By John Riley
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's one-time top adviser, Joseph Percoco, has been convicted of corruption charges by a Manhattan federal court jury on its eighth day of deliberations.
In a mixed verdict, Percoco was convicted on three counts and acquitted of three counts. He faces up to 50 years in prison and will be sentenced on June 11.
The verdict followed five weeks of testimony on charges that Percoco, 48, of South Salem, got over $300,000 in bribes set up by lobbyist Todd Howe, the star government witness, from co-defendants Peter Galbraith Kelly, an energy executive, and Steve Aiello and Joe Gerardi, Syracuse developers.
Kelly allegedly had his company, Competitive Power Ventures, hire Percoco's wife for a $90,000-a-year "low show" job to get help on a Hudson Valley power plant and a pollution-credit pact with New Jersey. The Syracuse men allegedly paid $35,000 for Percoco to help cut red tape on state-funded projects, and push a raise for Aiello's son, who worked for Cuomo.
Only days after several jurors asked to be excused and the foreman told U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni they couldn't agree on anything, the jury found Percoco guilty of two counts of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and one count of soliciting bribes from the energy company. He was acquitted on two extortion counts and one soliciting bribes count.
Jurors deadlocked on two counts involving Kelly. Aiello was convicted of a bribery conspiracy, but acquitted of paying bribes and of making false statements. Gerardi was acquitted on all charges
The verdict followed a trial that shined a sometimes harsh spotlight on the Cuomo administration, and the governor must also steel himself for the June trial of a companion case focused on SUNY official Alain Kaloyeros and corruption in upstate development projects that could further complicate his re-election campaign.
Percoco served as the governor's deputy executive secretary from 2011 to 2014, and again in 2015 after a break to run his re-election campaign. With ties dating back to Gov. Mario Cuomo, he was described as akin to a brother of Andrew Cuomo, his right-hand man and his chief political enforcer.
Star federal witness Howe had ties of his own to the governor dating back 30 years. In addition to alleging corrupt dealings with Percoco as he sat just steps away from Cuomo's office, Howe described how he enjoyed cozy, favored access to several officials as a lobbyist and painted an unflattering picture of Cuomo losing his temper at one meeting to curry favor with a donor.
The ex-lobbyist also told jurors about Cuomo's attendance at a fundraiser in a showroom full of Corvettes to raise $125,000 in untraceable contributions, while prosecutors offered evidence that Percoco exercised power and was allowed to use his state office near the governor even after quitting the government to run Cuomo's re-election campaign.
At trial, Howe's testimony focused on the two different schemes for his clients to help Percoco get money -- or "ziti," as the two called it in emails -- to help with his finances, while Howe was able to ensure continuing retainers from his clients by using Percoco to get things done in Albany.
Howe's credibility was the centerpiece of the case, as defense lawyers challenged the credibility of a witness who admitted that he had been a chronic deadbeat for much of his life who cheated countless creditors, embezzled nearly $1 million from his law firm, and had also been convicted of bank theft for kiting a check.
His reliability was further wounded when his bail was revoked and he was jailed in the middle of his testimony, after appearing to admit on the witness stand to a previously unknown effort to defraud his credit card company. But he insisted he was a changed man, hoping to get leniency by telling the truth about old friend Percoco.
In one scheme, Howe testified, Kelly hired Lisa Percoco to design and occasionally teach in an outreach energy education program for elementary students in return for Percoco's advocacy in Albany. Monthly $7,500 checks were routed to her through a consultant and Kelly kept her name out of any publicity relating to the program, company witnesses said.
Prosecutors said the unusual arrangement was a sign of efforts to cover up the payments that reflected their corrupt nature. Percoco and Kelly said it was just a favor between two men who became friends after being introduced by Howe.
In the other scheme, Howe, as the lobbyist for the Syracuse developers, paid Percoco $35,000, and Percoco allegedly helped free up state funds owed on one project and get them exempted from having to negotiate with unions on another.
Gerardi and Aiello said Howe hired Percoco on his own without their knowledge, and they never entered into a corrupt quid-pro-quo deal.