by minority contractors.

DiNapoli told the editorial board that his office is open to negotiating changes in the proposed law with Assembly members.

"The bottom line is there needs to be more oversight in terms of spending and contracts," DiNapoli said. "That's the lesson that's coming out of the (Percoco) trial."