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Former Top Aide To NY Gov. Cuomo Convicted On Corruption Charges

Joseph Percoco, a former top aide and confidant to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was convicted Tuesday on three felony charges in connection with accepting bribes.

Prosecutors said Percoco accepted more than $300,000 in bribes from companies with business before the state, most in the form of a job for his wife. The government also alleged he accepted $35,000 in cash.

A federal jury in Manhattan delivered a verdict Tuesday after deliberating for parts of three weeks.

The jury had indicated to the court shortly before noon that it had reached a verdict, after earlier in the day asking whether it could reach a partial verdict, which the judge approved.

When the verdict was returned, jurors convicted Percoco on two charges of conspiracy to commit honest-services wire fraud, and one charge for solicitation of bribes. The jury found him not guilty on three other charges.

Jurors informed the court twice that they were deadlocked in the case against Percoco and three businessmen accused of bribing him.

U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni told the jury to keep deliberating.

Percoco, 48, Cuomo’s longtime confidante and the chairman of his 2014 re-election campaign, had pleaded not guilty. He had been on trial for five weeks along with two developers accused of bribing him, Steve Aiello and Joseph Gerardi, and an energy company executive, Peter Galbraith Kelly.

The jury also convicted Aiello, an executive at a Syracuse area development company, Cor Development. Gerardi was acquitted on all counts. The jury said it couldn’t reach a unanimous decision in the case of Galbraith Kelly.

The verdict followed a multi-week trial that put a spotlight on the attempts of several private companies to gain influence with Cuomo, a Democrat who once likened Percoco to a brother. Cuomo was not accused of wrongdoing.

Defense lawyers said the payments Percoco received, including $35,000 in cash and a $90,000-per-year job for his wife, were legitimate fees for consulting work performed at a time when he was out of state government.

Prosecutors had urged a conviction, saying Percoco’s communications with former close friend Todd Howe, a lobbyist, shows he participated in a bribery conspiracy.

Howe, who pleaded guilty to numerous crimes after cooperating with prosecutors, became a focus of the trial when he admitted violating his deal with prosecutors by improperly trying to recover the cost of a night at a luxury Manhattan hotel from a credit card company.

It led the government to have his bail revoked midway through his seven days on the witness stand.

None of the defendants testified.

Prosecutors said Aiello and Gerardi hoped a $35,000 bribe to Percoco would secure the governor’s help to re-develop a state-owned tract of land in Syracuse known as the Inner Harbor. They said Kelly, a former executive at Competitive Power Ventures, hoped to clear hurdles with the state for power plants by paying Percoco’s wife $290,000 in salary for a job that required little work.

In closing arguments, prosecutors cited emails in which Percoco and Howe used the word “ziti,” saying the men borrowed it from the HBO mob drama “The Sopranos” to refer to bribes.

But defense lawyers said the argument was a stretch, noting that Howe almost always initiated use of the word in their email conversations.

They also relentlessly attacked the credibility of Howe, who testified that creditors had to line up to get a piece of his paycheck after he repeatedly borrowed money and then refused to pay his bills, whether they were from a mortgage company or a dog walker.

In closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Zhou did not apologize for Howe.

“Who else would do such a sleazy job?” Zhou asked. “The government didn’t choose Todd Howe as a witness. The defendants did.”

(AP)

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