VALHALLA, NY – When called as a witness for defendant Joseph Percoco during his corruption trial of February this year, State Senate candidate Peter Harckham admitted under oath he had tried to obtain employment for Percoco’s wife as a teacher on four occasions.
“Peter Harckham bent over backwards to help his political kingpin, who it turns out, was on the take,” Martha Ruiz Jiménez, the spokesperson for the Committee to Elect Terrence Murphy said. “He will say and do anything to hide the fact that he was an eye witness to the pervasive corruption and fraud that as Preet Bharara said, ‘infected state development projects’, where bids ‘were rigged, the results preordained; companies got rich and the public got bamboozled’.”
Harckham told prosecutors he met Percoco in 2002, while he was serving as the Chairman of the Bedford Democratic Committee, when Percoco was managing the Andrew Cuomo’s gubernatorial bid. Harckham later moved to South Salem, where Percoco would purchase a house less than a half-mile down the road from Harckham in 2011.
“Joe first called me and said he was looking up in that area, and I offered to be a resource if he needed help,” Harckham said on the witness stand. “And then a while later, I got a call that they had bought a house in South Salem and his wife Lisa was looking for a teaching job closer to their new home, and did I have some connections that I could help introduce them to.”
Harckham admitted that in 2012, he introduced Percoco to the superintendents of the Katonah-Lewisboro school district, where his ex-wife served on the school board, and the Bedford Central School District. “Welcome to the ‘hood,” Harckham wrote in an e-mail. “You can forward your wife’s e-mail to me at this address. I will hand-deliver to the superintendent, Paul Kreitzer (sic), and then put the two of you in touch.”
Throughout the summer of 2012, e-mails show that Harckham went above and beyond to push the school districts to hire Mrs. Percoco. He first attempted to get her “integrated” as a substitute in the Katonah-Lewisboro and Bedford School Districts. The Bedford superintendent at the time, Jere Hochman, was hired by Governor Andrew Cuomo as his top education aide, not long after Harckham joined the administration in 2014.
While waiting for these efforts to bear fruit, Harckham also made overtures to the Somers School District on Percoco’s behalf, and asked a colleague to pressure the Yorktown School Superintendent to hire Mrs. Percoco, although that legislator did not know the new superintendent personally.
Upon cross-examination, it was noted that Harckham served as the spokesperson and representative for the Governor during his 2014 re-election campaign, which Percoco also managed. Harckham was subsequently hired to work as Assistant Director of Community Renewal at the Department of Housing and Community Renewal, although his paychecks were signed by the Housing Finance Trust Corporation, an unrelated public authority.
The Office of Community Renewal, along with COR Development, and Conifer, the developer of the 54 Hunts Place project in Chappaqua, were all subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney during the Percoco investigation.
During the trial, it came to light that Percoco had been conducting campaign business out of the Governor’s state government office, using a government phone line, where numerous calls were placed to Harckham. Shortly after the campaign ended, it was announced that Mr. Percoco was returning to the Governor’s office in an official capacity.
Steven Aiello Jr., a fellow aide on the Cuomo 2014 campaign, also landed in the Office of Community Renewal alongside Harckham. His father, a principal of COR Development, was one of Percoco’s co-defendants at the trial.
Percoco was paid $35,000 in bribes by COR, in exchange for taking official action to reverse adverse decisions by Empire State Development, free up a backlog of more than $14 million in State funds that had already been awarded to COR, and to secure a substantial pay raise for Aiello Jr, who worked for Harckham in the Office of Community Renewal.
This money went to pay for the Percoco home, less than a block away from the Harckham bungalow. COR Development is the one of the biggest all-time donors to the Cuomo campaign.
“Peter Harckham has so many intimate connections to entities involved in or convicted of the Percoco pay-to-play that it is nearly impossible to keep track of,” Ruiz Jiménez said. “He worked to obtain special favors for them and it seems was also the beneficiary of such favors himself. Wouldn’t we all love to have a neighbor like that?”
A foil request by the Murphy campaign in July, requesting documents to further investigate Mr. Harckham’s connections to the web of corruption, has yet to be fulfilled. In fact, the Governor’s office says it may not realease the requested documentation until April of 2019.