ALBANY — Disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s appointees on the state’s top ethics panel effectively blocked a criminal investigation that would have revived a case involving the ex-pol’s convicted former aide and close confidante, Joe Percoco, The Post has learned.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics was informed Monday night via letter by state Attorney General Letitia James that her office could not pursue two criminal investigations into an illegal 2019 leak from the panel about whether it should probe Percoco — whom Cuomo once likened to a brother — for alleged misconduct.
“The commissioners were informed last night that the state Attorney General has rejected the referrals on the leak, on the technical ground that it requires the special voting rules,” JCOPE Commissioner Gary Lavine, a Republican appointee, told The Post.
He said JCOPE executive director Judge Sanford Berland broke the news around 9:30 p.m. Monday in an email to commissioners.
James said the panel’s criminal referrals made Aug. 26 were invalid because the votes ran afoul of “special voting rules” requiring at least two appointees from the governor’s party — in this case, Democrats — to approve any criminal referral or investigation, according to state law.
The first referral made was to revive the probe into the Percoco investigation and the second, separate referral was made to investigate the state Inspector General’s Office’s own internal probe into the illegal leak of the Percoco case.
Both referrals were approved by eight “yes” votes, all by commissioners appointed by the state legislative majority and minority conferences, but five commissioners appointed by Cuomo abstained from voting “yes” or “no.”
“By abstaining, [the gubernatorial appointees] blocked the referral. They vetoed it,” said Lavine.
The panel will have to take a new vote on the referrals in order for the criminal investigations to take place.
Meanwhile, Gov. Kathy Hochul filled two vacancies on the panel Tuesday morning following several resignations last month, ahead of the commission’s scheduled 10:30 a.m. meeting, following requests from lawmakers and ethics advocates last week.
She tapped Commissioner James Dering — a Cuomo appointee presently on the panel — to serve as acting chair, replacing Camile Varlack after she resigned last month. His term was slated to expire in October.
Hochul also added Judge Randall Hinrichs, a former Suffolk County district administrative judge.
Both appointees will participate in the upcoming Tuesday meeting.
Hochul still has one more vacancy to fill as Dering moves to his new role.
Ex-Cuomo appointee Daniel Horwitz also stepped down last month.
“We can’t take a revote on the criminal referral without her appointees,” said Lavine.
Lavine said he also plans to raise a motion during the public portion of the meeting to revoke the panel’s controversial approval last summer of Cuomo’s $5.1 million book deal for “American Crisis.”
The approval was secretly granted by panel staff, rather than by a full panel vote by all commissioners.
“I don’t have a comment. You will need to reach out to the AG’s office,” JCOPE spokesman Walter McClure told The Post when asked about James’ rejection letter.
A request for comment made to James’ office was not immediately returned to The Post.