New York Corruption Case Heads to the Jury

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, right, and Joseph Percoco, executive deputy secretary, stand at an April 26, 2013, news conference in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

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.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s former aide Joseph Percoco smiles broadly while holding a large tuna that he caught on a fishing trip in Montauk, New York. The man he’s posing with, disgraced lobbyist Todd Howe, showed the jury this photograph as the government’s star witness in a corruption trial that has embarrassed some big fish in New York’s political sphere.

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.”

Prosecutors entered this photograph of teacher Lisa Percoco into the record during the corruption trial of her husband, Joseph Percoco, the former right-hand man of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. From 2012 to 2016, the energy company Competitive Power Ventures paid Mrs. Percoco $90,000 a year for what the government has characterized as “low-show” work that was actually a bribe to her husband. Mrs. Percoco also received a $35,000 check from COR Development, a real estate company that also sought gubernatorial action.

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.

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