NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – A former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been convicted on three felony corruption charges.
Joseph Percoco, who the governor once likened to a brother, faces up to 20 years in prison for his conviction on two counts of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and one count of soliciting bribes. Jurors, who deliberated off and on for three weeks, acquitted Percoco of two extortion counts and one of the bribery charges he 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 counts.
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 announce whether it would seek a retrial.
The trial put a harsh spotlight on the attempts of several private companies to gain influence with the Cuomo administration.
In a statement, the governor said he respects the jury’s decision.
“While I am sad for Joe Percoco’s young daughters who will have to deal with this pain, I echo the message of the verdict – there is no tolerance for any violation of the public trust,” Cuomo said. “There is no higher calling than public service and integrity is paramount – principles that have guided my work during the last 40 years.
“The verdict demonstrated that these ideals have been violated by someone I knew for a long time. That is personally painful; however, we must learn from what happened and put additional safeguards in place to secure the public trust. Anything less is unacceptable,” the statement continued.
Prosecutors said Percoco and his family accepted more than $300,000 in bribes in all. They said 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 “low-show” 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.
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.”
“Joseph Percoco was found guilty of taking over $300,000 in cash bribes by selling something priceless that was not his to sell – the sacred obligation to honestly and faithfully serve the citizens of New York,” the statement read. “As every schoolchild knows, but he corruptly chose to disregard, government officials who sell their influence to select insiders violate the basic tenets of a democracy. We will continue relentlessly to bring to justice those public officials who violate their oaths by engaging in this especially offensive misconduct.”
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 had repeatedly declined to weigh in on the trial, saying he wanted to let the legal process play out.
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.”
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)