NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal prosecutor told a Manhattan jury on Tuesday that Joseph Percoco, a former aide to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, took more than $300,000 in bribes from executives at two companies that did business with the state government.
“This is a case about corruption, the old-fashioned kind,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Boone said in an opening statement.
The trial, expected to last four to six weeks, is the highest-profile federal corruption case in New York since former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and former state Senate leader Dean Skelos, a Republican, were convicted of corruption charges in 2015.
Barry Bohrer, Percoco’s lawyer, said in his own opening statement that Percoco never used his official powers in exchange for money.
“Yes, he did favours,” Bohrer said. “There’s nothing wrong with favours for a friend.”
Percoco, who has been charged with bribery, extortion and conspiracy, has pleaded not guilty.
Boone said Percoco, whom he described as Cuomo’s “right hand man,” took bribes from Peter Galbraith Kelly, an executive at the energy company Competitive Power Ventures, and from Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi, founders of the real estate company Cor Development. The three men are on trial alongside Percoco and have pleaded not guilty.
Cuomo, a Democrat who is up for reelection this year, has not been charged with wrongdoing.
Boone said Kelly bribed Percoco by giving his wife, Lisa, a mostly no-show job that paid $90,000 per year for three years to win favourable treatment from state officials for two power plant projects.
He said Aiello and Gerardi paid bribes through shell companies to get favourable treatment for development of a parking lot.
Boone said the trial would feature testimony from another former Cuomo aide, Todd Howe, who has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors.
Bohrer told jurors that Howe would lie in an effort to secure a lighter sentence for himself.
Lawyers for Kelly, Aiello and Gerardi also said their clients’ dealings with Percoco were legitimate, and that Howe was not credible.
Aiello and Gerardi are expected to face a second trial on separate charges that they took part in a bid-rigging scheme involving a billion-dollar development project in Buffalo, New York.
The convictions of Silver and Skelos were overturned by a federal appeals court, and both cases are expected to go to trial a second time.
Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky