Opening statements in trial of Cuomo's former top aide present two different views
The prosecution and defense offered two very different versions of events in the trial of Governor Cuomo‘s former top aide Joe Percoco and three business associates in Federal District Court in Manhattan Tuesday. Much of the prosecutor's case will hinge on the testimony of another former, associate Todd Howe who pleaded guilty to several felonies and will be the government’s star witness.
Assistant US Attorney Robert Boone laid out the government’s case against Joe Percoco, saying it’s a case of “old fashion corruption” motivated by “greed, pure and simple”. He described Percoco as the governor’s right-hand man.
“Where ever the governor went, Percoco went, Boone said.
He said Percoco decided to “sell his power and influence” and “betray the people of New York” for over $300,000 in bribes to two different business entities. The prosecution says Competitive Power Ventures, run by defendant John Galbraith Kelley, gave Percoco’s wife Lisa a $90,000 a year teaching job that required only a few hours of work in exchange for Percoco’s help to ease state rules to get a power plant built.
Boone says in a second scheme, Percoco received $35,000 for helping the principal figures in the Syracuse based COR development, Steven Aiello and Joe Gerardi, with projects for Governor Cuomo’s economic development program, including the Inner Harbor project. Boone says former lobbyist and longtime Cuomo associate Todd Howe was the conduit for the bribery arrangement. Howe has pleaded guilty to eight felonies and he will testify for the prosecution.
Boone also signaled that the government in its case will highlight Percoco and Howe’s use of the word “ziti” as code for alleged bribes, a term he says they took from the TV series about the mob “The Sopranos”.
Attorneys for Percoco as well as for Kelley, Aiello, and Gerardi all say their clients are innocent and victims of a “mistaken prosecution”. They repeatedly tried to discredit Howe calling him a “lifelong con man” and “congenital liar” who even “lied to his dog walker”. And Percoco’s attorney, Barry Bohrer says the defense will show that Howe even altered emails to falsely make it look like Percoco was using his official influence to help the three businessmen.
Bohrer admits that Percoco is “not perfect” but a “human being who made mistakes” that he says “don’t amount to a federal offense”.
Assistant US attorney Boone concedes that Howe is a “criminal” but says it was Percoco who “hounded” Howe to get him more money after Percoco bought an expensive house and was over his head in mortgage payments.
In the afternoon, jurors saw documents problem from the Percocos’ bank and mortgage accounts that shows the purchase of an $800,000 house in Westchester and $7500 in monthly payments made to Lisa Percoco from the power company, Competitive Power Ventures, through a third-party conduit.
Prosecutors also showed documents that they say demonstrates $35,000 flowed from the Syracuse developers to the Percocos, using an LLC created by Todd Howe as a pass-through.
The defense, in cross-examination, showed that the Percocos had around $50,000 in joint savings accounts with other family members, which they say shows that they were not desperate for money.
As the defense cross examination dragged on, the judge in the case, Valerie Caproni, grew impatient, and she admonished Percoco’s attorney, Mark Yagger for taking too long to make his points.
“Everyone is entitled to a defense,” Caproni said. “But they are not entitled to a tedious defense.”
The court resumes Wednesday when Governor Cuomo’s chief of staff and long time aide aide Linda Lacewell is expected to take the stand.