© 2023 WRVO Public Media
NPR News for Central New York
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Former top aide to Cuomo sentenced to 6 years in federal prison

Rich Mitchell

Gov. Cuomo’s former closest aid received a prison sentence Thursday day of six years after being convicted of illegally gaining over $300,000 in bribery schemes.

Judge Valerie Caproni sided with the wishes of federal prosecutors, who sought five or more years in prison for Joe Percoco, following his conviction on three counts of bribery for participating in two illegal schemes to enrich himself while offering illegal services to a power plant company and a Syracuse development firm.

The judge said she hopes the sentence sends a warning message to Albany that these types of crimes will not be tolerated.

Percoco was convicted of receiving over $320,000 in illegal payments, including a $90,000-per-year job for his wife, paid by a power company that was seeking help in starting up a plant in the Hudson Valley. Prosecutors documented in the trial that Lisa Percoco did very little work for the money.

Percoco’s lawyers argued that his wife did legitimate work for the pay, and that the Percocos should be allowed to keep that portion of the money.

Percoco also got $35,000 in cash in exchange for helping a Syracuse-area development company obtain back payments and special favors for building a number of economic development projects, including a film hub in central New York that stood empty for years.  

Percoco, in a letter to the judge before he was sentenced, and in brief remarks in court, said that he has “tremendous remorse” for what he did. Percoco also wrote that his poor choices were his alone, and did not involve anyone else, including his former boss and former close family friend, Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The governor’s father, the late former governor Mario Cuomo, once referred to Percoco as his third son, and Andrew Cuomo has said that Percoco was like a brother to him.   

John Kaehny is with the government reform group Reinvent Albany, and he’s been closely watching the trial. He said the conviction and sentencing of Percoco is really too little, too late. And he says there’s no “joy” in the news of Percoco’s punishment.

“We look at it more akin to a disease, and Albany being a town that has dirty water and no health department,” said Kaehny who likens the federal prosecutors to “haz mat” teams coming in after a disaster.

“It means that you’ve already had a failure,” he said.

Kaehny’s group and other organizations have advocated for years for ethics law changes, with no success. Kaehny says he hopes that six new reform-minded Democratic State Senate candidates who won in the September primaries might reenergize efforts for change when the legislature next meets in January.

“And, it’s an election year,” Kaehny said. “the hope is that pressure from voters will compel changes.”

Susan Lerner, with Common Cause said in a statement that “New Yorkers deserve better,” and she urged Cuomo to take the lead to close a loophole in the campaign finance laws that allow donors to use Limited Liability Companies to skirt contribution limits, to ban outside income for lawmakers and to increase oversight over state economic development programs.

Percoco is the first of several former Cuomo associates to be sentenced for crimes including bid rigging. The former head of the governor’s upstate economic development programs, and former SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros will be sentenced later this year, along with the Syracuse developers, and Buffalo developer Louis Ciminelli.

Cuomo, in a statement said “the rule of law is paramount.” And that “Joe Percoco is paying the price for violating the public trust.” But the governor said he feels sorry for Percoco’s young children and his family.  

Percoco will start serving his sentence December 28. His lawyers said they plan to appeal.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro, as well as Cuomo’s other political opponents, were quick to react.

“Andrew Cuomo was sentenced today — he just doesn’t have to do the time,” said Molinaro in a statement, who said the governor’s administration needs to be further investigated.

Independent candidate Stephanie Miner, who was formerly the mayor of Syracuse and the co-chair of the state Democratic Party under Cuomo said in a statement that “today is a sad day for New Yorkers.” And Miner said the upcoming sentencing of the other former Cuomo associates convicted of corruption means “more sad days ahead.”

“How many public officials have to be convicted before we act?” she asked.

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.