Joseph Percoco, ex-aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, convicted in corruption trial

ByEyewitness News via WABC logo
Tuesday, March 13, 2018
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Sandra Bookman has more on the former aide to Gov. Cuomo's conviction.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Joseph Percoco, former aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was found guilty of three counts in his federal corruption trial.

For six weeks, jurors had mostly been listening to evidence the government presented to prove its claim that Percoco, a longtime confidante and top aide to New York's Democratic governor, had accepted more than $300,000 in bribes from the businessmen who needed his help with state business.

"Joseph Percoco was found guilty of taking over $300,000 in cash bribes by selling something priceless that was not his to sell, the sacred obligation to honestly and faithfully serve the citizens of New York," U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement. "As every schoolchild knows, but he corruptly chose to disregard, government officials who sell their influence to select insiders violate the basic tenets of a democracy."

Prosecutors made much of Percoco's use of the word "ziti" in emails to claim he knew he was accepting bribes. The term was used in the HBO mob drama "The Sopranos."

But defense lawyers argued there was no evidence to show any bribes were made or that Percoco did anything unusual to help the businessmen.

Still, Percoco was convicted of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and solicitation of bribes and gratuities. He was acquitted of two extortion counts and one of the bribery charges he had faced.

The jury also convicted one of the businessmen charged with paying the bribes, Steven Aiello, an executive at a Syracuse area development company, Cor Development. A second executive with the company, Joseph Gerardi, was acquitted on all counts. The jury said it couldn't reach a unanimous decision on a fourth defendant in the case, energy company executive Peter Galbraith Kelly.

The verdict followed a multi-week trial that put a spotlight on the attempts of several private companies to gain influence with Cuomo, a Democrat who once likened Percoco to a brother. Cuomo was not accused of wrongdoing.

Defense lawyers said the payments Percoco received, including $35,000 in cash and a $90,000-per-year job for his wife, were legitimate fees for consulting work performed at a time when he was out of state government.

Prosecutors had urged a conviction, saying Percoco's communications with former close friend Todd Howe, a lobbyist, shows he participated in a bribery conspiracy.

Howe, who pleaded guilty to numerous crimes after cooperating with prosecutors, became a focus of the trial when he admitted violating his deal with prosecutors by improperly trying to recover the cost of a night at a luxury Manhattan hotel from a credit card company.

It led the government to have his bail revoked midway through his seven days on the witness stand.

None of the defendants testified.

Prosecutors said Aiello and Gerardi hoped a $35,000 bribe to Percoco would secure the governor's help to re-develop a state-owned tract of land in Syracuse known as the Inner Harbor. They said Kelly, a former executive at Competitive Power Ventures, hoped to clear hurdles with the state for power plants by paying Percoco's wife $290,000 in salary for a job that required little work.

In closing arguments, prosecutors cited emails in which Percoco and Howe used the word "ziti," saying the men borrowed it from the HBO mob drama "The Sopranos" to refer to bribes.

But defense lawyers said the argument was a stretch, noting that Howe almost always initiated use of the word in their email conversations.

They also relentlessly attacked the credibility of Howe, who testified that creditors had to line up to get a piece of his paycheck after he repeatedly borrowed money and then refused to pay his bills, whether they were from a mortgage company or a dog walker.

In closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Zhou did not apologize for Howe.

"Who else would do such a sleazy job?" Zhou asked. "The government didn't choose Todd Howe as a witness. The defendants did."

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)


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