A top aide to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was charged in a complaint Sept. 22 for taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from companies seeking to claim state-funded contracts.
While the charges indicate no misconduct by the governor, the complaint details how close aide Joseph Percoco sought out bribe-paying businesses seeking to take advantage of Cuomo’s “Buffalo Billion” initiative and discussed payoffs with former aide Todd Howe using code stolen from “The Sopranos,” Newsday reports.
"If the allegations are true, I am saddened and profoundly disappointed," Cuomo said in a statement. "I hold my administration to the highest level of integrity. I have zero tolerance for abuse of the public trust from anyone. If anything, a friend should be held to an even higher standard. Like my father before me, I believe public integrity is paramount. This sort of breach, if true, should be and will be punished."
Key figures in the case are Cuomo’s “right hand man” Joseph Percoco and former top aide Todd Howe, who would use the term “ziti” to describe payoffs made by companies seeking state contracts, according to NBC. Percoco reportedly began working for the Cuomo family as an intern in 1992, and controlled access to Cuomo as his executive deputy secretary.
Court papers say the charges result from "two overlapping criminal schemes involving bribery, corruption, and fraud in the award of hundreds of millions of dollars in State contracts and other official State benefits."
The first scheme describes over $287,000 in bribes to Percocco’s family made by CPV, Newsweek reports. The upstate energy company allegedly employed Percoco’s wife at a $7,500/month job when the family needed assistance paying for their $800,000 Westchester home and made large donations to the Cuomo campaign, but ultimately did not get their targeted agreement with the state, according to the New York Daily News.
In other schemes, prosecutors say Howe conspired with the head of SUNY-Polytech, Alain Kaloyeros, to prioritize the work of paying developers in Buffalo Billion initiatives. Newsday reports one bid request required bidders to use the specific management software used by COR in their projects, giving the company a monopoly over the area.
Seven others affiliated in these schemes were charged in the September 22 complaint, including the head of the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute, a top executive of upstate energy firm Competitive Power Ventures (CPV) and five senior officials at major Syracuse and Buffalo development firms, according to the New York Daily News.
Mr. Howe has already pleaded guilty to extortion, wire fraud and related conspiracy charges, according to The New York Times. His lawyer, Richard J. Morvillo, said his client “has accepted responsibility for his actions and will testify truthfully if called upon.”
Percoco’s lawyer, Barry Bohrer, has contested the truthfulness of Howe's plea, describing the former aide as someone of “utterly unreliable credibility” and denying the corruption charges.
When asked to give a statement on the complaint, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said "I will tell you, I really do hope that there's a trial in this case, so that all New Yorkers can see, in gory detail, what their state government has been up to."