MANHATTAN (CN) – The final week of the government’s case in a New York corruption prosecution zoomed into office spaces allegedly tainted by corrupt deals: one inside an energy company behind a controversial power plant and the other inside the governor’s office.
The last political player called to testify against Governor Andrew Cuomo’s former deputy Joseph Percoco had a grievance common to many work spaces, with a twist.
The governor’s deputy secretary, Andrew Ball, told a federal jury Thursday that, by rights, he deserved a room on the 39th floor of Cuomo’s New York City office.
“Obviously, there was some sense of prestige associated with that,” Ball said.
Instead, Percoco personally shunted him to two floors below, a decision that Ball said filled him with “surprise and anger.”
Before being charged with accepting more than $300,000 in bribes, Percoco enjoyed a reputation as Cuomo’s right-hand man and honorary member of New York’s most powerful political dynasty.
The late Mario Cuomo, the current governor’s father, had been known to call Percoco his “third son,” and Ball told a jury that Percoco’s banishing him to the 37th floor was an order that could not be appealed.
“[Percoco said] that it was his decision and that it was final,” Ball said on the witness stand. “And that’s what it was.”
Prosecutors claim that Percoco had been persuaded by a real estate developer who had been funneling $35,000 to his wife, an allegation supported by the government’s star witness.
“I kind of protested in my own ways like sitting in different places,” Ball said.
Disgraced lobbyist Todd Howe testified weeks ago that COR Development’s president Steven Aiello had been upset by how Ball treated Aiello’s son.
“Steve Aiello Sr. said Andrew Ball was constantly breaking Steve Aiello Jr.’s chops all the time at work,” Howe said. “I said, ‘Hey, Joe, can you get Ball to lay off Junior Aiello, he is making his life miserable.’ Joe said that he would take care of it.”
Ball grumbled about some of the grudge work his job entailed, such as writing the governor’s holiday cards.
“It was the bane of my existence at the time,” he groused.
Ball may have considered such mundane tasks beneath his high rank in Cuomo’s administration, but Percoco’s attorney Barry Bohrer noted on cross-examination that his client was the one who gave him that position.
“I believe I was responsible for the promotion,” Ball quipped.
The show of confidence tickled U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni.
“Good for you,” she told him.
Prosecutors allege that the bulk of the illicit cash flowing to the Percoco family came from Competitive Power Ventures, an energy company behind a fracked gas power plant under construction in New York’s picturesque Hudson Valley.
Facing community opposition to the plant, CPV paid wife Lisa Percoco more than $270,000 for an educational initiative that prosecutors describe as a “low-show job.”
Witness Yanina Daigle, who led the company’s initiative, repeated a refrain that she said she heard from Percoco’s wife several times to shirk job duties throughout her employment.
“She felt that it wasn’t part of her job description,” Daigle said no fewer than five times throughout her testimony, referring to Lisa Percoco.
Daigle said that Percoco gave that answer when she was asked to participate in CPV’s Principal for a Day program, career fair, science fair and company Twitter account.
When asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Janis Echenberg how Percoco’s wife approached her job, Daigle answered: “She focused on what she thought was her job description.”
“She was available – we tried to have biweekly calls or other calls,” she continued. “She often was late to the calls, sometimes would forget the calls, or often take them from the vehicle or pool or elsewhere. So, she wasn’t often as available and focused on things as I would have liked her to be.”
Daigle said that she ultimately complained about Percoco to CPV executive Peter Galbraith Kelly, one of the co-defendants.
“Well, I didn’t at the beginning because I too was learning about the program and what we wanted to do and trying to establish what it ultimately ended up being, but over time it was very disappointing to me that, you know, I felt I put in 110 percent and others do that we worked with and that she didn’t really do that,” she said.
After initially brushing off the concerns, Kelly wrote Percoco out of the budget in August 2015, some three years after her hiring, according to Daigle.
The company’s former intern Kerri Hamm testified to an idea for a children’s book that “fizzled out.”
“Lisa had children herself, as well as myself, and we were familiar with the Magic School Bus series, where you can teach kids about many things through characters, drawings,” Hamm said. “So, we had compiled a bunch of information that we thought would be relevant to teach to fourth-grade children, roughly in that age range, and we started the information and then pursued a little bit into developing characters for the story.”
Cross-examination by Kelly’s attorney Dan Gitner tried to boost Percoco’s credentials to something more than dashed initiatives and low-show work.
Hamm acknowledged that Percoco took the lead in teaching classes.
“I think you called yourself sort of the Vanna White for the first lesson, is that accurate?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
Defense attorneys have not yet decided whether to call Lisa Percoco, a decision that Judge Caproni ordered that they must make by Thursday evening.