In the opening days of the corruption trial for Joseph Percoco, a former longtime aide and friend to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and three other defendants who allegedly took part in kickback schemes, prosecutors worked to highlight Percoco’s influence within state government.
Percoco is charged with taking $315,000 in bribes from an energy company seeking to build a new power plant in Orange County and from a real estate developer involved in various state-sponsored projects.
The bulk of the money allegedly came from providing Percoco’s wife a “low-show” job as an education consultant for the energy company, Competitive Power Ventures, but in opening arguments, defense attorneys argued that Percoco’s wife received the money as a legitimate salary for her work.
Percoco is among eight defendants charged in the case, which are being tried in two separate groups.
Percoco is being tried alongside Peter Galbraith Kelly Jr. of Competitive Power Ventures, which is based in Syracuse; and Joseph Gerardi and Steven Aiello of Syracuse COR Development, the real estate development firm that allegedly received government contracts as part of the bribery scheme.
Todd Howe, a lobbyist who allegedly set up a shell company and bank accounts to pay Percoco’s wife, pleaded guilty to extortion, bribery, wire fraud and related conspiracy charges for his role in the scheme.
Howe is cooperating with the prosecution and is expected to take the stand at the trial, which could last four to six weeks. U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni of the Southern District of New York is presiding over the case.
Linda Lacewell, Cuomo’s chief of staff and counsel to the governor, took the stand on Wednesday and on Thursday morning, in which she said she was on a three-way conference call with Cuomo and Percoco in April 2016 when Percoco told Cuomo that FBI agents were in the process of raiding his home and that agents may have seized a laptop containing information on the governor’s personal finances.
During questions from Assistant U.S. Attorney Janis Echenberg, Lacewell said Cuomo and Percoco maintained a close relationship and that Percoco had been referred to as the third son of the late Gov. Mario Cuomo, Andrew Cuomo’s father.
But despite the closeness of Percoco to the governor, Cuomo has not been implicated in either of the alleged schemes.
Much of the testimony on Thursday concerned the alleged scheme involving Gerardi and Aiello, who are accused of funneling $35,000 to Percoco to secure him as an ally.
Michael Novakowski, a former budget examiner for the state’s Division of the Budget, took the stand on Thursday.
During questions from Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Podolsky, Novakowski said he rarely had contact with Percoco during his time with the budget office, but Podolsky centered his questions around an email exchange from September 2015 in which Percoco expressed concern about ensuring that allocations for the development of the Central New York Film Hub in Syracuse, for which COR Development was the general contractor, was distributed.
“Let’s get the one that can be processed done ASAP,” Percoco wrote in one email that was shown to the courtroom.
Novakowski replied in the email exchange that the allocation would be processed within a week.
But in cross-examination by defense counsel Andrew Gladstein of Schulte Roth & Zabel, Novakowski said the budget office also took direction on budgeting priorities from press releases from the governor as well as other officials from the so-called “executive chamber,” or governor’s office, and said that the budget office tended to make inquiries from Cuomo’s office top priorities.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Robert Boone and David Zhou of the Southern District of New York are also prosecuting the case.
Percoco’s defense team also includes Schulte Roth attorneys Barry Bohrer, Michael Yaeger and Abigail Coster.
The trial is set to resume on Monday.