Things are about to get interesting in the Empire State. There’s a corruption trial kicking off this month which doesn’t directly involve Governor Andrew Cuomo as a defendant, but it comes just about as close as you could get to it. The charges in this case are against Joseph Percoco, a lifelong friend of Cuomo’s who he has previously referred to as being more like “a brother” to him. Percoco, who unfortunately fails to have one of those fun nicknames like Joey Bag o’ Donuts, is facing a laundry list of charges for pay to play schemes where he and potentially some other associates pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from people looking to get their hands on some hefty government grants. The details of the story are, particularly in one aspect, like something right out of a season of the Sopranos. (New York Post)
While his former top aide is the one facing a jury, Gov. Cuomo will be firmly on the hot seat as a blockbuster corruption trial gets underway Monday — one that experts say threatens to cripple a 2020 bid for the White House.
Joseph Percoco — a longtime Cuomo pal who the governor once likened to a brother — is charged with shaking down more than $315,000 in “pay-to-play” bribes from companies seeking millions of dollars worth of business with the state.
Cuomo can’t avoid getting tainted by the Manhattan federal court trial because “they are going to be talking about actions taken while Mr. Percoco was employed by the campaign and in state government,” said Albany Law School professor Christine Chung.
“You can’t just say, ‘This has nothing to do with me,’” she said.
For his part, Cuomo is trying to do precisely that. He’s doing his best to pretend that this trial isn’t even happening. When reporters bring it up during his rare press availabilities he gives short, stinted, one word answers in the negative and moves on. But given their long relationship and the fact that the period of time under examination during the trial covers time on both Cuomo’s campaign staff and as a government aide, Percoco is pretty much tied around the Governor’s neck like an albatross. And the prosecutors have some interesting tales to tell. One involves recorded conversations where Percoco speaks to one of his associates and references payoff money as “ziti.” That’s a line straight from the Sopranos.
All during the federal investigations, many of us kept wondering when the other shoe was going to drop and if prosecutors were about to snag Cuomo himself. It looks like they didn’t manage to make that connection, and if any of these guys were going to roll on Cuomo they would have done it by now. Still, the stench of months of headlines with the words “corruption trial” in them alongside Cuomo’s own name won’t do much for his hopes to be the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee.
What may be the most amazing fact in all of this was that they didn’t wind up snaring the Governor. New York has a massive government and the number of grants, low interest loans and, most particularly, contracts awarded to businesses is staggering. When that much money is regularly changing hands, keeping corruption out of the halls of Albany would be a challenge for the most virtuous in politics. In fact, back in 2016 when all of these investigations were ongoing, Cuomo was quoted as saying that it would be “unrealistic” to expect that a state government of that size could function without at least some corruption.
Looks like he was right.