MANHATTAN (CN) – Charged with accepting more than $300,000 in bribes, the former deputy of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo won dismissal of an extortion count ahead of closing arguments set to begin Tuesday.
The dismissed count charged Joseph Percoco with pressuring executives from COR Development to give him money for help on a real estate project in Syracuse.
U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni found Monday, however, that Percoco had been working on Cuomo’s political campaign and was not technically in the governor’s office.
“I can’t say that I am going to say I am absolutely right, but I think the weight of the authority is against the government on this,” Caproni said. “I don’t think it is extortion unless you actually are a public official.”
Caproni’s ruling trims one of the 11 counts leveled at Percoco and three other men whom prosecutors accuse of participating in an intricate bribery scheme involving a fracked-gas power plant in the Hudson Valley.
Prosecutors will begin closing arguments Tuesday morning to persuade the jury that Percoco conspired with real estate developers, an energy company and a disgraced lobbyist to earn extra income via “low-show” employment for his wife.
The executives from those companies standing trial with him are Peter Galbraith Kelly, from Competitive Power Ventures, and Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi, the president and general counsel for COR Development, repectively.
Attorneys for each of the four men will have the chance to make their final pitch to the jury following the prosecution’s donation.
Outside the courtroom, the trial has cast an embarrassing spotlight on a sitting governor.
Reputed to be a onetime “right-hand man” for one of New York’s most recognized political dynasties, Percoco had been an influential figure in the current Cuomo administration and served the elder Mario Cuomo, albeit in a more modest capacity, during his three terms in office from 1983 to 1994.
Percoco’s trial has uncovered scores of emails describing cash payments as “ziti,” a reference to the mob drama “The Sopranos” that prosecutors say Percoco used to discuss bribes.