MANHATTAN (CN) – After serving two generations of New York’s most powerful political dynasty, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s former “right-hand man” Joseph Percoco received a six-year sentence for corruption Thursday.
“I hope that this sentence will be heard in Albany,” U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni said. “I hope that this prosecution, which has been devastating to your family and to the families of the other men who were involved in these crimes, will serve as a warning to others in government everywhere. You are serving the public. Doing so gives many a lot of psychic satisfaction of serving the public good. It comes at a cost. And the cost is that you make a lot less money.
“If you can’t live with a public-sector salary, get out of the government and go into the private sector, where you may have less psychic satisfaction for what you do but you’ll earn a lot more money,” she added.
During his more than two-decade-long political career, Percoco served the gubernatorial administrations of father Mario Cuomo and son Andrew Cuomo before being charged with raking in more than $300,000 in bribes from companies that had business with the state.
Throughout trial, a federal jury heard how Percoco used the same code word for that illicit cash that TV mobsters used on “The Sopranos.”
“Ziti, he called it,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Janis Echenberg said.
Percoco’s prosecution gave the government another notch for what was an anti-corruption clampdown begun by former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who blasted New York’s culture of political deal-making through “three men in a room.”
“Joe Percoco was perpetually in the ear of one of those three men,” Echenberg said.
That man, Governor Cuomo, offered no defense of his former deputy in a statement.
“Joe Percoco is paying the price for violating the public trust,” Cuomo said. “And it should serve as a warning to anyone who fails to uphold his or her oath as a public servant. On a personal level, the human tragedy for Joe’s young children and family is a very sad consequence.”
The other two men – former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and ex-Senate Majority Dean Skelos – also stand convicted. Silver received a seven-year sentence in July.
On Thursday, Echenberg said Percoco’s reputation as Cuomo’s “enforcer” required the court to impose a tough sentence.
“Joe Percoco wielded immense power, and he wielded it behind closed doors,” she said.
Percoco meanwhile spoke to his early forays into politics in a Sept. 13 letter to the court, recounting his his first political campaign as a college sophomore and how he set aside the financial security of a private-sector salary to pursue his dreams of public service.
“All of that is now gone, and I have only myself to blame,” Percoco wrote.
Percoco showed little emotion Thursday as he read from a similarly worded statement.
“I would just like to express how sorry I am for my actions,” the 49-year-old said. “I live with the consequences every single day of my life.”
With Percoco appealing his convictions, Caproni appeared skeptical about the convicted man’s remorse. Defense attorney Barry Bohrer disputed many of the factual findings of the presentencing report and noted that a federal jury cleared his client of three of the six charges against him.
“This was a close case,” said Bohrer, from the New York-based firm Schulte Roth & Zabel.
Bohrer played down reports of Percoco’s influence as a “media caricature.”
“I’m not here to address the myth,” Bohrer said. “I’m here to address the man.”
“With that myth comes power,” Caproni shot back.
Ridiculing Percoco’s attorneys for denying that their client was a public official, Caproni scoffed: “The notion that the executive deputy secretary of the state of New York is somehow not a high-level public official because he works behind the scenes and isn’t elected is unmitigated poppycock.”
Prosecutors charged him with secretly pushing the agenda of two corporate backers: Energy company Competitive Power Ventures and real-estate firm COR Development.
Competitive Power Ventures paid the vast majority of that amount through what prosecutors called a low-show job for Percoco’s wife. Over the course of three years, Lisa Percoco collected more than $270,000 in income by putting in roughly three hours of work a month, soothing community opposition to the energy company’s fracked-gas power plant in New York’s Hudson Valley.
Angry letters from residents of that region’s Orange County poured into court, complaining that they have been living with the pollution-spewing product of a dirty deal.
Citing those letters, Caproni said that Percoco’s conduct fuels cynicism about government.
“At this point in history, faith in government is at an all-time low,” she said.
Percoco also had his share of defenders, including a letter of support from a former representative of New York’s highest state court: retired Court of Appeals Judge Joseph Bellacosa.
From messages written by dozens of Percoco’s supporters, family members and friends, Caproni said, a portrait emerged of a “go-getter” who valued “loyalty.”
But Caproni said that another image emerged from his actions.
“The evidence in this case is that Mr. Percoco failed to set a good example in matters large and small,” she said.
Caproni pointed to testimony that Percoco intervened in an office squabble to give a more desirable desk to the son of COR executive Steven Aiello. Evidence showed that COR cut a $35,000 check to Lisa Percoco, though she did not hold a job with the firm.
Executives from COR and Competive Power Ventures have been convicted in connection with Percoco’s scheme.
Percoco will report to prison on Nov. 28.
At the defense team’s request, Caproni recommended that he serve his term in Otisville, a medium-security federal prison located in the same county as the Competive Power Ventures plant.