NEW YORK - A former top aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proved his guilt by repeatedly quoting from the mob drama "The Sopranos" as he described bribes he was receiving from three businessmen, a prosecutor told jurors as closing arguments began Tuesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Zhou told the Manhattan federal court jurors that they could use Joseph Percoco's own words — and a word for bribes borrowed from the popular HBO show — to convict him.
Zhou said Percoco was repeatedly "begging, requesting, demanding ziti" in his discussions with an Albany lobbyist, demonstrating that he understood that roughly $320,000 he was receiving from the businessmen from 2012 to 2016 were bribes. All but $35,000 was salary for a job given to Percoco's wife, the prosecutor said.
Zhou began his summation by reading from emails in which Percoco demanded "ziti."
The prosecutor said Percoco "sold out his vast power. He sold out his influence and betrayed the people of New York."
Percoco, 48, Cuomo's longtime confidante and the chairman of his 2014 re-election campaign, has pleaded not guilty. He has been on trial for five weeks along with two developers, Steve Aiello and Joseph Gerardi, and an energy company executive, Peter Galbraith Kelly. His lawyer, Barry Bohrer, was expected to give his closing argument Wednesday.
Cuomo, a Democrat, has not been accused of wrongdoing.
Bohrer has said his client acted honestly and was being framed by a corrupt government co-operator, lobbyist Todd Howe.
Lawyers for the businessmen argued Tuesday, repeatedly attacking Howe's credibility.
Attorney Milton Williams, representing Gerardi, said the government is destroying lives while repeatedly forgiving Howe's misdeeds.
Attorney Stephen Coffey, arguing on Aiello's behalf, called Howe "a walking, talking reasonable doubt."
Kelly's lawyer, Daniel Gitner, told jurors nothing corroborates Howe, who has "lived a life of lying and deceit."
Zhou didn't dispute Howe's criminal past, saying he had lied and cheated "throughout his life."
But he said Percoco and his co-defendants relied on Howe, 57, because they knew he was corrupt enough to carry out their schemes.
"Who else would do such a sleazy job?" Zhou asked. "The government didn't choose Todd Howe as a witness. The defendants did."
The prosecutor noted that Howe was imprisoned during the trial. Howe had been free on bail after pleading guilty to eight crimes that could potentially carry a prison sentence of over 100 years. His bail was revoked after he confessed to a defence lawyer that he'd violated the terms of his co-operation deal with prosecutors.
Howe testified that he sought to help Percoco, once a close friend, overcome financial woes by arranging for developers to funnel bribes to Percoco's wife. In exchange, Percoco worked to clear the way for state permits for a power plant and get a pay raise for one of the developer's sons, who worked for Cuomo, he said.
Jurors could begin deliberating later this week.