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Cuomo's former top aide convicted of bribery

Payne Horning
WRVO News File Photo
Gov. Andrew Cuomo

A federal jury found Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s former top aide Joe Percoco guilty on three counts of bribery and conspiracy to commit honest service fraud in a Manhattan courtroom on Tuesday.

Percoco, who has been described as being like a “brother” to the governor, was found guilty of participating in two bribery schemes, where he netted nearly $300,000.

One of the schemes involved a job for Percoco’s wife, where she did little work. The position was created by a power plant company that had business before the state and was seeking help gaining permits to help build a plant in the Hudson Valley.

The other scheme involved a Syracuse-based developer that had received contracts under Cuomo’s economic development programs. The jury found Percoco received $35,000 in bribes in exchange for helping the company beat back a labor agreement and get reimbursed for funds owed to them by the state.

The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, said in a statement that Percoco was found guilty of “selling something priceless that was not his to sell — the sacred obligation to honestly and faithfully serve the citizens of New York” and that “every schoolchild knows” Percoco’s actions “violated the basic tenets of a democracy.”

“I think it’s very reassuring,” said Susan Lerner, who heads the government reform group Common Cause. “Twelve everyday New Yorkers could cut through all of the confusion and get to the main point, which is that the conduct introduced at trial was not only wrong — it was illegal and corrupt.”

Two of Percoco’s three co-defendants in the trial were not convicted on any of the charges. The jury found COR Development founder Steven Aiello guilty on one count of bribery. Percoco ordered a raise for Aiello’s son Steve Aiello Jr., who was a lower-level aide at the governor’s office. COR official Joseph Gerardi was found not guilty on any of the charges.

The jury, which had deliberated for over a week, deadlocked on whether the power plant company official, Competitive Power Venture’s Peter Galbraith Kelly, committed any crimes.

The judge in the case, Valerie Caproni, declared a mistrial for Kelly.

Cuomo’s political opponents seized on the verdict. State Sen. John DeFrancisco, a GOP candidate for governor, said testimony and evidence in the trial showed that when Percoco was off the state payroll for most of 2014, and managing Cuomo’s re-election campaign, he continued to use his state offices and privileges, making 837 phone calls and meeting with other Cuomo aides.

“The suggestion that he knew nothing about it when everybody, everybody understands that he is a micromanager of the first degree,” said DeFrancisco, “is just beyond credulity.”

And the head of the state’s Republican Party, Ed Cox, renewed calls for probes by the Manhattan district attorney’s office and state ethics commission on whether Cuomo himself was involved any wrongdoing.

Cuomo was not charged with any crimes by the federal prosecutor or implicated in Percoco’s deeds.

Cuomo, in a statement, said he finds the verdict “personally painful” because he has known Percoco for a long time. But he said he respects the jury’s decision and agrees that there is “no tolerance for any violation of the public trust.”

Reformers, including Blair Horner with the New York Public Interest Research Group, said they hope the verdict will finally spur Cuomo and lawmakers to fix flaws in the system that led to the conviction.

“By any definition, Albany has a corruption problem,” Horner said.

Horner said the Percoco case is the first of a string of corruption trials that will play out over the next several months, keeping the issue in the spotlight. The two top former legislative leaders face retrial on corruption charges, and officials involved in Cuomo’s signature Buffalo Billion economic development program go to court in the spring.

Percoco will be sentenced on June 11. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.