NEW YORK (AP) — Jurors convicted a former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on federal bribery and fraud charges Tuesday in a trial that further exposed the state capital’s culture of backroom deal-making.
Joseph Percoco, who was once likened to a brother by the Democratic governor, faces up to 20 years in prison for his conviction on conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and soliciting bribes. Jurors who deliberated off and on for three weeks acquitted Percoco of extortion 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 charges.
The jury deadlocked and a mistrial was declared in the case of a fourth defendant, energy company executive Peter Galbraith Kelly. The U.S. Attorney’s office didn’t immediately say whether it would seek a retrial.
The trial put a harsh spotlight on the attempts of several companies to gain influence with the Cuomo administration.
Prosecutors say Percoco and his family accepted more than $300,000 in bribes. They say that included a $35,000 payment from Cor Development to secure the governor’s help redeveloping a state-owned tract of land in Syracuse known as the Inner Harbor, and a $90,000-a-year job for Percoco’s wife from Kelly, a former executive at Competitive Power Ventures, to clear hurdles with the state to build power plants.
Speaking outside the courthouse following the verdict, Percoco’s lawyer, Barry Bohrer, said there was “inconsistency in the verdict” and said he would explore appeal options.
Percoco thanked his family for standing by him.
“I am disappointed, but as Barry says, we are going to consider our options and move forward,” he said.
Aiello’s attorney, Stephen Coffey, called the verdict against his client “confused” and said he would file a motion to set it aside.
The U.S. Attorney for Manhattan, Geoffrey Berman, said in a statement that Percoco had sold “his sacred obligation to honestly and faithfully serve the citizens of New York.”
Defense lawyers had said the payments Percoco and his wife received were legitimate fees for consulting work performed at a time when he was out of state government.
Prosecutors countered by citing emails in which Percoco and cooperating witness Todd Howe referred to money using the word “ziti,” a term borrowed from the HBO mob drama “The Sopranos.”
While Cuomo himself was not accused of wrongdoing, testimony also painted an unflattering picture of the inner workings of his office.
There was testimony about administration officials using private email addresses to conduct state business in secret, and about how Percoco continued to work out of a state office even after he was supposed to have left government to lead Cuomo’s 2014 re-election campaign.
Cuomo, who is regarded as a contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, said he respects the jury’s decision.
Cuomo said that while he is sad for Percoco’s young daughters “who will have to deal with this pain,” there’s “no tolerance for any violation of the public trust.”
“The verdict demonstrated that these ideals have been violated by someone I knew for a long time,” he said. “That is personally painful; however, we must learn from what happened and put additional safeguards in place to secure the public trust.”
The trial was the latest in a long line of corruption allegations to emerge from Albany in recent years. More than 30 state lawmakers alone have left office facing allegations of misconduct since 2000.
Two former powerful leaders in the state, ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and ex-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican, are scheduled to be retried on corruption charges this year after early convictions were thrown out.
Defense lawyers had relentlessly attacked Howe’s credibility during the trial, saying he was too corrupt to be trusted. Howe, who pleaded guilty to numerous crimes after cooperating with prosecutors, was arrested again during the trial when he admitted violating his deal with prosecutors by trying to avoid paying a luxury hotel bill.
Within minutes of the verdict, good-government groups called on Cuomo and lawmakers to take action this year to strengthen oversight of government contracting and boost ethics enforcement.
“Albany stays on trial,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. He called the verdict “a wake-up call to Albany to do something to clean up its ethics act.”
By KAREN MATTHEWS
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