NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Jury selection began Monday in the corruption trial of a former aide and longtime close confidant to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, the governor was not implicated in the case. But the jury is still out on whether he will face political repercussions as he seeks reelection.
Joseph Percoco and his wife, who wasn’t charged, are alleged to have accepted more than $315,000 in bribes and other perks in exchange for using his official position to perform favors for an energy company and a real estate developer.
The indictment alleges that Percoco and his associates exchanged emails in which they used code words including “ziti,” which meant cash. The term was used in the hit HBO show “The Sopranos” to refer to bribe payments, CBS2’s Marcia Kramer reported.
Percoco was regarded as former Gov. Mario Cuomo’s third son and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s borther. But when he arrived at federal court Monday, he learned just how far he had fallen.
At his father’s funeral, Andrew Cuomo described Percoco as Mario Cuomo’s third son. Percoco was also Andrew Cuomo’s right hand man and gate keeper.
Holding a banner depicting a mock up pasta box with the word “bribezoni,” New York Republican leaders stood outside federal court in Lower Manhattan doing their best to tie Cuomo to the trial, Kramer reported.
“Gov. Cuomo and Joe Percoco have been running the governor’s office like a mafia movie,” said Manhattan GOP Leader Andrea Catsimatidis.
When asked how much political damage it would mean for Cuomo, New York State Republican Chairman Ed Cox said: “Huge. He is haunted by the ghost of Christie past.”
Opponents claim Percoco is to Cuomo what Bridgegate was to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Some think the traffic scandal helped torpedo Christie’s presidential ambitions.
“There is no doubt that Andrew Cuomo is an enabler of the bribery and corruption that is on trial here today,” Cox said. “This is about Andrew Cuomo’s culture of corruption.”
Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf did not agree.
“Wishful thinking by the Republicans,” he said. “This is not Bridgegate. There’s no direct involvement in any way, shape, or form by the governor. The U.S. Attorney said so.”
“The state GOP’s sad attempts to change the subject demonstrates just how desperate they are to distract from the state of their own flailing and chaotic party,” added Geoff Berman, Executive Director of the New York State Democratic Committee.
Responding to the Republican attacks, one Democratic insider also ticked off a long list of Republicans involved in corruption cases, including former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, former Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, and even Richard Nixon.
“They need to respond to Skelos, Maziarz, Mangano, Venditto and Nixon, as well as Trump’s 25 percent tax hike on New Yorkers and they have no response, rapid or in November,” the Democrat said.
Cuomo is not expected to testify. He is up for reelection in November and there is speculation that he has his sights on a White House bid.
The charges against Percoco were brought by former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was fired by President Donald Trump last year along with other federal prosecutors.
At the time, Bharara said the government’s complaint “shines a light on yet another sordid side of the ‘show me the money’ culture that has so plagued Albany.”
The trial will be the first major prosecution supervised by Bharara’s interim replacement, Geoffrey Berman.
Potential jurors so far range from a retired building maintenance worker to a former producer for Court TV to a hospital worker who on her questionnaire wrote “all politicians are crooks in some way.” Judge Valerie Caproni declared that doesn’t mean she can’t be fair, WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reported.
Percoco and several co-defendants have pleaded not guilty to charges of bid-rigging and bribery related to state economic development projects.
Percoco’s lawyer calls the charges “an overreach of classic proportions.”
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)