Governor Andrew Cuomo's former right-hand man, Joe Percoco, has been sentenced to six years in prison on federal corruption charges, after a jury found him guilty of accepting more than $300,000 in bribes—ziti, as he put it—from companies that had business before the state.
The sentence, which comes with an additional three years of supervised release, was handed down Thursday in a Manhattan Federal District Court by Judge Valerie E. Caproni—the same judge who recently re-sentenced former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to seven years in prison. The U.S. attorney had called for a "substantial term" that "meaningfully" exceeded the probation department's recommendation of five years.
"Today’s sentence sends a strong message that public officials who violate their duties to faithfully serve the citizens of New York will be held accountable for their corrupt actions," said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement.
BREAKING: Six years for Percoco, with 3 years supervised release.
— Adam Klasfeld (@KlasfeldReports) September 20, 2018
In a pre-sentencing memo, federal prosecutors highlighted Percoco's status as "one of the highest-ranking officials in New York State's executive department," and accused him of "monetiz[ing] his power and influence, demanding payments for action, and betraying the people of New York." In one such instance, Percoco awardd a state contract to a Maryland-based energy company, which in return provided his wife Lisa with a $90,000 a year "low-show job."
Attorneys for Percoco, meanwhile, emphasized their client's remorse for "a few bad decisions." They asked that he be sentenced to no more than two years in prison, and requested that he be allowed to keep around $100,000 of his bribe money.
Percoco's dramatic downfall comes weeks ahead of the scheduled sentencing for Cuomo's former "economic czar," Alain E. Kaloyeros, who was convicted this summer of rigging the bidding system worth hundreds of millions of dollars in favor of two companies that donated to the governor's re-election campaign. The back-to-back convictions seem to have put Cuomo on the defensive, and on Thursday he released an ad calling his gubernatorial opponent Marc Molinaro "the worst of pay-to-play politicians."
The high-profile corruption scandal has not, however, triggered an investigation by the ostensibly independent Joint Commission on Public Ethics into legal violations committed by the governor. Nor does it seem to be having much of an impact on his poll numbers.
But even if New York's voters have become somewhat inured to Albany's steady stream of misconduct—and most experts say that they have—Thursday's sentencing is still rough news for the governor, who once described Percoco as "my father's third son." The 49-year-old Percoco worked for the family for three decades, starting as an aide to Governor Mario Cuomo when he was 19 years old, and eventually becoming one of Andrew Cuomo's closest confidantes.
Percoco went on to serve as Cuomo's top assistant from 2011 through 2016, sometimes literally standing in the way of the governor's rivals, in exchange for a state salary of $175,000. He left the governor's office in 2016 to take a job as senior vice president at Madison Square Garden. Soon after, investigators subpoenaed Percoco's records and raided his Westchester county home, leading Cuomo to swiftly cut ties with his closest aide.
"Joe Percoco is paying the price for violating the public trust," said Governor Cuomo in a statement. "And it should serve as a warning to anyone who fails to uphold his or her oath as a public servant. On a personal level, the human tragedy for Joe's young children and family is a very sad consequence."
Good government groups, meanwhile, hope the conviction and sentencing of Percoco will force Cuomo to get serious about rooting out corruption in Albany—to prohibit campaign contributions from companies with business before the state, for example, or to cut down on blatant conflicts of interests.
According to Common Cause/NY Executive Director Susan Lerner, "Now is a perfect time for Cuomo to lead on real reforms, like closing the LLC loophole, banning outside income for lawmakers and increasing oversight over economic development money. New Yorkers deserve better."