MANHATTAN (CN) – Quoting an email that has put “Sopranos” lingo on the lips of every politician in Albany, a federal prosecutor told jurors Tuesday that the indicted former aide to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo mentioned ziti for a reason.
“This is how criminals talk,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney David Zhou, delivering his closing statement this morning in the trial of Joseph Percoco.
A former influential figure in the Cuomo political dynasty, Percoco faces decades in prison if convicted of a more than $300,000 bribery scheme. The government says Percoco traded favors on projects throughout New York to procure low-show work for his wife, and let his HBO viewing habits shine.
“Herb, where the hell is the ziti?” Percoco wrote in one email to a lobbyist whose real name is Todd Howe.
Beginning his summation with this line, Zhou went through Percoco's various other mentions of ziti to demonstrate for the jury that there was more than pasta on the plate when Percoco wrote about exploiting his political connections for the benefit of energy company Competitive Power Ventures and real estate firm COR Development.
Howe is the government’s only cooperating witness, and defense attorneys for Percoco and his co-defendants have attacked the convicted former lobbyist’s credibility throughout trial.
An exceptionally shaky witness, even by the standards of government informants, Howe’s eight days of federal testimony was interrupted earlier this month when he was rearrested on charges that he committed a new offense to top off the eight federal crimes to which he already confessed.
"Ladies and gentleman, make no mistake,” said Milton Williams, who represents COR executive Joseph Gerardi. “The government's case is heavily leveraged on Todd Howe.”
Zhou tried meanwhile to paint Howe’s sins as extraneous.
“They are trying to distract you from the clear evidence of guilt in this case,” the prosecutor told the New York jury.
Zhou noted that Howe may have had tagged along with Percoco into New York’s corridors of power, but that the case also rests on incriminating emails, financial records and other documents.
"You don't need an insider view to convict these defendants," Zhou said. "They convict themselves."
One of piece of evidence the government introduced is a pamphlet that Percoco’s wife, Lisa, made during her $90,000-a-year teaching job for a Competitive Power Ventures educational initiative.
Crunching the numbers, Zhou quipped that the jury put more time on the trial than Lisa Percoco put in on an average of three hours a month over the course of three years.
"Some pictures are worth a thousand words, but this one was worth thousands of dollars," Zhou said, referring to a pamphlet bearing the energy company’s light-bulb logo. "This is a staggering amount of money for a piddling amount of work."
Before summations began, Percoco caught a break when U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni dismissed an extortion charge against him on a technicality. The extortion statute applied only to holders of political office, and Percoco had been working on Cuomo’s political campaign during the time of the alleged defense.
Percoco and the three executives accused of bribing him now face a combined total of 10 remaining offenses.
Defense attorneys for four men will try to persuade the jury of their innocence as summations continue. The other attorneys left to make their case to the jury represent Percoco, former CPV executive Peter Galbraith Kelly and COR President Steven Aiello.
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