MANHATTAN (CN) – At the start of his second week before a jury, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s former deputy Joseph Percoco faced a triple threat – from his old boss’s other employees.
The trio of witnesses – two current and one former staffer – took the stand on Monday in rapid-fire testimony that largely circled around two elements charged by federal prosecutors in a wide-ranging bribery scheme.
Prosecutors accused Percoco last week of “old-fashioned” corruption, involving more than $300,000 funneled to his wife for “low-show” jobs in return for favors to energy executives and developers.
One of those developers, Steven Aiello of the Fayetteville, New York-based COR Development, is standing trial with Percoco, and prosecutors claim that Percoco helped Aiello’s son nab a $5,000 pay raise.
Starting with Cuomo’s former aide Terri Brennan, the three witnesses inspected a heated email Percoco sent them, reaming them for failing to execute the salary bump.
“This is another stupid blunder,” Percoco wrote. “Another we had no idea. BS. I raised this months ago.’ Now he is quitting because you guys can’t get the simplest things executed.”
Asked about receiving the missive, Brennan replied, “I was a little taken aback.”
Cuomo's former director for the Center for Recruitment and Public Service Joanne Fryer had a similar reaction.
“It made me pretty unhappy,” Fryer said.
“Why?” asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Podolsky.
“Because I didn't know where it was coming from,” she responded.
Percoco’s attorney tried to mitigate the blow on cross-examination. Brennan agreed that the 10 percent increase to Aiello’s son represented a “standard” raise for executive chamber employees, and that Percoco generally was a good boss.
As for Fryer, she acknowledged that Percoco had little patience for government bureaucracy, and that this email had not been the only time she saw Percoco annoyed.
But Fryer also testified that Percoco’s email came out of nowhere.
“Do you remember Mr. Percoco reaching out to you before this email regarding this raise?” Podolsky asked.
“No,” she replied.
Later in the day, Cuomo’s former counsel Seth Agata spoke about his conversations with Percoco about following ethics rules preventing former government workers from doing business with the state.
Agata currently heads New York’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics, the regulatory body in charge of enforcing these rules.
In mid-2014, Percoco had been transitioning from executive chamber to the governor’s campaign, and Agata testified that he advised him twice about staying on the right side of ethics rules.
“Don’t touch it with a 10-foot pole,” Agata said he advised Percoco, referring to business with the state.
Agata said that this conversion took place in Percoco’s office inside the executive chamber, at a time that Percoco was no longer working there.
U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni reminded jurors that a state ethics violation is not a federal crime, but prosecutors contend that flouting the rules showed evidence of the alleged corrupt scheme.
Cuomo’s former deputy director for state operations Andrew Kennedy is on the witness list for Tuesday.
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