The corruption trial for Joe Percoco, former executive deputy secretary to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, began in late January, and has provided weeks of explosive testimony detailing the alleged criminal activity of Percoco and three co-defendants. Cuomo has not been accused of any wrongdoing. With the defense's case drawing to a lightning-fast close, here's an updated rundown of the biggest shocks from Percoco's trial.
The defense rests
While the prosecution took several weeks to outline its case against Percoco, the defense rested after only around 12 hours of arguments. Neither Percoco nor his three co-defendants testified in their own defense. The defense called few witnesses, contrary to the exhaustive list of potential witnesses presented by the defense last week. The key factor in the defense’s quick case may be Todd Howe, the prosecution’s star witness, who was arrested for violating his plea deal with the government during the trial. Howe’s arrest could undermine the credibility of his testimony and the prosecutor’s case with the jurors, potentially helping the defense. Closing arguments began on Tuesday.
The Lisa Percoco factor
Percoco’s wife, Lisa, was the focus of the trial in the days before federal prosecutors rested their case on Feb. 22. Lisa Percoco had allegedly been given a job by Peter Galbraith Kelly, a co-defendant and former executive at Competitive Power Ventures. Lisa Percoco’s $90,000-a-year position was alleged by prosecutors to be a bribe from Kelly to Percoco. Her former manager at CPV, Yanina Daigle, testified on Feb. 21 that Lisa Percoco somehow managed to underperform at this low-show position. Daigle said that her work was “often sloppy,” and that Percoco’s wife refused a pay cut before she was laid off, despite complaints to Kelly about her “work ethic.” Lisa Percoco was listed as a potential witness for the defense, but did not testify.
Managing the governor’s office
Cuomo’s current deputy secretary Andrew Ball testified on Feb. 22 that Percoco had controlled office assignments in the governor’s Manhattan complex, moving staffers closer to or farther from the governor’s main office on the 39th floor based on internal politics. Ball said that he was moved to the 37th floor because of disagreements with Percoco’s co-defendant Steven Aiello’s son, another administration employee.
Cuomo’s chief of staff, Linda Lacewell, had earlier testified that Percoco continued to use his office at the executive chambers in Manhattan, even after he left the administration to run the governor’s 2014 reelection campaign. Cuomo was often at the office while Percoco was there. Circumstantial evidence may also show that Percoco conducted campaign business while at the governor’s office, which would be illegal. (Lacewell also revealed that the governor’s public schedules often do not include certain meetings or events and their participants.)
Percoco also continued to make phone calls to the governor’s staff after leaving his government post. Howe testified that Percoco would call state employees and instruct them on their business even after his departure.
Speaking in code
Testimony and email evidence has revealed that the former Cuomo aide and his collaborators used figurative language and nicknames in their collaborations. Percoco often referred mentioned others in a disparaging manner, namely Kelly. According to testimony by Howe, a former lobbyist who pleaded guilty to eight felonies and is working with the government, the two mocked Kelly’s weight, referring to him behind his back as “fatso.”
Percoco and Howe often communicated in code language worthy of a TV show. They referred to money as “ziti,” a reference to “The Sopranos.” Caproni refused a request by the prosecution to show a clip from “The Sopranos” to explain the reference. They also called each other “Herb,” a reference to a time when both were staffers for Gov. Mario Cuomo, and they mocked Cuomo’s opponent Herb London for his hairpiece.
These nicknames also reveal the balance of the relationship between Howe, Percoco and Kelly. Testimony on Feb. 6 revealed that Howe and Percoco negotiated to get Percoco’s wife, Lisa, a job in 2012, when Kelly was trying to secure a power purchase agreement from the Cuomo administration. The job was arranged over dinner with Kelly, a machination that Howe and Percoco called “Operation Fat Man.”
A hostile work environment
Percoco garnered a reputation during his tenure in the governor’s office for being Cuomo’s enforcer, and the trial has further revealed how he used his position to intimidate others. Testimony by former administration lawyer Seth Agata on Jan. 31 revealed that Percoco would encourage officials to stay with the administration by placing calls to them and even threaten to tell prospective employers not to hire them. Andrew Kennedy, Cuomo’s former director of state operations, confirmed this, saying that he was offered a position at SUNY Albany in 2014, but the governor encouraged him not to take it. He was further warned by an administration official that if he took the job, someone from the executive chamber would call the university and ask that the offer be rescinded.
Kennedy also testified that Percoco went on a tirade filled with “rated ‘R’” language against him, urging him to include two businessmen in the 2015 “Capitol For a Day” event in Syracuse. One of those businessmen, Steven Aiello of COR Development, is on trial with Percoco for allegedly funneling bribes to him through Howe. Joseph Gerardi, another COR executive, is also on trial.
Todd Howe arrested
In opening statements, defense attorneys painted Howe as an inveterate liar. On Feb. 8, Howe admitted during cross-examination that he had violated his plea deal with federal prosecutors requiring him not to commit any crimes. Howe acknowledged that he lied to his credit card company, denying that he had stayed in the Waldorf Astoria hotel and seeking a refund after he had, in fact, stayed in the hotel in June while seeking the deal with prosecutors. Howe was arrested on Feb. 9.
He returned to court to testify on Feb. 13, and was allowed to wear a regular suit – instead of an orange jumpsuit.