MANHATTAN (CN) – Critical of the defense’s big-fish tale of a friendship untainted by bribery, a federal prosecutor urged jurors Thursday to return a guilty verdict against the former top deputy of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The basic facts of the case against Joseph Percoco are not in dispute. From 2012 to 2016, Percoco’s wife, Lisa, received more than $300,000 from an energy company and a real-estate developer that wanted the state’s help with various initiatives.
While prosecutors have painted the relationship in base terms — money traded for official actions — defense attorneys for Percoco and the executives on trial with him argue that there were more innocuous motives at play – like friendship.
Trial evidence has shown Percoco and Competitive Power Ventures executive Peter Galbraith Kelly fishing off the coast of beachside town of Montauk, New York, during happier times.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Janis Echenberg told the jury Thursday that Percoco and Kelly went fishing exactly once.
“It’s like every great fishing story,” Echenberg said. “The longer you talk about it, the bigger the friendship becomes.”
Noting that Kelly wrote off that trip as a business expense, and brought along his lobbyist and public-relations consultant, Echenberg scoffed at the notion that the photo captured an intimate bonding experience.
Disgraced lobbyist Todd Howe, who pleaded guilty to eight federal crimes and is now cooperating with the government, is pictured beside Percoco and a large tuna in another photograph.
Though Howe sat on the witness stand for seven days in the trial, his already shaky testimony was interrupted last month by a new arrest for another alleged crime.
Defense attorneys have cited that fiasco to discredit the government’s case, but Echenberg told the jury Friday not to be distracted by the allegations around a convicted felon who already faces 130 years in prison.
“The thing is, this case is not United States v. Todd Howe,” Echenberg said.
“This case is United States v. Joseph Percoco, Braith Kelly, Steven Aiello and Joe Gerardi.”
Aiello and Gerardi are the president and general counsel, respectively, of the Fayetteville, New York-based real estate company COR Development.
Both Competitive Power Ventures and COR made payments to Lisa Percoco, the wife of the governor’s top aide.
For COR’s $35,000 investment, Echenberg said, Aiello wanted help getting his son a raise for his work in state government. The prosecutor blasted an argument by Aiello’s attorney that this was the act of a loving parent.
“Really, that’s fatherhood?” she asked. “That’s parenthood?”
When his son had a squabble with Andrew Ball, another fellow Cuomo staffer, the elder Aiello grumbled about it to Percoco, who exiled Ball two floors below the governor’s New York City office.
“It’s what you get when you pay $35,000 to the third in command in New York State,” Echenberg said.
After reading instructions to the jurors, U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni sent them into the jury room for deliberations this afternoon.