Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/corruption 2018-12-19T03:34:54+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Democratic Attorney General Candidates Seek to Set Themselves Apart During First Televised Debate 2018-08-21T04:00:00+00:00 2018-08-21T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7877-democratic-attorney-general-candidates-seek-to-set-themselves-apart-during-first-televised-debate Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/img-3996.jpg" alt="Democratic attorney general candidates" width="600" height="373" /></p> <p>Democratic AG candidates debate (photo: MNN)</p> <hr /> <p>The four Democratic candidates for New York Attorney General met Tuesday for the first televised debate of their race, agreeing that the next chief legal officer of the state must continue to be a check on President Donald Trump, while also addressing corruption in state government and other areas of reform they would pursue in the role.</p> <p>Each of the four candidates -- New York City Public Advocate Letitia James; U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney; Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout; and Leecia Eve, a former aide to Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Governor Andrew Cuomo -- sought to set themselves apart in what appears to be a wide open race for the party nomination, with candidates repeatedly calling themselves the only one in the race with certain qualifications.</p> <p>The debate <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05Lge7BKabM" target="_blank" rel="noopener">aired Wednesday</a> evening on Manhattan Neighborhood Network and was moderated by Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max. Democratic voters will choose an attorney general nominee, among other races, on Thursday September 13.<br /> <br />All four candidates promised to ratchet up the already fever pitch with which the New York attorney general’s office is fighting Trump administration policies. On more direct state and local matters, there was also agreed upon acknowledgement of certain problems, such as public corruption and an outdated criminal justice system, but the candidates offered some differences in perspective as they sought to make a winning pitch to voters.</p> <p>Two candidates -- Teachout and Maloney -- made new pledges to release their tax returns in line with what James has done, while two candidates -- Maloney and James -- joined calls by Teachout and Eve for state hearings on sexual harassment. Eve continued to decline to make her tax returns public. All four candidates said that it may be appropriate for further legal investigation into the fact that Cuomo’s former top aide and campaign manager, Joseph Percoco, used his government office while on leave to run Cuomo’s 2014 re-election campaign, information that came to light during Percoco’s recent corruption trial, wherein he was found guilty on several charges.</p> <p>Teachout, who has offered herself as the candidate most independent of Cuomo -- she did challenge him in the 2014 primary, of course -- and of special interests due to her refusal of corporate PAC or LLC funding, said that despite Cuomo’s shuttering of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, the executive order creating it is still on the books, and promised to use its powers if elected Attorney General.</p> <p>“Corruption is really holding us back as a state,” Teachout said. “It’s hurting us. And when the Moreland Commission was shut down four years ago, I spoke out loudly. I actually testified at the Moreland Commission. But actually, I don’t know that all people realize this, Andrew Cuomo shut the Moreland Commission down in a press call. He never formally rescinded Executive Order 106.”</p> <p>James expressed support for the creation of a new Moreland Commission. James, Maloney, and Eve all said that they would push the Legislature to give power to the attorney general to more ably address public corruption without referrals from other entities.</p> <p>“Existing law should be changed to give the attorney general primary criminal jurisdiction over public corruption, period, full stop,” Maloney said. “Shouldn’t be any referrals or anything else, you oughta just go get it and prosecute it. We need to change the law.”</p> <p>Eve said that she would utilize an existing agreement with the state comptroller to refer more investigative matters regarding state funds to the attorney general.</p> <p>“Any time we’re talking about the use of taxpayer funds, whether it is funds used to pay a legislator, whether it’s funds to fund different economic development programs, the authority, the existing authority because of this unprecedented relationship and agreement between the state comptroller and attorney general, gives the current attorney general, gives me as the next attorney general, significant powers to root out corruption,” Eve said.</p> <p>James, who has faced questions about her independence from Cuomo in recent weeks given their cross-endorsement and his help with her fundraising, said that she would be the most diligent addressing public corruption, even if it led to “the second floor,” where the governor’s office is located in the state Capitol. She noted that, while serving in the City Council, she had taken a leading role in uncovering the City Time scandal, which she characterized as “the biggest scandal in the City of New York.” “We recovered $700 million for taxpayers, working with Juan Gonzalez from the Daily News” she said.</p> <p>James also set her sights on what she characterized as unaccountable, opaque public benefit corporations and authorities, which are state run but operate like corporations; examples include the MTA, the Dormitory Authority, and Empire State Development.</p> <p>“It is really critically important that we continue to focus on all of the authorities that continue to exist throughout the State of New York,” James said, “these public benefit corporations that need to be investigated, that focus really on alleged economic development in the State of New York, and that’s what’s critically important.”</p> <p>With the exception of Teachout, each candidate has somewhat close ties to Cuomo: Maloney endorsed Cuomo for reelection and urged Cynthia Nixon not to run against him; Eve headed economic development programming under Cuomo; and James has been endorsed by Cuomo and the State Democratic Party that Cuomo leads. Independence from the governor, who saw two top aides convicted of bribery and bid-rigging this year related to millions of dollars in economic development money, has become a major campaign issue in the attorney general race.</p> <p>Asked whether there should be an investigation into whether Percoco had used state resources for campaign purposes under Cuomo’s supervision, as some of the governor’s critics have called for, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/21/nyregion/cuomo-percoco-democrats-attorney-general.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">all of the candidates said a variation of yes</a>, with Teachout the most affirmative.</p> <p>The candidates were also asked how they would approach the job of attorney general with regard to investigating financial firms for fraud or other wrongdoing. James had courted controversy when she recently <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/14/nyregion/sheriff-wall-street-letitia-james-attorney-general.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told The New York Times</a> that she did not want to be known as “the Sheriff on Wall Street,” a statement which propelled criticism from her opponents, who embraced the moniker and did so again Tuesday. At the debate, James reiterated her point, however, even after Eve said that she would want to be known as “the Sheriff of Wall Street.”</p> <p>“No I don’t want to be known as the Sheriff on Wall Street, that’s reserved for someone else,” James said, apparently referring to former Attorney General and Governor Eliot Spitzer. “I want to chart my own path. I want my own title, my own title has always been and will continue to be ‘fighter.’” She proposed strengthening the Martin Act, a 1921 state law that gives the attorney general broad power to investigate financial fraud that was revived by Spitzer. James said she would seek to expand, within her first 100 days in office, the act’s statute of limitations from three years to six years.</p> <p>“You know I want to be called the Sheriff of Wall Street,” Teachout said, claiming that the role of the attorney general as “regulator of last resort” was important with a federal government uninterested in regulating big banks and financial firms.</p> <p>“One of the things I really take from Spitzer’s use of the Martin Act is that was an example of an old tool that hadn’t been used,” Teachout said, “being dusted off and used in new and critical ways to hold Wall Street accountable. That’s the kind of creative lawyering, creative legal strategy, that I as the next sheriff will pursue.”</p> <p>Maloney, too, was quick to rebuke James. “Of course you’re gonna be the sheriff of Wall Street, that’s literally the job,” he said. But like James had explained of her perspective, he made sure to say that he would also be the “sheriff” of such issues as Trump, environmental protection, LGBT equality, and criminal justice reform.</p> <p>The representative from the upper Hudson Valley repeatedly noted that he has fought and beaten Republicans, referencing the fact that he has been elected several times in what is a swing district, and touted his government and management experience. James and Eve also highlighted their work in goverment and overseeing teams of employees, while Teachout focused on her expertise in corruption and law, and her work helping to craft litigation against President Trump for alleged violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution.</p> <p>During a series of “lightning round” questions with quick answers, James and Maloney both stated for the first time that open, public state hearings should be held regarding sexual harassment in state government and beyond; Teachout and Eve had both said previously that hearings should be held.</p> <p>While James answered that she had released five years of tax returns, and was the only candidate to release returns, Teachout and Maloney each said that they would release five years of tax returns by the end of this week. Eve demurred, saying that she had years of government-mandated financial disclosures publicly available.</p> <p>And when asked which other candidate they would vote for if they couldn’t vote for themselves, Maloney and Teachout each said that they would vote for Eve, while Eve and James said only that they promise to vote for the winner of the Democratic primary. Eve, who has trailed significantly in public polling, may have been the safe choice for Maloney and Teachout, though when <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/19/opinion/zephyr-teachout-new-york-attorney-general.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The New York Times editorial board endorsed Teachout</a> earlier this week, it also noted Eve as its second choice.</p> <p>When offered the opportunity to cross-examine one opponent, none of the candidates opted to ask a question of James, who has led in that public polling for the race despite a high undecided count; she has the support of most of the party “establishment,” including elected officials, clubs, and labor unions. Instead, two questions were leveled at Maloney, and two at Teachout.</p> <p>Teachout was asked by James about opposition to the NY SAFE Act, a signature Cuomo gun control law, during her 2016 Congressional run, to which Teachout said her opposition was only to the secretive process to its passage, part of a pattern of how business is done in the state Capitol that she has consistently denounced. Teachout was asked by Maloney about a citation she had received from the North Carolina Bar, where she is licensed to practice law, which she said was due to not sharing a change in address during a case.</p> <p>Maloney was asked by Eve about why he had chosen to run simultaneously for attorney general and for his congressional seat, a situation that led fellow member of Congress Kathleen Rice to not seek the nomination for attorney general. Maloney said that a judge had already decided in his favor.</p> <p>Maloney was asked by Teachout about $150,000 he received in donations from eight LLCs connected to the Durst Organization, one of the largest real estate developers in New York City. Maloney first attempted to say that Durst felt he was the most qualified candidate and to deflect to in-kind and super PAC contributions Teachout had received in 2016, but when pressed for a more full response by the moderator, he said that the Durst contributions were a “small part of” his overall fundraising. Maloney had earlier concurred with his opponents that the “LLC loophole,” wherein corporations can give virtually unlimited amounts of money to candidates by forming various limited liability companies, should be closed.</p> <p>Other targets for investigations, lawsuits, and prosecutions specifically named by the candidates included the fossil fuel industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the National Rifle Association, real estate developers, and “bad landlords.” The candidates also said that they would use the bully pulpit to advance civil rights causes, particularly in the realm of criminal justice reform: each candidate said that they believe cash bail should be abolished, and that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 10-year timeline for closing Rikers Island jails is too long. All four said they will not run for governor, which would separate them from recent attorneys general-turned-governors Spitzer and Cuomo.</p> <p>The Democratic primary for attorney general, governor, lieutenant governor, and state legislative seats, among other races, will be held on Thursday, September 13; the winner of the Democratic primary for attorney general will face Republican Keith Wofford and other candidates in the general election. The Democratic attorney general candidates will meet again for a televised debate on NY1 on Tuesday August 28 at John Jay College. The Manhattan Neighborhood Network debat aired Wednesday and <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05Lge7BKabM" target="_blank" rel="noopener">can be watched on YouTube</a>.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this article.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/img-3996.jpg" alt="Democratic attorney general candidates" width="600" height="373" /></p> <p>Democratic AG candidates debate (photo: MNN)</p> <hr /> <p>The four Democratic candidates for New York Attorney General met Tuesday for the first televised debate of their race, agreeing that the next chief legal officer of the state must continue to be a check on President Donald Trump, while also addressing corruption in state government and other areas of reform they would pursue in the role.</p> <p>Each of the four candidates -- New York City Public Advocate Letitia James; U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney; Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout; and Leecia Eve, a former aide to Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Governor Andrew Cuomo -- sought to set themselves apart in what appears to be a wide open race for the party nomination, with candidates repeatedly calling themselves the only one in the race with certain qualifications.</p> <p>The debate <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05Lge7BKabM" target="_blank" rel="noopener">aired Wednesday</a> evening on Manhattan Neighborhood Network and was moderated by Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max. Democratic voters will choose an attorney general nominee, among other races, on Thursday September 13.<br /> <br />All four candidates promised to ratchet up the already fever pitch with which the New York attorney general’s office is fighting Trump administration policies. On more direct state and local matters, there was also agreed upon acknowledgement of certain problems, such as public corruption and an outdated criminal justice system, but the candidates offered some differences in perspective as they sought to make a winning pitch to voters.</p> <p>Two candidates -- Teachout and Maloney -- made new pledges to release their tax returns in line with what James has done, while two candidates -- Maloney and James -- joined calls by Teachout and Eve for state hearings on sexual harassment. Eve continued to decline to make her tax returns public. All four candidates said that it may be appropriate for further legal investigation into the fact that Cuomo’s former top aide and campaign manager, Joseph Percoco, used his government office while on leave to run Cuomo’s 2014 re-election campaign, information that came to light during Percoco’s recent corruption trial, wherein he was found guilty on several charges.</p> <p>Teachout, who has offered herself as the candidate most independent of Cuomo -- she did challenge him in the 2014 primary, of course -- and of special interests due to her refusal of corporate PAC or LLC funding, said that despite Cuomo’s shuttering of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, the executive order creating it is still on the books, and promised to use its powers if elected Attorney General.</p> <p>“Corruption is really holding us back as a state,” Teachout said. “It’s hurting us. And when the Moreland Commission was shut down four years ago, I spoke out loudly. I actually testified at the Moreland Commission. But actually, I don’t know that all people realize this, Andrew Cuomo shut the Moreland Commission down in a press call. He never formally rescinded Executive Order 106.”</p> <p>James expressed support for the creation of a new Moreland Commission. James, Maloney, and Eve all said that they would push the Legislature to give power to the attorney general to more ably address public corruption without referrals from other entities.</p> <p>“Existing law should be changed to give the attorney general primary criminal jurisdiction over public corruption, period, full stop,” Maloney said. “Shouldn’t be any referrals or anything else, you oughta just go get it and prosecute it. We need to change the law.”</p> <p>Eve said that she would utilize an existing agreement with the state comptroller to refer more investigative matters regarding state funds to the attorney general.</p> <p>“Any time we’re talking about the use of taxpayer funds, whether it is funds used to pay a legislator, whether it’s funds to fund different economic development programs, the authority, the existing authority because of this unprecedented relationship and agreement between the state comptroller and attorney general, gives the current attorney general, gives me as the next attorney general, significant powers to root out corruption,” Eve said.</p> <p>James, who has faced questions about her independence from Cuomo in recent weeks given their cross-endorsement and his help with her fundraising, said that she would be the most diligent addressing public corruption, even if it led to “the second floor,” where the governor’s office is located in the state Capitol. She noted that, while serving in the City Council, she had taken a leading role in uncovering the City Time scandal, which she characterized as “the biggest scandal in the City of New York.” “We recovered $700 million for taxpayers, working with Juan Gonzalez from the Daily News” she said.</p> <p>James also set her sights on what she characterized as unaccountable, opaque public benefit corporations and authorities, which are state run but operate like corporations; examples include the MTA, the Dormitory Authority, and Empire State Development.</p> <p>“It is really critically important that we continue to focus on all of the authorities that continue to exist throughout the State of New York,” James said, “these public benefit corporations that need to be investigated, that focus really on alleged economic development in the State of New York, and that’s what’s critically important.”</p> <p>With the exception of Teachout, each candidate has somewhat close ties to Cuomo: Maloney endorsed Cuomo for reelection and urged Cynthia Nixon not to run against him; Eve headed economic development programming under Cuomo; and James has been endorsed by Cuomo and the State Democratic Party that Cuomo leads. Independence from the governor, who saw two top aides convicted of bribery and bid-rigging this year related to millions of dollars in economic development money, has become a major campaign issue in the attorney general race.</p> <p>Asked whether there should be an investigation into whether Percoco had used state resources for campaign purposes under Cuomo’s supervision, as some of the governor’s critics have called for, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/21/nyregion/cuomo-percoco-democrats-attorney-general.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">all of the candidates said a variation of yes</a>, with Teachout the most affirmative.</p> <p>The candidates were also asked how they would approach the job of attorney general with regard to investigating financial firms for fraud or other wrongdoing. James had courted controversy when she recently <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/14/nyregion/sheriff-wall-street-letitia-james-attorney-general.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told The New York Times</a> that she did not want to be known as “the Sheriff on Wall Street,” a statement which propelled criticism from her opponents, who embraced the moniker and did so again Tuesday. At the debate, James reiterated her point, however, even after Eve said that she would want to be known as “the Sheriff of Wall Street.”</p> <p>“No I don’t want to be known as the Sheriff on Wall Street, that’s reserved for someone else,” James said, apparently referring to former Attorney General and Governor Eliot Spitzer. “I want to chart my own path. I want my own title, my own title has always been and will continue to be ‘fighter.’” She proposed strengthening the Martin Act, a 1921 state law that gives the attorney general broad power to investigate financial fraud that was revived by Spitzer. James said she would seek to expand, within her first 100 days in office, the act’s statute of limitations from three years to six years.</p> <p>“You know I want to be called the Sheriff of Wall Street,” Teachout said, claiming that the role of the attorney general as “regulator of last resort” was important with a federal government uninterested in regulating big banks and financial firms.</p> <p>“One of the things I really take from Spitzer’s use of the Martin Act is that was an example of an old tool that hadn’t been used,” Teachout said, “being dusted off and used in new and critical ways to hold Wall Street accountable. That’s the kind of creative lawyering, creative legal strategy, that I as the next sheriff will pursue.”</p> <p>Maloney, too, was quick to rebuke James. “Of course you’re gonna be the sheriff of Wall Street, that’s literally the job,” he said. But like James had explained of her perspective, he made sure to say that he would also be the “sheriff” of such issues as Trump, environmental protection, LGBT equality, and criminal justice reform.</p> <p>The representative from the upper Hudson Valley repeatedly noted that he has fought and beaten Republicans, referencing the fact that he has been elected several times in what is a swing district, and touted his government and management experience. James and Eve also highlighted their work in goverment and overseeing teams of employees, while Teachout focused on her expertise in corruption and law, and her work helping to craft litigation against President Trump for alleged violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution.</p> <p>During a series of “lightning round” questions with quick answers, James and Maloney both stated for the first time that open, public state hearings should be held regarding sexual harassment in state government and beyond; Teachout and Eve had both said previously that hearings should be held.</p> <p>While James answered that she had released five years of tax returns, and was the only candidate to release returns, Teachout and Maloney each said that they would release five years of tax returns by the end of this week. Eve demurred, saying that she had years of government-mandated financial disclosures publicly available.</p> <p>And when asked which other candidate they would vote for if they couldn’t vote for themselves, Maloney and Teachout each said that they would vote for Eve, while Eve and James said only that they promise to vote for the winner of the Democratic primary. Eve, who has trailed significantly in public polling, may have been the safe choice for Maloney and Teachout, though when <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/19/opinion/zephyr-teachout-new-york-attorney-general.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The New York Times editorial board endorsed Teachout</a> earlier this week, it also noted Eve as its second choice.</p> <p>When offered the opportunity to cross-examine one opponent, none of the candidates opted to ask a question of James, who has led in that public polling for the race despite a high undecided count; she has the support of most of the party “establishment,” including elected officials, clubs, and labor unions. Instead, two questions were leveled at Maloney, and two at Teachout.</p> <p>Teachout was asked by James about opposition to the NY SAFE Act, a signature Cuomo gun control law, during her 2016 Congressional run, to which Teachout said her opposition was only to the secretive process to its passage, part of a pattern of how business is done in the state Capitol that she has consistently denounced. Teachout was asked by Maloney about a citation she had received from the North Carolina Bar, where she is licensed to practice law, which she said was due to not sharing a change in address during a case.</p> <p>Maloney was asked by Eve about why he had chosen to run simultaneously for attorney general and for his congressional seat, a situation that led fellow member of Congress Kathleen Rice to not seek the nomination for attorney general. Maloney said that a judge had already decided in his favor.</p> <p>Maloney was asked by Teachout about $150,000 he received in donations from eight LLCs connected to the Durst Organization, one of the largest real estate developers in New York City. Maloney first attempted to say that Durst felt he was the most qualified candidate and to deflect to in-kind and super PAC contributions Teachout had received in 2016, but when pressed for a more full response by the moderator, he said that the Durst contributions were a “small part of” his overall fundraising. Maloney had earlier concurred with his opponents that the “LLC loophole,” wherein corporations can give virtually unlimited amounts of money to candidates by forming various limited liability companies, should be closed.</p> <p>Other targets for investigations, lawsuits, and prosecutions specifically named by the candidates included the fossil fuel industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the National Rifle Association, real estate developers, and “bad landlords.” The candidates also said that they would use the bully pulpit to advance civil rights causes, particularly in the realm of criminal justice reform: each candidate said that they believe cash bail should be abolished, and that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 10-year timeline for closing Rikers Island jails is too long. All four said they will not run for governor, which would separate them from recent attorneys general-turned-governors Spitzer and Cuomo.</p> <p>The Democratic primary for attorney general, governor, lieutenant governor, and state legislative seats, among other races, will be held on Thursday, September 13; the winner of the Democratic primary for attorney general will face Republican Keith Wofford and other candidates in the general election. The Democratic attorney general candidates will meet again for a televised debate on NY1 on Tuesday August 28 at John Jay College. The Manhattan Neighborhood Network debat aired Wednesday and <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05Lge7BKabM" target="_blank" rel="noopener">can be watched on YouTube</a>.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this article.</p>
In Retrial, Dean Skelos Again Convicted of Corrupt Acts 2018-07-17T04:00:00+00:00 2018-07-17T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7809-in-retrial-dean-skelos-again-convicted-of-corrupt-acts Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/govcuomo-us.jpg" alt="govcuomo us" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>Dean Skelos, middles, with Silver and Cuomo (photo via the Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The once-powerful Dean Skelos, former Republican majority leader of the New York State Senate, and his son Adam were found guilty on federal corruption charges on Tuesday after a month-long trial in federal court in Manhattan. Skelos and his son had been similarly found guilty on all charges in late-2015 but their convictions were vacated after a Supreme Court ruling changed the definition of public corruption, precipitating a retrial that began last month.</p> <p>Prosecutors charged Skelos with using his official position as leverage over companies that had business with the state, pressuring them to give his son more than $200,000 in payments. In turn, Skelos took actions to benefit those firms.</p> <p>“Yet again, a New York jury heard a sordid tale of bribery, extortion, and the abuse of power by a powerful public official of this State,” reads a statement from the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, which brought the prosecution. “And yet again, a jury responded with a unanimous verdict of guilt, in this case of Dean Skelos and his son Adam – sending the resounding message that political corruption will not be tolerated.”</p> <p>The Skelos verdict is just the latest in a series of corruption convictions that have rocked state government, the Legislature, and the executive branch. Just last week, Alain Kaloyeros, a prominent ally of Governor Andrew Cuomo, was found guilty of bid-rigging state contracts under the Buffalo Billion economic development program. In May, former Democratic state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was similarly found guilty of misusing his office for personal gain (Silver faced a retrial just like Skelos). And in March, Joe Percoco, a former top aide and campaign manager to the governor, was also found guilty of federal corruption.</p> <p>Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District who brought all four of those cases, tweeted Tuesday, “More congratulations to the fine team at SDNY, who just convicted — again — former NY senate majority leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam on all counts. Skelos and Silver will both be resentenced.”</p> <p>In a statement, State Senator Todd Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor who won Skelos’ vacant Long Island seat after the first trial, called on the state Legislature to pass stronger anti-corruption laws. “[T]his trial once again laid bare how broken and dirty Albany has become, and how far we have to go to reform it,” he said. “People want their faith in government restored, and they have been let down by years of inaction. It is time for a change.”</p> <p>Since the multiple scandals broke, state government has taken no significant action to alter the playing field on which Silver, Skelos, Percoco, Kaloyeros, and others committed their misdeeds.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/govcuomo-us.jpg" alt="govcuomo us" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>Dean Skelos, middles, with Silver and Cuomo (photo via the Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The once-powerful Dean Skelos, former Republican majority leader of the New York State Senate, and his son Adam were found guilty on federal corruption charges on Tuesday after a month-long trial in federal court in Manhattan. Skelos and his son had been similarly found guilty on all charges in late-2015 but their convictions were vacated after a Supreme Court ruling changed the definition of public corruption, precipitating a retrial that began last month.</p> <p>Prosecutors charged Skelos with using his official position as leverage over companies that had business with the state, pressuring them to give his son more than $200,000 in payments. In turn, Skelos took actions to benefit those firms.</p> <p>“Yet again, a New York jury heard a sordid tale of bribery, extortion, and the abuse of power by a powerful public official of this State,” reads a statement from the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, which brought the prosecution. “And yet again, a jury responded with a unanimous verdict of guilt, in this case of Dean Skelos and his son Adam – sending the resounding message that political corruption will not be tolerated.”</p> <p>The Skelos verdict is just the latest in a series of corruption convictions that have rocked state government, the Legislature, and the executive branch. Just last week, Alain Kaloyeros, a prominent ally of Governor Andrew Cuomo, was found guilty of bid-rigging state contracts under the Buffalo Billion economic development program. In May, former Democratic state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was similarly found guilty of misusing his office for personal gain (Silver faced a retrial just like Skelos). And in March, Joe Percoco, a former top aide and campaign manager to the governor, was also found guilty of federal corruption.</p> <p>Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District who brought all four of those cases, tweeted Tuesday, “More congratulations to the fine team at SDNY, who just convicted — again — former NY senate majority leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam on all counts. Skelos and Silver will both be resentenced.”</p> <p>In a statement, State Senator Todd Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor who won Skelos’ vacant Long Island seat after the first trial, called on the state Legislature to pass stronger anti-corruption laws. “[T]his trial once again laid bare how broken and dirty Albany has become, and how far we have to go to reform it,” he said. “People want their faith in government restored, and they have been let down by years of inaction. It is time for a change.”</p> <p>Since the multiple scandals broke, state government has taken no significant action to alter the playing field on which Silver, Skelos, Percoco, Kaloyeros, and others committed their misdeeds.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>
Alain Kaloyeros, Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion Star, Found Guilty on All Charges 2018-07-12T04:00:00+00:00 2018-07-12T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7802-alain-kaloyeros-cuomo-s-buffalo-billion-star-found-guilty-on-all-charges Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/24935236946_86d671359f_z_1.jpg" alt="Kaloyeros Cuomo Buffalo Billion" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Alain Kaloyeros (photo via The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Alain Kaloyeros, the former president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute who spearheaded key pieces of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s vaunted Buffalo Billion economic revitalization program, was found guilty in federal court on Thursday of bid-rigging state contracts in favor of upstate firms whose executives were major donors to the governor’s campaign.</p> <p>Following a trial that lasted just under a month, a jury found Kaloyeros guilty on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with two separate schemes in which he colluded with a prominent lobbyist to manipulate state contract bids. Prosecutors charged Kaloyeros with rigging requests for proposals (RFPs) to favor prominent executives from two specific firms -- Louis Ciminelli from Buffalo-based LPCiminelli, and Joseph Gerardi and Steven Aiello from Syracuse-based COR Development. Ciminelli, Gerardi and Aiello also stood trial with Kaloyeros and were found guilty on Thursday as well. The defendants are all expected to be sentenced in October.</p> <p>Kaloyeros, who the governor praised in lofty terms when appointing him to lead the Buffalo Billion and over the course of subsequent years, conspired on the two schemes with the developers and Todd Howe, a now infamous lobbyist with close ties to Cuomo. Howe was the government’s star witness in another federal corruption case earlier this year involving former top Cuomo aide Joe Percoco, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7539-joseph-percoco-former-top-cuomo-aide-convicted-on-3-felony-counts" target="_blank" rel="noopener">who was also convicted</a>. COR executives Gerardi and Aiello were co-defendants in that trial as well.</p> <p>Prosecutors in the Kaloyeros trial relied on email records that showed the eccentric tech guru plotted to ensure that LPCiminelli received a contract to construct a solar panel factory, which eventually ballooned in cost to $750 million, and that COR development was awarded more than $100 million to build a manufacturing plant and film studio. The bid-rigging was done in apparent effort to please Cuomo, though the governor himself was not accused of committing any crimes.</p> <p>In a statement, Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, whose office prosecuted the case, expressed pride that the Kaloyeros verdict was just the latest successful conviction won by the office’s Public Corruption Unit, following the conviction of Percoco and former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. “The guiding principle of the Southern District holds that true justice can only be achieved through independence from politics or influence, and that has never been more important than today,” he said.</p> <p>All of the cases were originally brought by former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was fired by President Donald Trump and celebrated the verdicts on Twitter, <a href="https://twitter.com/PreetBharara/status/1017510729140842496" target="_blank" rel="noopener">writing</a>, “All four Buffalo Billion defendants guilty on all counts. Congratulations to the team at SDNY for continuing to strike big blows against corruption in New York State.”</p> <p>The two corruption cases involving Percoco, Howe, and Kaloyeros, among others, have been a black eye for Cuomo, though he was never accused of criminal wrongdoing in either one, and his political opponents have repeatedly used them to criticize both the governor and the pay-to-play culture in state government. In a harshly worded statement following the verdict, actor and activist Cynthia Nixon, the governor’s Democratic primary challenger, scoffed at the governor’s proclaimed ignorance of Kaloyeros and Percoco’s misdeeds. “Andrew Cuomo is either corrupt or he is spectacularly incompetent,” Nixon said. “Either way, the facts from the trials of Joe Percoco and Alain Kaloyeros lead to only one conclusion: We can’t clean up Albany until we clean out the governor’s mansion. Nothing is going to change until we change who’s in charge.”</p> <p>Cuomo, who has said that he has not followed the case closely, said in his own statement, “The jury has spoken and justice has been done. There can be no tolerance for those who seek to defraud the system to advance their own personal interests. Anyone who has committed such an egregious act should be punished to the full extent of the law." Cuomo did not mention anyone by name or promise any reforms. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7353-with-phase-one-going-on-trial-cuomo-s-buffalo-investment-moves-ahead-with-changes-and-broken-reform-promises" target="_blank" rel="noopener">He has not followed through on several governmental and campaign promises he made when the scandal broke.</a></p> <p>In response to the verdict, government watchdogs warned that the lax state regulations that allowed Kaloyeros’ criminal actions remain unchanged. A coalition of groups including Reinvent Albany, Citizens Budget Commission, NYPIRG, and Fiscal Policy Institute issued a statement repeating calls for “clean contracting” reforms, saying that “evidence introduced at the federal trial of Alain Kaloyeros, the governor's former nano-czar, and executives from LP Ciminelli and COR Development highlight the vulnerability of the state’s economic development programs to corruption and abuse.”</p> <p>“The convictions in the ‘Buffalo Billion’ trial underscore the huge corruption risks that continue to plague Albany,” read a statement from the New York Public Interest Research Group. “The Governor 's failure to produce meaningful reforms, coupled with the Legislature's inability to come to an agreement on its own, highlight the failures of the state's elected leadership to grapple with unending scandals.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/24935236946_86d671359f_z_1.jpg" alt="Kaloyeros Cuomo Buffalo Billion" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Alain Kaloyeros (photo via The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Alain Kaloyeros, the former president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute who spearheaded key pieces of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s vaunted Buffalo Billion economic revitalization program, was found guilty in federal court on Thursday of bid-rigging state contracts in favor of upstate firms whose executives were major donors to the governor’s campaign.</p> <p>Following a trial that lasted just under a month, a jury found Kaloyeros guilty on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with two separate schemes in which he colluded with a prominent lobbyist to manipulate state contract bids. Prosecutors charged Kaloyeros with rigging requests for proposals (RFPs) to favor prominent executives from two specific firms -- Louis Ciminelli from Buffalo-based LPCiminelli, and Joseph Gerardi and Steven Aiello from Syracuse-based COR Development. Ciminelli, Gerardi and Aiello also stood trial with Kaloyeros and were found guilty on Thursday as well. The defendants are all expected to be sentenced in October.</p> <p>Kaloyeros, who the governor praised in lofty terms when appointing him to lead the Buffalo Billion and over the course of subsequent years, conspired on the two schemes with the developers and Todd Howe, a now infamous lobbyist with close ties to Cuomo. Howe was the government’s star witness in another federal corruption case earlier this year involving former top Cuomo aide Joe Percoco, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7539-joseph-percoco-former-top-cuomo-aide-convicted-on-3-felony-counts" target="_blank" rel="noopener">who was also convicted</a>. COR executives Gerardi and Aiello were co-defendants in that trial as well.</p> <p>Prosecutors in the Kaloyeros trial relied on email records that showed the eccentric tech guru plotted to ensure that LPCiminelli received a contract to construct a solar panel factory, which eventually ballooned in cost to $750 million, and that COR development was awarded more than $100 million to build a manufacturing plant and film studio. The bid-rigging was done in apparent effort to please Cuomo, though the governor himself was not accused of committing any crimes.</p> <p>In a statement, Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, whose office prosecuted the case, expressed pride that the Kaloyeros verdict was just the latest successful conviction won by the office’s Public Corruption Unit, following the conviction of Percoco and former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. “The guiding principle of the Southern District holds that true justice can only be achieved through independence from politics or influence, and that has never been more important than today,” he said.</p> <p>All of the cases were originally brought by former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was fired by President Donald Trump and celebrated the verdicts on Twitter, <a href="https://twitter.com/PreetBharara/status/1017510729140842496" target="_blank" rel="noopener">writing</a>, “All four Buffalo Billion defendants guilty on all counts. Congratulations to the team at SDNY for continuing to strike big blows against corruption in New York State.”</p> <p>The two corruption cases involving Percoco, Howe, and Kaloyeros, among others, have been a black eye for Cuomo, though he was never accused of criminal wrongdoing in either one, and his political opponents have repeatedly used them to criticize both the governor and the pay-to-play culture in state government. In a harshly worded statement following the verdict, actor and activist Cynthia Nixon, the governor’s Democratic primary challenger, scoffed at the governor’s proclaimed ignorance of Kaloyeros and Percoco’s misdeeds. “Andrew Cuomo is either corrupt or he is spectacularly incompetent,” Nixon said. “Either way, the facts from the trials of Joe Percoco and Alain Kaloyeros lead to only one conclusion: We can’t clean up Albany until we clean out the governor’s mansion. Nothing is going to change until we change who’s in charge.”</p> <p>Cuomo, who has said that he has not followed the case closely, said in his own statement, “The jury has spoken and justice has been done. There can be no tolerance for those who seek to defraud the system to advance their own personal interests. Anyone who has committed such an egregious act should be punished to the full extent of the law." Cuomo did not mention anyone by name or promise any reforms. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7353-with-phase-one-going-on-trial-cuomo-s-buffalo-investment-moves-ahead-with-changes-and-broken-reform-promises" target="_blank" rel="noopener">He has not followed through on several governmental and campaign promises he made when the scandal broke.</a></p> <p>In response to the verdict, government watchdogs warned that the lax state regulations that allowed Kaloyeros’ criminal actions remain unchanged. A coalition of groups including Reinvent Albany, Citizens Budget Commission, NYPIRG, and Fiscal Policy Institute issued a statement repeating calls for “clean contracting” reforms, saying that “evidence introduced at the federal trial of Alain Kaloyeros, the governor's former nano-czar, and executives from LP Ciminelli and COR Development highlight the vulnerability of the state’s economic development programs to corruption and abuse.”</p> <p>“The convictions in the ‘Buffalo Billion’ trial underscore the huge corruption risks that continue to plague Albany,” read a statement from the New York Public Interest Research Group. “The Governor 's failure to produce meaningful reforms, coupled with the Legislature's inability to come to an agreement on its own, highlight the failures of the state's elected leadership to grapple with unending scandals.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Buffalo Billion Trial Begins with Differing Portraits of Former SUNY Poly Mastermind 2018-06-18T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-18T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7747-buffalo-billion-trial-begins-with-differing-portraits-of-former-suny-poly-mastermind Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/cuomo-and-kaloyeros-walking.jpg" alt="cuomo and kaloyeros walking" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo &amp; Alain Kaloyeros (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Lawyers presented starkly different portraits of Alain Kaloyeros, the former head of SUNY Polytechnic Institute, in opening statements of his corruption trial at federal court in Manhattan on Monday. Critics say the case -- and the related trial of Joseph Percoco, a longtime aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo found guilty in March of taking bribes -- show the governor’s multimillion-dollar economic development projects were fundamentally corrupt.</p> <p>Kaloyeros rigged bids for development projects to avoid losing his job, expand his influence, and gain a promotion, Assistant U.S Attorney David Zhou argued.</p> <p>“Kaloyeros decided that the rules didn’t apply to him, so he cheated and he lied to get the results he wanted,” the prosecutor said as Kaloyeros, sporting a blue suit and stubbly beard, sat at the front of the courtroom.</p> <p>On the contrary, defense lawyer Reid Weingarten sought to depict Kaloyeros as a visionary who had personal flaws but committed no crimes.</p> <p>“In truth, he’s not a saint. He’s a very, very complicated guy,” Weingarten said, adding that Kaloyeros, a physicist, had “wrought miracles” launching major tech projects in Albany. “What this case is about is the desire of Governor Cuomo to bring [Kaloyeros’] miracle to upstate New York.”</p> <p>Federal prosecutors say Kaloyeros schemed to make sure a nonprofit charged with overseeing a huge swath of Cuomo’s development projects favored companies run by major Cuomo donors -- Louis Ciminelli of Buffalo-based LPCiminelli, along with Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi of Syracuse-based COR Development. The executives, who are on trial alongside Kaloyeros, have also pleaded not guilty to fraud charges; Gerardi is also accused of lying to FBI agents. Cuomo is not accused of criminal wrongdoing, but critics say that the Democratic governor knowingly presided over programs with insufficient checks and transparency, pushing through state funding, stripping the Comptroller of audit powers, and empowering Kaloyeros and others to run wild while his campaign coffers filled.</p> <p>The prosecution’s case appears to hinge in large part on emails between Kaloyeros and the developers that allegedly show they conspired to rig the bids starting in 2013. LPCiminelli won a contract for a solar panel factory in Buffalo, as part of the governor’s Buffalo Billion program, the cost of which eventually rose to $750 million; while COR Development won contracts for a $90 million manufacturing plant and $15 million film studio, the latter of which the state recently <a href="https://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2018/06/onondaga_county_poised_to_take_struggling_cny_film_hub_from_ny_state.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">sold for $1</a> after years of floundering.</p> <p>Prosecutors say Kaloyeros ensured inclusion of measures like requiring the winner of the Buffalo request-for-proposals (RFP) to have 50 years of experience in an effort to ensure LPCiminelli would be the only company to even qualify to bid. In one email, he allegedly promised to “fine tune the development requirements” to guarantee only LPCiminelli could win, Zhou said on Monday.</p> <p>However, Weingarten argued that emails between Kaloyeros and his client were perfectly legal.</p> <p>He said for a nonprofit like the one doling out the upstate development grants, called Fort Schuyler Management Corporation, “the procurements can be any way you want them to be.” Weinstein added that the RFPs in the Kaloyeros case followed all procurement rules set by the federal government, Albany, and SUNY, which helped oversee the projects.</p> <p>While Zhou highlighted Kaloyeros’ use of his personal email address instead of his SUNY account -- instructing one of his alleged collaborators, “please gmail, not email” -- Weinstein seemed to shrug off the matter.</p> <p>It's "almost a sport in New York State government to put things on your private email so reporters can't get them,” the defense lawyer said.</p> <p>Monday’s opening statements suggested the role of Todd Howe will be another turning point in the case.</p> <p>Kaloyeros hired Howe, an Albany lobbyist and longtime member of Cuomo’s inner circle, to help work on the development projects -- and, prosecutors say, maintain friendly ties with Cuomo. Howe made a plea deal with the government, but is not expected to testify in the Kaloyeros case after he was arrested on new charges in the middle of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7539-joseph-percoco-former-top-cuomo-aide-convicted-on-3-felony-counts" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the Percoco trial</a>, where he was the government’s star witness.</p> <p>Prosecutors say Howe helped Kaloyeros transform a SUNY college for nanotechnology into the sprawling SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany, where Kaloyeros launched an array of ambitious public-private tech partnerships in addition to the LPCiminelli and COR Development projects.</p> <p>“Kaloyeros developed a strong relationship with the governor’s office after he hired a lobbyist named Todd Howe for SUNY,” Zhou said. “Howe was the key to the governor’s office.”</p> <p>Weingarten and the other defendants’ lawyers assailed Howe’s credibility. “He was a master criminal,” Weingarten said of Howe. “He deceived virtually every relevant person in this courtroom.”</p> <p>Lawyers for Aiello, Ciminelli and Gerardi echoed Weingarten’s lines of reasoning. Discussing Aiello and Ciminelli, Aiello’s attorney Steve Coffey said they “hardly knew each other in 2013.”</p> <p>“What they have in common is they’re developers. And they’re Italian,” though he said no more about their heritage.</p> <p>Cuomo previously said Percoco, who was found guilty of taking bribes in exchange for preferential treatment for developers, was like a brother. And the Kaloyeros trial centers on the governor’s most vaunted development programs -- Cuomo regularly heaped praise on Kaloyeros and ensured that he had a great deal of power. But prosecutors have not implicated Cuomo in any of the alleged crimes.</p> <p>However, his political opponents were quick to link him with the Kaloyeros trial on Monday.</p> <p>Cuomo’s Democratic primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, referenced the trial repeatedly <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7746-citing-broken-cuomo-promises-nixon-unveils-campaign-finance-reform-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">as she unveiled a campaign finance reform agenda</a> from the steps of the Tweed Courthouse, where Cuomo had promised eight years ago to clean up state government.</p> <p>“Despite others’ attempts to politicize, the US Attorney and Judge have repeatedly said that campaign contributions were not unlawful and were not part of the alleged criminality,” Cuomo campaign spokesperson Abbey Fashouer said in an emailed statement.</p> <p>“Cuomo has enabled individuals who think that they must peddle influence and peddle resources and sell out New Yorkers to the highest bidder,” Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor, said outside the federal courthouse during a morning press conference.</p> <p>Zephyr Teachout, who previously ran against Cuomo for governor and is now running for attorney general, spoke to reporters just ahead of Molinaro.</p> <p>“This trial illustrates that we have an underlying corruption and ethics emergency in New York State,” she said. “This trial shows the ways in which corruption impacts people’s lives.”</p> <p>Asked for comment on the trial, the campaign of New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, who is also running for state attorney general but is aligned with Cuomo, issued a statement touting James’ past anti-corruption work.</p> <p>“Any act of corruption in government betrays the people of the state of New York and cannot be tolerated,” James spokesperson Delaney Kempner said in the statement. “As Attorney General, Tish will deploy the full arsenal of weapons at her disposal to fight corruption and will never shy away from tackling illegal behavior in government.” The statement did not directly address the Kaloyeros case.</p> <p>

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by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/cuomo-and-kaloyeros-walking.jpg" alt="cuomo and kaloyeros walking" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo &amp; Alain Kaloyeros (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Lawyers presented starkly different portraits of Alain Kaloyeros, the former head of SUNY Polytechnic Institute, in opening statements of his corruption trial at federal court in Manhattan on Monday. Critics say the case -- and the related trial of Joseph Percoco, a longtime aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo found guilty in March of taking bribes -- show the governor’s multimillion-dollar economic development projects were fundamentally corrupt.</p> <p>Kaloyeros rigged bids for development projects to avoid losing his job, expand his influence, and gain a promotion, Assistant U.S Attorney David Zhou argued.</p> <p>“Kaloyeros decided that the rules didn’t apply to him, so he cheated and he lied to get the results he wanted,” the prosecutor said as Kaloyeros, sporting a blue suit and stubbly beard, sat at the front of the courtroom.</p> <p>On the contrary, defense lawyer Reid Weingarten sought to depict Kaloyeros as a visionary who had personal flaws but committed no crimes.</p> <p>“In truth, he’s not a saint. He’s a very, very complicated guy,” Weingarten said, adding that Kaloyeros, a physicist, had “wrought miracles” launching major tech projects in Albany. “What this case is about is the desire of Governor Cuomo to bring [Kaloyeros’] miracle to upstate New York.”</p> <p>Federal prosecutors say Kaloyeros schemed to make sure a nonprofit charged with overseeing a huge swath of Cuomo’s development projects favored companies run by major Cuomo donors -- Louis Ciminelli of Buffalo-based LPCiminelli, along with Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi of Syracuse-based COR Development. The executives, who are on trial alongside Kaloyeros, have also pleaded not guilty to fraud charges; Gerardi is also accused of lying to FBI agents. Cuomo is not accused of criminal wrongdoing, but critics say that the Democratic governor knowingly presided over programs with insufficient checks and transparency, pushing through state funding, stripping the Comptroller of audit powers, and empowering Kaloyeros and others to run wild while his campaign coffers filled.</p> <p>The prosecution’s case appears to hinge in large part on emails between Kaloyeros and the developers that allegedly show they conspired to rig the bids starting in 2013. LPCiminelli won a contract for a solar panel factory in Buffalo, as part of the governor’s Buffalo Billion program, the cost of which eventually rose to $750 million; while COR Development won contracts for a $90 million manufacturing plant and $15 million film studio, the latter of which the state recently <a href="https://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2018/06/onondaga_county_poised_to_take_struggling_cny_film_hub_from_ny_state.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">sold for $1</a> after years of floundering.</p> <p>Prosecutors say Kaloyeros ensured inclusion of measures like requiring the winner of the Buffalo request-for-proposals (RFP) to have 50 years of experience in an effort to ensure LPCiminelli would be the only company to even qualify to bid. In one email, he allegedly promised to “fine tune the development requirements” to guarantee only LPCiminelli could win, Zhou said on Monday.</p> <p>However, Weingarten argued that emails between Kaloyeros and his client were perfectly legal.</p> <p>He said for a nonprofit like the one doling out the upstate development grants, called Fort Schuyler Management Corporation, “the procurements can be any way you want them to be.” Weinstein added that the RFPs in the Kaloyeros case followed all procurement rules set by the federal government, Albany, and SUNY, which helped oversee the projects.</p> <p>While Zhou highlighted Kaloyeros’ use of his personal email address instead of his SUNY account -- instructing one of his alleged collaborators, “please gmail, not email” -- Weinstein seemed to shrug off the matter.</p> <p>It's "almost a sport in New York State government to put things on your private email so reporters can't get them,” the defense lawyer said.</p> <p>Monday’s opening statements suggested the role of Todd Howe will be another turning point in the case.</p> <p>Kaloyeros hired Howe, an Albany lobbyist and longtime member of Cuomo’s inner circle, to help work on the development projects -- and, prosecutors say, maintain friendly ties with Cuomo. Howe made a plea deal with the government, but is not expected to testify in the Kaloyeros case after he was arrested on new charges in the middle of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7539-joseph-percoco-former-top-cuomo-aide-convicted-on-3-felony-counts" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the Percoco trial</a>, where he was the government’s star witness.</p> <p>Prosecutors say Howe helped Kaloyeros transform a SUNY college for nanotechnology into the sprawling SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany, where Kaloyeros launched an array of ambitious public-private tech partnerships in addition to the LPCiminelli and COR Development projects.</p> <p>“Kaloyeros developed a strong relationship with the governor’s office after he hired a lobbyist named Todd Howe for SUNY,” Zhou said. “Howe was the key to the governor’s office.”</p> <p>Weingarten and the other defendants’ lawyers assailed Howe’s credibility. “He was a master criminal,” Weingarten said of Howe. “He deceived virtually every relevant person in this courtroom.”</p> <p>Lawyers for Aiello, Ciminelli and Gerardi echoed Weingarten’s lines of reasoning. Discussing Aiello and Ciminelli, Aiello’s attorney Steve Coffey said they “hardly knew each other in 2013.”</p> <p>“What they have in common is they’re developers. And they’re Italian,” though he said no more about their heritage.</p> <p>Cuomo previously said Percoco, who was found guilty of taking bribes in exchange for preferential treatment for developers, was like a brother. And the Kaloyeros trial centers on the governor’s most vaunted development programs -- Cuomo regularly heaped praise on Kaloyeros and ensured that he had a great deal of power. But prosecutors have not implicated Cuomo in any of the alleged crimes.</p> <p>However, his political opponents were quick to link him with the Kaloyeros trial on Monday.</p> <p>Cuomo’s Democratic primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, referenced the trial repeatedly <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7746-citing-broken-cuomo-promises-nixon-unveils-campaign-finance-reform-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">as she unveiled a campaign finance reform agenda</a> from the steps of the Tweed Courthouse, where Cuomo had promised eight years ago to clean up state government.</p> <p>“Despite others’ attempts to politicize, the US Attorney and Judge have repeatedly said that campaign contributions were not unlawful and were not part of the alleged criminality,” Cuomo campaign spokesperson Abbey Fashouer said in an emailed statement.</p> <p>“Cuomo has enabled individuals who think that they must peddle influence and peddle resources and sell out New Yorkers to the highest bidder,” Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor, said outside the federal courthouse during a morning press conference.</p> <p>Zephyr Teachout, who previously ran against Cuomo for governor and is now running for attorney general, spoke to reporters just ahead of Molinaro.</p> <p>“This trial illustrates that we have an underlying corruption and ethics emergency in New York State,” she said. “This trial shows the ways in which corruption impacts people’s lives.”</p> <p>Asked for comment on the trial, the campaign of New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, who is also running for state attorney general but is aligned with Cuomo, issued a statement touting James’ past anti-corruption work.</p> <p>“Any act of corruption in government betrays the people of the state of New York and cannot be tolerated,” James spokesperson Delaney Kempner said in the statement. “As Attorney General, Tish will deploy the full arsenal of weapons at her disposal to fight corruption and will never shy away from tackling illegal behavior in government.” The statement did not directly address the Kaloyeros case.</p> <p>

***
by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

Read more by this writer.

</p>
In Retrial, Sheldon Silver Again Found Guilty on All Counts 2018-05-10T04:00:00+00:00 2018-05-10T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7667-sheldon-silver-retrial-in-jury-s-hands Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/silver_2011.jpg" alt="Sheldon Shelly Silver" width="600" height="372" /></p> <p>Sheldon Silver and other state leaders in 2011 (photo via the Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was found guilty Friday on all seven federal corruption charges he faced, ending a retrial spurred by a United States Supreme Court ruling that changed the definition of public corruption, which led to Silver's prior convictions being vacated and prosecutors from the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York seeking a new chance to convict the man who was for decades one of New York's most powerful elected officials.</p> <p>In recognizing the outcome, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said Silver "took an oath to act in the best interests of the people of New York State. As a unanimous jury found, he sold his public office for private greed."</p> <p>Silver was convicted of fraud, extortion, and money laundering, among other charges.</p> <p>In a very brief statement reacting to the verdict, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Friday, "The justice system shows no one is above the law."</p> <p>But during a Sunday appearance on NY1 television, Cuomo was asked about Silver's conviction and how it connects to other top government officials who have been found guilty of corruption, including Cuomo's own former top aide, Joseph Percoco.</p> <p>"I think the common thread is...that people will do bad, stupid, criminal, venal things. And that's society. It's state government, it's local government, it's the federal government, it's the private sector," Cuomo said. "The question is do we have a system in place that finds it and corrects it? And we do. We should have, take confidence in that. Eric Schneiderman resigned the office. I went, moved very quickly to give my position which is that kind of behavior doesn't justify remaining in office and I called on him to resign. We then appointed a special prosecutor to make sure there is no conflict, no perception of conflict. And that's Madeline Singas who is the Nassau County District Attorney and a very experienced, proficient prosecutor in just these areas. So, my point is, will people do bad things? Yes. That goes back to Adam and Eve. Do we have a criminal justice system in place that says nobody is beyond the law or above the law? Yes, we do. And that's why we moved so quickly for special persecutor on Eric Schneiderman who was the Attorney General. Top law enforcement officer in the state. And justice will be done and that's how the system works and were going to make sure it works that way."</p> <p><em>More from our Thursday story on the closing arguments in the Silver retrial case:</em></p> <p>The retrial of former State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on federal corruption charges neared a close on Thursday, with the jury beginning deliberations late in the day.</p> <p>Silver, a Democrat representing Lower Manhattan who was for years a pillar of New York politics, was convicted in 2016 on charges of honest services fraud, extortion under the color of official right, and money laundering in connection with two separate pay-to-play schemes. He was later sentenced to 12 years in prison, but his conviction was overturned after the Supreme Court’s decision in a separate corruption case redefined what constituted an “official act” that an elected official would have to take in exchange for money or services in order to be guilty of abusing their office. The vacated conviction prompted a retrial.</p> <p>In federal district court in Manhattan on Thursday, prosecution and defense attorneys made their closing arguments to the jury, recapping a week-and-a-half long trial that saw 26 witnesses testify and a mountain of evidence presented. Like in the initial trial, Silver did not take the stand in his own defense. The case was argued this time by different prosecutors, as there has been significant turnover in the office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York since Silver was first charged under the leadership of then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.</p> <p>Over the course of nearly three hours, assistant U.S. Attorney Tatiana Martins laid out the case against Silver, detailing the two schemes that he used to enrich himself. For the most part, both the prosecution and the defense agree on the details of the case, but only the prosecution believes Silver’s behavior was illegal.</p> <p>“What the defendant did to line his own pockets wasn’t just wrong, it was criminal,” Martins said.</p> <p>Both schemes, Martins noted, involved the same modus operandi -- referrals for cash. In the first scheme, Dr. Robert Taub, a former Columbia University researcher who was a prominent witness at the trial, directed mesothelioma patients to Silver who then referred them to his law firm, Weitz &amp; Luxenberg, for hefty referral fees -- totalling $3 million for 48 patient referrals. In exchange, Silver directed $500,000 in state grants to Taub’s clinic and took other actions favoring Taub’s family. “Dr. Taub was Sheldon Silver’s golden goose and Sheldon Silver did whatever it took to keep getting Dr. Taub’s golden eggs,” Martins said, in outlining the alleged quid-pro-quo.</p> <p>The second scheme involved Silver nudging two real estate firms -- Glenwood Management and the Witkoff group -- to send business towards a law firm, Goldberg &amp; Iryami, which gave a 25 percent cut of the money to Silver, about $800,000 in total. In turn, Silver allegedly used his office to advance legislation and approve massive state tax credits that benefited the firms.</p> <p>Silver faces three charges from each of the cases -- honest services wire fraud, honest services mail fraud, and extortion under the color of official right. He also faces a seventh charge of money laundering, stemming from his use of his allegedly ill-gotten gains to invest in blue chip stocks.</p> <p>Silver corrupted his office, Martins said, “turning his official power into a cash cow to line his own pockets.” She noted that Silver repeatedly lied about these various sources of income, failing to report it on annual disclosure forms required of state legislators. And she insisted that the defense’s arguments were a “red herring” meant to distract the jury.</p> <p>“This is bribery, this is extortion,” she concluded, “This is corruption. This is the real thing. Don’t let it stand.”</p> <p>Silver’s defense attorney, Michael Feldberg, sought to poke holes through the prosecution’s theory, broadly insisting that Silver’s actions were far from violating the law. “It is perfectly legal for New York Assembly members to earn outside income,” he pointed out in his closing.</p> <p>In both schemes, Feldberg insisted that Silver was simply earning income as a lawyer, which was declared on his disclosure forms, and that referral fees for the type of work Silver was doing are a “common, standard and accepted” practice in the field. New Yorkers may not like some of the practices involved, Feldberg argued, but that does not mean they are illegal.</p> <p>Feldberg insisted that none of the witnesses testified to the existence of a quid-pro-quo arrangement in either scheme. He said Silver and Taub were close friends and that their relationship “wasn’t purely transactional,” rebutting the prosecution’s claims. And he insisted that in the real estate scheme, neither firm was aware that Silver was receiving referral fees, “so they couldn’t have been bribing him.”</p> <p>“We’re not arguing that Shelly is a perfect man...We’re not arguing that he’s a saint,” he said, impressing upon the jury that even if Silver’s actions were “unseemly,” they were not enough to find him guilty.</p> <p>Following a relatively short rebuttal from the prosecution, Judge Valerie Caproni read the charges to the jury, which then headed into deliberations briefly before the day was over. Jury deliberations will continue on Friday.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/silver_2011.jpg" alt="Sheldon Shelly Silver" width="600" height="372" /></p> <p>Sheldon Silver and other state leaders in 2011 (photo via the Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was found guilty Friday on all seven federal corruption charges he faced, ending a retrial spurred by a United States Supreme Court ruling that changed the definition of public corruption, which led to Silver's prior convictions being vacated and prosecutors from the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York seeking a new chance to convict the man who was for decades one of New York's most powerful elected officials.</p> <p>In recognizing the outcome, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said Silver "took an oath to act in the best interests of the people of New York State. As a unanimous jury found, he sold his public office for private greed."</p> <p>Silver was convicted of fraud, extortion, and money laundering, among other charges.</p> <p>In a very brief statement reacting to the verdict, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Friday, "The justice system shows no one is above the law."</p> <p>But during a Sunday appearance on NY1 television, Cuomo was asked about Silver's conviction and how it connects to other top government officials who have been found guilty of corruption, including Cuomo's own former top aide, Joseph Percoco.</p> <p>"I think the common thread is...that people will do bad, stupid, criminal, venal things. And that's society. It's state government, it's local government, it's the federal government, it's the private sector," Cuomo said. "The question is do we have a system in place that finds it and corrects it? And we do. We should have, take confidence in that. Eric Schneiderman resigned the office. I went, moved very quickly to give my position which is that kind of behavior doesn't justify remaining in office and I called on him to resign. We then appointed a special prosecutor to make sure there is no conflict, no perception of conflict. And that's Madeline Singas who is the Nassau County District Attorney and a very experienced, proficient prosecutor in just these areas. So, my point is, will people do bad things? Yes. That goes back to Adam and Eve. Do we have a criminal justice system in place that says nobody is beyond the law or above the law? Yes, we do. And that's why we moved so quickly for special persecutor on Eric Schneiderman who was the Attorney General. Top law enforcement officer in the state. And justice will be done and that's how the system works and were going to make sure it works that way."</p> <p><em>More from our Thursday story on the closing arguments in the Silver retrial case:</em></p> <p>The retrial of former State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on federal corruption charges neared a close on Thursday, with the jury beginning deliberations late in the day.</p> <p>Silver, a Democrat representing Lower Manhattan who was for years a pillar of New York politics, was convicted in 2016 on charges of honest services fraud, extortion under the color of official right, and money laundering in connection with two separate pay-to-play schemes. He was later sentenced to 12 years in prison, but his conviction was overturned after the Supreme Court’s decision in a separate corruption case redefined what constituted an “official act” that an elected official would have to take in exchange for money or services in order to be guilty of abusing their office. The vacated conviction prompted a retrial.</p> <p>In federal district court in Manhattan on Thursday, prosecution and defense attorneys made their closing arguments to the jury, recapping a week-and-a-half long trial that saw 26 witnesses testify and a mountain of evidence presented. Like in the initial trial, Silver did not take the stand in his own defense. The case was argued this time by different prosecutors, as there has been significant turnover in the office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York since Silver was first charged under the leadership of then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.</p> <p>Over the course of nearly three hours, assistant U.S. Attorney Tatiana Martins laid out the case against Silver, detailing the two schemes that he used to enrich himself. For the most part, both the prosecution and the defense agree on the details of the case, but only the prosecution believes Silver’s behavior was illegal.</p> <p>“What the defendant did to line his own pockets wasn’t just wrong, it was criminal,” Martins said.</p> <p>Both schemes, Martins noted, involved the same modus operandi -- referrals for cash. In the first scheme, Dr. Robert Taub, a former Columbia University researcher who was a prominent witness at the trial, directed mesothelioma patients to Silver who then referred them to his law firm, Weitz &amp; Luxenberg, for hefty referral fees -- totalling $3 million for 48 patient referrals. In exchange, Silver directed $500,000 in state grants to Taub’s clinic and took other actions favoring Taub’s family. “Dr. Taub was Sheldon Silver’s golden goose and Sheldon Silver did whatever it took to keep getting Dr. Taub’s golden eggs,” Martins said, in outlining the alleged quid-pro-quo.</p> <p>The second scheme involved Silver nudging two real estate firms -- Glenwood Management and the Witkoff group -- to send business towards a law firm, Goldberg &amp; Iryami, which gave a 25 percent cut of the money to Silver, about $800,000 in total. In turn, Silver allegedly used his office to advance legislation and approve massive state tax credits that benefited the firms.</p> <p>Silver faces three charges from each of the cases -- honest services wire fraud, honest services mail fraud, and extortion under the color of official right. He also faces a seventh charge of money laundering, stemming from his use of his allegedly ill-gotten gains to invest in blue chip stocks.</p> <p>Silver corrupted his office, Martins said, “turning his official power into a cash cow to line his own pockets.” She noted that Silver repeatedly lied about these various sources of income, failing to report it on annual disclosure forms required of state legislators. And she insisted that the defense’s arguments were a “red herring” meant to distract the jury.</p> <p>“This is bribery, this is extortion,” she concluded, “This is corruption. This is the real thing. Don’t let it stand.”</p> <p>Silver’s defense attorney, Michael Feldberg, sought to poke holes through the prosecution’s theory, broadly insisting that Silver’s actions were far from violating the law. “It is perfectly legal for New York Assembly members to earn outside income,” he pointed out in his closing.</p> <p>In both schemes, Feldberg insisted that Silver was simply earning income as a lawyer, which was declared on his disclosure forms, and that referral fees for the type of work Silver was doing are a “common, standard and accepted” practice in the field. New Yorkers may not like some of the practices involved, Feldberg argued, but that does not mean they are illegal.</p> <p>Feldberg insisted that none of the witnesses testified to the existence of a quid-pro-quo arrangement in either scheme. He said Silver and Taub were close friends and that their relationship “wasn’t purely transactional,” rebutting the prosecution’s claims. And he insisted that in the real estate scheme, neither firm was aware that Silver was receiving referral fees, “so they couldn’t have been bribing him.”</p> <p>“We’re not arguing that Shelly is a perfect man...We’re not arguing that he’s a saint,” he said, impressing upon the jury that even if Silver’s actions were “unseemly,” they were not enough to find him guilty.</p> <p>Following a relatively short rebuttal from the prosecution, Judge Valerie Caproni read the charges to the jury, which then headed into deliberations briefly before the day was over. Jury deliberations will continue on Friday.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Post-Percoco Conviction, Kaloyeros Trial Likely to Further Stain Cuomo Administration 2018-03-21T04:00:00+00:00 2018-03-21T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7558-post-percoco-conviction-kaloyeros-trial-likely-to-further-stain-cuomo-administration Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/25944005563_4e277f7372_z_2.jpg" alt="Alain Kaloyeros" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Alain Kaloyeros (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Following the recent conviction of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s longtime aide Joseph Percoco on corruption charges – a humiliating blow for a governor who once campaigned on a promise to reform Albany – Cuomo quickly sought to shift attention from the executive to the legislative branch.</p> <p>A day after Percoco was convicted of fraud and soliciting bribes, Cuomo called for ethics reform – in the Assembly and Senate.</p> <p>“The single best ethics reform, which makes everything else moot, is no outside income in government,” he <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2018/03/15/andrew-cuomo-speaks-publicly-for-first-time-about-joe-percoco-guilty-verdict" target="_blank" rel="noopener">said</a>, pointing to the State Legislature. Jobs there are considered part-time and outside income is allowed, though the Percoco trial had nothing to do with legislators’ outside income.</p> <p>Cuomo called Percoco’s behavior an “aberration” for those in his administration, and said he himself was not mentioned at the trial; in fact, Cuomo’s name or title was invoked hundreds of times. The governor has sought to quickly put the Percoco news behind him, though there are a number of unanswered questions about what Cuomo either allowed to occur under his watch, didn’t know about, or empowered Percoco to do.</p> <p>Just on the horizon, too, is the trial of Alain Kaloyeros, scheduled to start June 18, proceedings sure to raise further questions about the governor’s leadership and deepen the stain on the Cuomo administration. Valerie Caproni, the same judge who presided over the Percoco trial, will oversee the Kaloyeros case.</p> <p>Kaloyeros, the eccentric scientist whom Cuomo empowered to lead key parts of his Buffalo Billion revitalization initiative, is accused of bid-rigging to help developers who donated to the Cuomo campaign. Expect the trial -- which also includes alleged Kaloyeros co-conspirators -- to reveal even more damning details about how members of Cuomo’s inner circle doled out hundreds of millions of dollars through Buffalo Billion.</p> <p>Cuomo announced the initiative in 2012 in hopes of revitalizing the western New York city’s struggling economy.</p> <p>“The billion dollars was important for shock and awe value,” <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/21/business/energy-environment/the-wind-and-sun-are-bringing-the-shine-back-to-buffalo.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the governor said</a> as Buffalo Billion projects got underway. “They were so down, and they had heard everything for so long, and they were so distrustful that I needed to say something that would actually get their attention and allow them to think, ‘Maybe it’s different this time.’”</p> <p>Though the biggest Buffalo Billion project, a solar panel factory called SolarCity, is at the center of the Kaloyeros trial, Cuomo recently launched a sequel called <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7353-with-phase-one-going-on-trial-cuomo-s-buffalo-investment-moves-ahead-with-changes-and-broken-reform-promises" target="_blank">Buffalo Billion II</a> that will focus on small- and medium-sized manufacturers.</p> <p>The Kaloyeros trial could shed more light on an alleged pay-to-play culture in which developers were rewarded after donating to the governor, a key aspect of the Percoco trial.</p> <p>Further, for all the attention Kaloyeros received during his years as a flamboyant tech-industry pioneer, there’s the question of why he allegedly helped rig bids to ensure major campaign contributors won state contracts – without being accused of taking bribes himself. The trial might provide answers about that, too.</p> <p>The federal corruption investigation prompted Kaloyeros to resign as president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute in October. Prior to the scandal, he had gained notice for bringing expensive tech projects to the state starting during the Pataki administration. Kaloyeros’ ostentatious public profile, replete with luxury sports cars and <a href="http://gothamist.com/2015/10/08/highly_paid_state_worker.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">awkward social media posts</a>, drew bemused coverage from newspapers; The New York Times <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/26/nyregion/public-lives-behind-a-research-center-a-geek-with-great-cars.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">dubbed him</a> “a dapper dervish of a scientist” in 2002. His knack for persuading huge companies to invest in the state led Cuomo to <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/suny-polytechnic-president-alain-kaloyeros-resigns-1476208617" target="_blank" rel="noopener">call him</a> “the closest thing to a genius I’ve ever worked with.”</p> <p>For his part, Kaloyeros was never modest about his work.</p> <p>“The job requires being a scientist, being a psychiatrist, being a priest, being a cop, being a negotiator, being a business developer or manager, being a teacher, being an adviser and being an ego-kisser,” he <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/23/nyregion/physicist-in-albany-corruption-case-was-a-geek-with-big-goals.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">said in 2011</a>. “I’d like to think I do all of them very well.”</p> <p>John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, said Kaloyeros “stands out as a much more independent figure than Percoco.”</p> <p>“He had his own aspirations as an empire-builder and his own vision of these gigantic multibillion-dollar chip factories that were going to spur a manufacturing renaissance,” Kaehny explained.</p> <p>Kaloyeros allegedly collaborated with Albany insider Todd Howe, who made a plea deal in the Kaloyeros and Percoco cases, to rig bidding for hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of state contracts.</p> <p>The <a href="https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/file/895131/download" target="_blank" rel="noopener">indictment</a> from the U.S Attorney for the Southern District of New York describes a scheme in which two companies – COR Development and LP Ciminelli – paid thousands of dollars in bribes to Howe. In exchange, he and Kaloyeros allegedly ensured that the developers won a range of lucrative contracts – a $15 million film studio and a $90 million manufacturing plant for COR Development; and a $225 million solar panel plant for LPCiminelli, with the cost eventually rising to $750 million, according to the indictment. All of it came from taxpayer dollars allocated toward Cuomo’s signature economic development programs.</p> <p>Last week, COR Development’s President Steven Aiello <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7539-joseph-percoco-former-top-cuomo-aide-convicted-on-3-felony-counts" target="_blank">was found guilty</a> of his role in the Percoco case, while the company’s general counsel Joseph Gerardi was found not guilty. LP Ciminelli executives did not face charges in that trial. The dollar figures in the Kaloyeros trial are much larger than those in the Percoco matter. The program at play, Buffalo Billion, is inextricable from Cuomo’s record as governor, unlike anything involved in the Percoco trial – except Peroco himself and the state’s porous campaign finance system.</p> <p>The indictment notes that Kaloyeros hired Howe as a consultant at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE), which later became SUNY Polytechnic, as the college was crafting requests for proposals for the development projects in 2013. COR Development and LP Ciminelli allegedly made its bribes to Howe, disguised as consultancy payments and bonuses, around the same time.</p> <p>The nature of the relationship between the scientist and the former lobbyist, a <a href="http://www.syracuse.com/state/index.ssf/2018/02/todd_howe_lobbyist_with_millions_in_state_projects_helped_shape_cuomo_dream_team.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">longtime Cuomo ally and operator</a> in the upper echelons of state government in spite of a 2010 bank fraud conviction, &nbsp;could come into sharper focus during the upcoming trial.</p> <p>“The question is why exactly did Kaloyeros hire Howe, what was Howe’s role and what was Howe telling Kaloyeros to do?” said Kaehny, whose organization closely monitors state government spending. “That’s what we’ll be looking for.”</p> <p>It is also not entirely clear what Kaloyeros, who was not charged with receiving bribes himself, hoped to get out of the alleged scheme. Mention of Kaloyeros’ possible motives is limited to a single sentence in the 79-page indictment:</p> <p>“For his part in the scheme, Kaloyeros was able to maintain his leadership position and substantial salary at CNSE and garner support from the Office of the Governor for projects important to him, including the creation of SUNY Poly.”</p> <p>Blair Horner, executive director of NYPIRG, another good government group, speculated that Kaloyeros’ role in the alleged scheme could come down to love of his work.</p> <p>“He was the highest paid staff person in the state, probably in the history of the state,” Horner said, referring to Kaloyeros’ combined annual salary of more than $800,000. “It wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out he loved what he was doing and did not want to lose it,” he added, emphasizing that the charges remain to be proven.</p> <p>Thus far into the corruption scandal, both prosecutors and journalists have mostly focused on the alleged bribery, the players involved, and their ties to Cuomo.</p> <p>But the investigation also raises questions about apparent favoritism for developers who gave big to Cuomo’s campaign accounts.</p> <p>The indictment notes that Howe and Kaloyeros allegedly began crafting bids to favor COR Development and LP Ciminelli in 2013, after the governor had launched his <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7353-with-phase-one-going-on-trial-cuomo-s-buffalo-investment-moves-ahead-with-changes-and-broken-reform-promises" target="_blank">Buffalo Billion initiative</a> and executives from the companies “had each made sizable contributions to the Governor.”</p> <p>The indictment does not detail the contributions, and none of the federal charges against Kaloyeros or the other defendants appear to directly stem from campaign finance law.</p> <p>However, the investigations prompted Cuomo’s reelection campaign to “set aside” a total of roughly $350,000 in contributions from COR Development and LP Ciminelli. Last fall, a Democratic official <a href="https://www.lohud.com/story/news/politics/politics-on-the-hudson/2016/09/27/dinapoli-returning-campaign-cash-developers/91181440/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told lohud.com</a> the move would enable authorities to recover the funds, pending the outcome of the trials.</p> <p>Discussing COR Development and LP Ciminelli’s campaign contributions, Kaehny said, “It’s fairly shocking that a business or a group could donate essentially unlimited amounts of money to the governor and legislature while they’re trying to get state contracts or state grants.”</p> <p>“The [Percoco] trial spotlights state laws that are so weak that what’s unethical is legal,” he added. New York State has no “doing business” restrictions on campaign donations. In New York City, entities on the “doing business” list are limited to about $400 in donations to an individual candidate.</p> <p>Government watchdogs, and a few elected officials, hope the trials will give renewed momentum to long-stalled proposals for <a href="https://www.nypirg.org/pubs/201803/percoco.pdf">a range of reforms</a>.</p> <p>“I think the most important questions are ones not only about how the state can prevent future wrongdoing, but also what investments make sense for the state going forward, which may or may not come out” of the trials, said David Friedfel, director of state studies for the Citizens Budget Commission. Corruption or not, there have been ongoing questions about the Cuomo approach to economic development spending.</p> <p>Reinvent Albany, NYPIRG, and other watchdogs have long called for tighter controls on campaign contributions, including closing the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5684:left-out-of-ethics-deal-llc-loophole-faces-renewed-scrutiny" target="_blank">so-called LLC loophole</a>, which featured prominently during the Percoco trial. It emerged that developers were encouraged to donate heavily to Cuomo, through several limited liability corporations that would help mask the contributors.</p> <p>Good government groups also emphasize the need for greater transparency for state spending, through measures like restoring the state comptroller’s <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7007-with-session-ending-and-trial-looming-no-legislative-response-to-bid-rigging-scandal" target="_blank">power to pre-approve contracts</a>. Cuomo and legislative leaders took away that power in 2011.</p> <p>Additionally, watchdogs hope the trials will boost support of a proposed <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7542-sunlight-for-subsidies" target="_blank">“Database of Deals”</a> that would list all state projects awarded to companies and detail the return on investment to taxpayers.</p> <p>Robin Schimminger introduced the Assembly bill to create the database. Asked about Percoco’s recent conviction and the upcoming Kaloyeros trial, the Buffalo-area Democrat took a wide view.</p> <p>“The most important thing is that when people serve in government, they have a moral compass,” he said. “If people don’t have that compass, they’re going to go astray.</p> <p>“However, there are things the state could and should be doing to deter and make it more difficult for those actions to occur. Those are actions that enhance transparency and accountability.”</p> <p>While Cuomo has a long list of ethics reforms again in his platform this year, including closure of the LLC loophole, he has not been outspoken in pushing for them.</p> <p>The governor’s campaign finances will again be on the stand, so to speak, during the Kaloyeros trial, which will begin as election season is heating up, with spring party nominating conventions.</p> <p>Cynthia Nixon’s dramatic entrance into the gubernatorial race, challenging Cuomo in this year’s Democratic primary, included a focus on corruption. She named Percoco from the podium at her launch event in Brooklyn on Tuesday, leveling a variety of blistering criticism at the governor.</p> <p>Nixon is likely to have ample opportunity to connect Cuomo to the trial, as will other gubernatorial candidates, like expected Republican nominee Marc Molinaro, currently Dutchess County Executive.</p> <p>Whatever the long-term consequences of the Kaloyeros trial, observers expect it to go more smoothly than the Percoco case, in which jurors were deadlocked twice before reaching guilty verdicts on some of the counts.</p> <p>Discussing the Kaloyeros case, Kaehny said, “It’s simpler, more straightforward, and the email evidence is quite strong in favor of the prosecution.”</p> <p>

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by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this article.</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated to reflet the Kaloyeros trial being moved back one week, to a June 18 start.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/25944005563_4e277f7372_z_2.jpg" alt="Alain Kaloyeros" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Alain Kaloyeros (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Following the recent conviction of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s longtime aide Joseph Percoco on corruption charges – a humiliating blow for a governor who once campaigned on a promise to reform Albany – Cuomo quickly sought to shift attention from the executive to the legislative branch.</p> <p>A day after Percoco was convicted of fraud and soliciting bribes, Cuomo called for ethics reform – in the Assembly and Senate.</p> <p>“The single best ethics reform, which makes everything else moot, is no outside income in government,” he <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2018/03/15/andrew-cuomo-speaks-publicly-for-first-time-about-joe-percoco-guilty-verdict" target="_blank" rel="noopener">said</a>, pointing to the State Legislature. Jobs there are considered part-time and outside income is allowed, though the Percoco trial had nothing to do with legislators’ outside income.</p> <p>Cuomo called Percoco’s behavior an “aberration” for those in his administration, and said he himself was not mentioned at the trial; in fact, Cuomo’s name or title was invoked hundreds of times. The governor has sought to quickly put the Percoco news behind him, though there are a number of unanswered questions about what Cuomo either allowed to occur under his watch, didn’t know about, or empowered Percoco to do.</p> <p>Just on the horizon, too, is the trial of Alain Kaloyeros, scheduled to start June 18, proceedings sure to raise further questions about the governor’s leadership and deepen the stain on the Cuomo administration. Valerie Caproni, the same judge who presided over the Percoco trial, will oversee the Kaloyeros case.</p> <p>Kaloyeros, the eccentric scientist whom Cuomo empowered to lead key parts of his Buffalo Billion revitalization initiative, is accused of bid-rigging to help developers who donated to the Cuomo campaign. Expect the trial -- which also includes alleged Kaloyeros co-conspirators -- to reveal even more damning details about how members of Cuomo’s inner circle doled out hundreds of millions of dollars through Buffalo Billion.</p> <p>Cuomo announced the initiative in 2012 in hopes of revitalizing the western New York city’s struggling economy.</p> <p>“The billion dollars was important for shock and awe value,” <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/21/business/energy-environment/the-wind-and-sun-are-bringing-the-shine-back-to-buffalo.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the governor said</a> as Buffalo Billion projects got underway. “They were so down, and they had heard everything for so long, and they were so distrustful that I needed to say something that would actually get their attention and allow them to think, ‘Maybe it’s different this time.’”</p> <p>Though the biggest Buffalo Billion project, a solar panel factory called SolarCity, is at the center of the Kaloyeros trial, Cuomo recently launched a sequel called <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7353-with-phase-one-going-on-trial-cuomo-s-buffalo-investment-moves-ahead-with-changes-and-broken-reform-promises" target="_blank">Buffalo Billion II</a> that will focus on small- and medium-sized manufacturers.</p> <p>The Kaloyeros trial could shed more light on an alleged pay-to-play culture in which developers were rewarded after donating to the governor, a key aspect of the Percoco trial.</p> <p>Further, for all the attention Kaloyeros received during his years as a flamboyant tech-industry pioneer, there’s the question of why he allegedly helped rig bids to ensure major campaign contributors won state contracts – without being accused of taking bribes himself. The trial might provide answers about that, too.</p> <p>The federal corruption investigation prompted Kaloyeros to resign as president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute in October. Prior to the scandal, he had gained notice for bringing expensive tech projects to the state starting during the Pataki administration. Kaloyeros’ ostentatious public profile, replete with luxury sports cars and <a href="http://gothamist.com/2015/10/08/highly_paid_state_worker.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">awkward social media posts</a>, drew bemused coverage from newspapers; The New York Times <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/26/nyregion/public-lives-behind-a-research-center-a-geek-with-great-cars.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">dubbed him</a> “a dapper dervish of a scientist” in 2002. His knack for persuading huge companies to invest in the state led Cuomo to <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/suny-polytechnic-president-alain-kaloyeros-resigns-1476208617" target="_blank" rel="noopener">call him</a> “the closest thing to a genius I’ve ever worked with.”</p> <p>For his part, Kaloyeros was never modest about his work.</p> <p>“The job requires being a scientist, being a psychiatrist, being a priest, being a cop, being a negotiator, being a business developer or manager, being a teacher, being an adviser and being an ego-kisser,” he <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/23/nyregion/physicist-in-albany-corruption-case-was-a-geek-with-big-goals.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">said in 2011</a>. “I’d like to think I do all of them very well.”</p> <p>John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, said Kaloyeros “stands out as a much more independent figure than Percoco.”</p> <p>“He had his own aspirations as an empire-builder and his own vision of these gigantic multibillion-dollar chip factories that were going to spur a manufacturing renaissance,” Kaehny explained.</p> <p>Kaloyeros allegedly collaborated with Albany insider Todd Howe, who made a plea deal in the Kaloyeros and Percoco cases, to rig bidding for hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of state contracts.</p> <p>The <a href="https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/file/895131/download" target="_blank" rel="noopener">indictment</a> from the U.S Attorney for the Southern District of New York describes a scheme in which two companies – COR Development and LP Ciminelli – paid thousands of dollars in bribes to Howe. In exchange, he and Kaloyeros allegedly ensured that the developers won a range of lucrative contracts – a $15 million film studio and a $90 million manufacturing plant for COR Development; and a $225 million solar panel plant for LPCiminelli, with the cost eventually rising to $750 million, according to the indictment. All of it came from taxpayer dollars allocated toward Cuomo’s signature economic development programs.</p> <p>Last week, COR Development’s President Steven Aiello <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7539-joseph-percoco-former-top-cuomo-aide-convicted-on-3-felony-counts" target="_blank">was found guilty</a> of his role in the Percoco case, while the company’s general counsel Joseph Gerardi was found not guilty. LP Ciminelli executives did not face charges in that trial. The dollar figures in the Kaloyeros trial are much larger than those in the Percoco matter. The program at play, Buffalo Billion, is inextricable from Cuomo’s record as governor, unlike anything involved in the Percoco trial – except Peroco himself and the state’s porous campaign finance system.</p> <p>The indictment notes that Kaloyeros hired Howe as a consultant at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE), which later became SUNY Polytechnic, as the college was crafting requests for proposals for the development projects in 2013. COR Development and LP Ciminelli allegedly made its bribes to Howe, disguised as consultancy payments and bonuses, around the same time.</p> <p>The nature of the relationship between the scientist and the former lobbyist, a <a href="http://www.syracuse.com/state/index.ssf/2018/02/todd_howe_lobbyist_with_millions_in_state_projects_helped_shape_cuomo_dream_team.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">longtime Cuomo ally and operator</a> in the upper echelons of state government in spite of a 2010 bank fraud conviction, &nbsp;could come into sharper focus during the upcoming trial.</p> <p>“The question is why exactly did Kaloyeros hire Howe, what was Howe’s role and what was Howe telling Kaloyeros to do?” said Kaehny, whose organization closely monitors state government spending. “That’s what we’ll be looking for.”</p> <p>It is also not entirely clear what Kaloyeros, who was not charged with receiving bribes himself, hoped to get out of the alleged scheme. Mention of Kaloyeros’ possible motives is limited to a single sentence in the 79-page indictment:</p> <p>“For his part in the scheme, Kaloyeros was able to maintain his leadership position and substantial salary at CNSE and garner support from the Office of the Governor for projects important to him, including the creation of SUNY Poly.”</p> <p>Blair Horner, executive director of NYPIRG, another good government group, speculated that Kaloyeros’ role in the alleged scheme could come down to love of his work.</p> <p>“He was the highest paid staff person in the state, probably in the history of the state,” Horner said, referring to Kaloyeros’ combined annual salary of more than $800,000. “It wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out he loved what he was doing and did not want to lose it,” he added, emphasizing that the charges remain to be proven.</p> <p>Thus far into the corruption scandal, both prosecutors and journalists have mostly focused on the alleged bribery, the players involved, and their ties to Cuomo.</p> <p>But the investigation also raises questions about apparent favoritism for developers who gave big to Cuomo’s campaign accounts.</p> <p>The indictment notes that Howe and Kaloyeros allegedly began crafting bids to favor COR Development and LP Ciminelli in 2013, after the governor had launched his <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7353-with-phase-one-going-on-trial-cuomo-s-buffalo-investment-moves-ahead-with-changes-and-broken-reform-promises" target="_blank">Buffalo Billion initiative</a> and executives from the companies “had each made sizable contributions to the Governor.”</p> <p>The indictment does not detail the contributions, and none of the federal charges against Kaloyeros or the other defendants appear to directly stem from campaign finance law.</p> <p>However, the investigations prompted Cuomo’s reelection campaign to “set aside” a total of roughly $350,000 in contributions from COR Development and LP Ciminelli. Last fall, a Democratic official <a href="https://www.lohud.com/story/news/politics/politics-on-the-hudson/2016/09/27/dinapoli-returning-campaign-cash-developers/91181440/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told lohud.com</a> the move would enable authorities to recover the funds, pending the outcome of the trials.</p> <p>Discussing COR Development and LP Ciminelli’s campaign contributions, Kaehny said, “It’s fairly shocking that a business or a group could donate essentially unlimited amounts of money to the governor and legislature while they’re trying to get state contracts or state grants.”</p> <p>“The [Percoco] trial spotlights state laws that are so weak that what’s unethical is legal,” he added. New York State has no “doing business” restrictions on campaign donations. In New York City, entities on the “doing business” list are limited to about $400 in donations to an individual candidate.</p> <p>Government watchdogs, and a few elected officials, hope the trials will give renewed momentum to long-stalled proposals for <a href="https://www.nypirg.org/pubs/201803/percoco.pdf">a range of reforms</a>.</p> <p>“I think the most important questions are ones not only about how the state can prevent future wrongdoing, but also what investments make sense for the state going forward, which may or may not come out” of the trials, said David Friedfel, director of state studies for the Citizens Budget Commission. Corruption or not, there have been ongoing questions about the Cuomo approach to economic development spending.</p> <p>Reinvent Albany, NYPIRG, and other watchdogs have long called for tighter controls on campaign contributions, including closing the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5684:left-out-of-ethics-deal-llc-loophole-faces-renewed-scrutiny" target="_blank">so-called LLC loophole</a>, which featured prominently during the Percoco trial. It emerged that developers were encouraged to donate heavily to Cuomo, through several limited liability corporations that would help mask the contributors.</p> <p>Good government groups also emphasize the need for greater transparency for state spending, through measures like restoring the state comptroller’s <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7007-with-session-ending-and-trial-looming-no-legislative-response-to-bid-rigging-scandal" target="_blank">power to pre-approve contracts</a>. Cuomo and legislative leaders took away that power in 2011.</p> <p>Additionally, watchdogs hope the trials will boost support of a proposed <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7542-sunlight-for-subsidies" target="_blank">“Database of Deals”</a> that would list all state projects awarded to companies and detail the return on investment to taxpayers.</p> <p>Robin Schimminger introduced the Assembly bill to create the database. Asked about Percoco’s recent conviction and the upcoming Kaloyeros trial, the Buffalo-area Democrat took a wide view.</p> <p>“The most important thing is that when people serve in government, they have a moral compass,” he said. “If people don’t have that compass, they’re going to go astray.</p> <p>“However, there are things the state could and should be doing to deter and make it more difficult for those actions to occur. Those are actions that enhance transparency and accountability.”</p> <p>While Cuomo has a long list of ethics reforms again in his platform this year, including closure of the LLC loophole, he has not been outspoken in pushing for them.</p> <p>The governor’s campaign finances will again be on the stand, so to speak, during the Kaloyeros trial, which will begin as election season is heating up, with spring party nominating conventions.</p> <p>Cynthia Nixon’s dramatic entrance into the gubernatorial race, challenging Cuomo in this year’s Democratic primary, included a focus on corruption. She named Percoco from the podium at her launch event in Brooklyn on Tuesday, leveling a variety of blistering criticism at the governor.</p> <p>Nixon is likely to have ample opportunity to connect Cuomo to the trial, as will other gubernatorial candidates, like expected Republican nominee Marc Molinaro, currently Dutchess County Executive.</p> <p>Whatever the long-term consequences of the Kaloyeros trial, observers expect it to go more smoothly than the Percoco case, in which jurors were deadlocked twice before reaching guilty verdicts on some of the counts.</p> <p>Discussing the Kaloyeros case, Kaehny said, “It’s simpler, more straightforward, and the email evidence is quite strong in favor of the prosecution.”</p> <p>

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by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this article.</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated to reflet the Kaloyeros trial being moved back one week, to a June 18 start.</p>
Joseph Percoco, Former Top Cuomo Aide, Convicted of Fraud, Soliciting Bribes 2018-03-13T04:00:00+00:00 2018-03-13T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7539-joseph-percoco-former-top-cuomo-aide-convicted-on-3-felony-counts Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/percoco-lawyer-steps-of-courthouse.jpg" alt="percoco lawyer steps of courthouse" width="600" height="436" /></p> <p>Joe Percoco behind his lawyer (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>The jury in the federal corruption trial of Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo, returned with a verdict on Tuesday, finding Percoco guilty of two counts of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and one count of soliciting bribes, charges related to a pair of bribery and bid-rigging schemes involving firms seeking to do business with the state. Percoco was also found not guilty on three charges he was facing.</p> <p>Over the course of more than seven weeks, the Percoco trial laid bare the inner workings of the state government and the lax regulations around government ethics and election financing. Prosecutors also touched on the functioning of the executive chamber, though no allegations of illegal wrongdoing were brought against Governor Andrew Cuomo, who once referred to his longtime friend Percoco as his father’s “third son.”</p> <p>After closing arguments last week, the jury deliberated for eight days -- and deadlocked twice -- before coming to a mixed verdict. In total, there were ten felony counts against Percoco and three co-defendants, upstate business executives who allegedly paid Percoco more than $300,000 for his help in getting favorable treatment from the state government. Former lobbyist Todd Howe, the government’s star witness in the case, pleaded guilty to facilitating the bribes to Percoco along with seven other felony counts related to the schemes.</p> <p>One of the bribery schemes involved the real estate developer COR Development and its executives, Joseph Gerardi and Steven Aiello, who were accused of bribing Percoco for assistance with labor unions on a real estate project as well as to obtain a raise for Aiello’s son. Both men faced charges of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, paying bribes to Peroco and making false statements to federal investigators. Although Gerardi was found not guilty of all three charges, Aiello was found guilty on the conspiracy charge.</p> <p>The jury also deadlocked on two charges against Peter Galbraith Kelly, an executive from Competitive Power Ventures, an energy firm that was at the center of the second bribery scheme. Prosecutors alleged that Kelly organized a “low-show” job paying $90,000 a year for Percoco’s wife, which they said were actually bribes for Percoco. The jury’s decision led federal district judge Valerie Caproni to declare a mistrial for Kelly.</p> <p>Percoco himself was found not guilty on the three charges, including extortion under the color of official right, conspiracy to commit extortion under the color of official right, and soliciting bribes related to the COR scheme. He could face 50 years in prison on the three charges on which he was found guilty. Percoco’s sentencing is set for June 11; he and his lawyer said outside the courthouse that they would explore their legal options, including “what we might do in terms of making motions and pursuing our appellate rights.”</p> <p>At trial, prosecutors painted a picture of Percoco as the governor’s right-hand man, who could move mountains with a single phone call and who often bullied others in state government to do his bidding. The defense, however, sought to portray him as simply an “advance man” who managed events, scheduling, and day-to-day minutiae for the governor. The case was further complicated by the testimony of Howe, who was arrested midway through the trial after admitting to violating his cooperation agreement with the government. Although prosecutors, in their closing arguments, sought to downplay Howe’s role in the case, defense attorneys leaned heavily into the idea that Howe was a manipulative operator who was framing their clients for his own misdeeds.</p> <p>“Joseph Percoco was found guilty of taking over $300,000 in cash bribes by selling something priceless that was not his to sell – the sacred obligation to honestly and faithfully serve the citizens of New York,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, in a statement after the verdict was announced. Berman said Percoco “corruptly chose to disregard” the fact that “government officials who sell their influence to select insiders violate the basic tenets of a democracy.”</p> <p>Speaking with reporters outside the courthouse, Percoco said he was “disappointed” with the verdict, but betrayed little emotion as he said he would consider the options with his lawyers. “I am thankful to my wonderful legal team and I‘m thankful to my family and friends that have stood by me throughout this entire process and I look forward to them all standing by me as we go forward,” he said.</p> <p>Barry Bohrer, Percoco’s defense attorney, questioned the jury’s divided verdict. “There is an inconsistency in the verdict as we read it,” he conceded, when asked by a reporter, “and we are...gonna review and figure out what it means and what options are open to us and we will pursue all available options.”</p> <p>Asked if his client was a “victim of politics,” Bohrer declined comment, but said, “Look, it was a difficult time and place to be trying a case involving Albany politics, there’s no question about that. We think that it was a much closer case than some were led to believe and I think the jury’s verdict is a reflection of that and so we are going to look at any and all options going forward in terms of pursuing further review.”</p> <p>A coalition of government reform groups called on the state Legislature and governor to pass reforms to prevent such corruption in the future. “Percoco’s trial spotlighted a state government riddled with pay to play, influence peddling and unethical behavior,” they said in a statement.</p> <p>The groups -- Citizens Union, Common Cause/NY, League of Women Voters, NYPIRG, and Reinvent Albany -- are calling for strict limits on campaign contributions from entities seeking state contracts; restrictions on outside income for state legislators and those in the executive branch; and closure of the so-called LLC loophole which allows limited liability companies with hidden donors to contribute large sums of money to state candidates. They are also pushing for greater accountability and transparency within the state budget, contracting, and more teeth for state ethics watchdogs and agencies with oversight of state economic development spending.</p> <p>Cuomo’s critics and opponents, including two Republican candidates for governor this year, pointed fingers at the Democratic incumbent for enabling a culture of corruption and called for an investigation into Cuomo allowing Percoco to use a government office while he was running the governor’s 2014 reelection campaign.</p> <p>The governor responded to the verdict In a statement put out Tuesday afternoon:</p> <blockquote> <p>"The jury has reached a verdict and I respect that decision. While I am sad for Joe Percoco's young daughters who will have to deal with this pain, I echo the message of the verdict - there is no tolerance for any violation of the public trust.<br /> <br />"There is no higher calling than public service and integrity is paramount - principles that have guided my work during the last 40 years.<br /> <br />"The verdict demonstrated that these ideals have been violated by someone I knew for a long time. That is personally painful; however, we must learn from what happened and put additional safeguards in place to secure the public trust. Anything less is unacceptable."</p> </blockquote> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/percoco-lawyer-steps-of-courthouse.jpg" alt="percoco lawyer steps of courthouse" width="600" height="436" /></p> <p>Joe Percoco behind his lawyer (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>The jury in the federal corruption trial of Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo, returned with a verdict on Tuesday, finding Percoco guilty of two counts of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and one count of soliciting bribes, charges related to a pair of bribery and bid-rigging schemes involving firms seeking to do business with the state. Percoco was also found not guilty on three charges he was facing.</p> <p>Over the course of more than seven weeks, the Percoco trial laid bare the inner workings of the state government and the lax regulations around government ethics and election financing. Prosecutors also touched on the functioning of the executive chamber, though no allegations of illegal wrongdoing were brought against Governor Andrew Cuomo, who once referred to his longtime friend Percoco as his father’s “third son.”</p> <p>After closing arguments last week, the jury deliberated for eight days -- and deadlocked twice -- before coming to a mixed verdict. In total, there were ten felony counts against Percoco and three co-defendants, upstate business executives who allegedly paid Percoco more than $300,000 for his help in getting favorable treatment from the state government. Former lobbyist Todd Howe, the government’s star witness in the case, pleaded guilty to facilitating the bribes to Percoco along with seven other felony counts related to the schemes.</p> <p>One of the bribery schemes involved the real estate developer COR Development and its executives, Joseph Gerardi and Steven Aiello, who were accused of bribing Percoco for assistance with labor unions on a real estate project as well as to obtain a raise for Aiello’s son. Both men faced charges of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, paying bribes to Peroco and making false statements to federal investigators. Although Gerardi was found not guilty of all three charges, Aiello was found guilty on the conspiracy charge.</p> <p>The jury also deadlocked on two charges against Peter Galbraith Kelly, an executive from Competitive Power Ventures, an energy firm that was at the center of the second bribery scheme. Prosecutors alleged that Kelly organized a “low-show” job paying $90,000 a year for Percoco’s wife, which they said were actually bribes for Percoco. The jury’s decision led federal district judge Valerie Caproni to declare a mistrial for Kelly.</p> <p>Percoco himself was found not guilty on the three charges, including extortion under the color of official right, conspiracy to commit extortion under the color of official right, and soliciting bribes related to the COR scheme. He could face 50 years in prison on the three charges on which he was found guilty. Percoco’s sentencing is set for June 11; he and his lawyer said outside the courthouse that they would explore their legal options, including “what we might do in terms of making motions and pursuing our appellate rights.”</p> <p>At trial, prosecutors painted a picture of Percoco as the governor’s right-hand man, who could move mountains with a single phone call and who often bullied others in state government to do his bidding. The defense, however, sought to portray him as simply an “advance man” who managed events, scheduling, and day-to-day minutiae for the governor. The case was further complicated by the testimony of Howe, who was arrested midway through the trial after admitting to violating his cooperation agreement with the government. Although prosecutors, in their closing arguments, sought to downplay Howe’s role in the case, defense attorneys leaned heavily into the idea that Howe was a manipulative operator who was framing their clients for his own misdeeds.</p> <p>“Joseph Percoco was found guilty of taking over $300,000 in cash bribes by selling something priceless that was not his to sell – the sacred obligation to honestly and faithfully serve the citizens of New York,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, in a statement after the verdict was announced. Berman said Percoco “corruptly chose to disregard” the fact that “government officials who sell their influence to select insiders violate the basic tenets of a democracy.”</p> <p>Speaking with reporters outside the courthouse, Percoco said he was “disappointed” with the verdict, but betrayed little emotion as he said he would consider the options with his lawyers. “I am thankful to my wonderful legal team and I‘m thankful to my family and friends that have stood by me throughout this entire process and I look forward to them all standing by me as we go forward,” he said.</p> <p>Barry Bohrer, Percoco’s defense attorney, questioned the jury’s divided verdict. “There is an inconsistency in the verdict as we read it,” he conceded, when asked by a reporter, “and we are...gonna review and figure out what it means and what options are open to us and we will pursue all available options.”</p> <p>Asked if his client was a “victim of politics,” Bohrer declined comment, but said, “Look, it was a difficult time and place to be trying a case involving Albany politics, there’s no question about that. We think that it was a much closer case than some were led to believe and I think the jury’s verdict is a reflection of that and so we are going to look at any and all options going forward in terms of pursuing further review.”</p> <p>A coalition of government reform groups called on the state Legislature and governor to pass reforms to prevent such corruption in the future. “Percoco’s trial spotlighted a state government riddled with pay to play, influence peddling and unethical behavior,” they said in a statement.</p> <p>The groups -- Citizens Union, Common Cause/NY, League of Women Voters, NYPIRG, and Reinvent Albany -- are calling for strict limits on campaign contributions from entities seeking state contracts; restrictions on outside income for state legislators and those in the executive branch; and closure of the so-called LLC loophole which allows limited liability companies with hidden donors to contribute large sums of money to state candidates. They are also pushing for greater accountability and transparency within the state budget, contracting, and more teeth for state ethics watchdogs and agencies with oversight of state economic development spending.</p> <p>Cuomo’s critics and opponents, including two Republican candidates for governor this year, pointed fingers at the Democratic incumbent for enabling a culture of corruption and called for an investigation into Cuomo allowing Percoco to use a government office while he was running the governor’s 2014 reelection campaign.</p> <p>The governor responded to the verdict In a statement put out Tuesday afternoon:</p> <blockquote> <p>"The jury has reached a verdict and I respect that decision. While I am sad for Joe Percoco's young daughters who will have to deal with this pain, I echo the message of the verdict - there is no tolerance for any violation of the public trust.<br /> <br />"There is no higher calling than public service and integrity is paramount - principles that have guided my work during the last 40 years.<br /> <br />"The verdict demonstrated that these ideals have been violated by someone I knew for a long time. That is personally painful; however, we must learn from what happened and put additional safeguards in place to secure the public trust. Anything less is unacceptable."</p> </blockquote> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Adding to the Menu at the Coming Museum of Political Corruption in Albany 2018-03-11T05:00:00+00:00 2018-03-11T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7531-adding-ziti-to-the-menu-at-the-coming-museum-of-political-corruption-in-albany Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/museum_of_corruption.jpeg" alt="museum of political corruption" width="600" height="297" /></p> <p>(image: Museum of Political Corruption)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York State legislature is <a href="http://www.politifact.com/new-york/statements/2016/sep/19/elaine-phillips/new-york-has-been-most-corrupt-state-decades/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">often cited</a> as the most corrupt in the nation and Bruce Roter, founder and president of the board of trustees of Albany’s upcoming <a href="http://www.museumofpoliticalcorruption.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Museum of Political Corruption</a>, wants to tell the story of how we got there and help the state change course.</p> <p>A music professor by trade, Roter made a name for himself in the Albany area in 2012, when he led a successful grassroots campaign to bring Trader Joe’s to the capital region.</p> <p>Roter has since turned his energy to a somewhat more ambitious endeavor: tackling New York state government’s reputed “culture of corruption” by building an interactive, state-of-the-art, national attraction in downtown Albany.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bruce_roter.png" alt="bruce roter" width="250" height="321" style="margin-right: 12px; float: left;" />“We want to make sure we do this right. We want this museum to be a source of pride for our downtown,” said Roter (pictured), who has been plotting, planning, and building support for the not-for-profit museum for a few years.</p> <p>While the tentative open date for the brick-and-mortar location is in 2019, the museum team has kept the project in the limelight by hosting panel discussions and attending various events around town. On May 5, Nelly Bly’s birthday, the group will present its second annual Nelly Bly Award for investigative reporting, and a virtual exhibit may become available on the website soon. Susanne Craig of The New York Times was given the first Nelly Bly award in November 2017 at an event in downtown Albany.</p> <p>In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Roter discussed the museum’s progress and importance, this year’s series of state government-related corruption trials, and a very special menu item that will be featured in the museum’s “Cozy Crony Cafe.”</p> <p><em>The Q-and-A below is lightly edited for clarity.</em></p> <p>Gotham Gazette (GG): We seem to be in an important moment in New York corruption history. The fate of Governor Cuomo’s former top aide Joe Percoco is being decided, two former legislative leaders will be retried this spring, among others. Have you been keeping up with the headlines?</p> <p>Bruce Roter (BR): “I do try to follow when I can. It’s all very concerning, of course. On the one hand, it’s concerning, and on the other hand, I just remember that this is just one more stage in corruption that our state has had, and that’s the long-term view that we are taking.</p> <p>“There are those who think that this is probably the most corrupt time that New York has ever had. That’s not the truth at all. One can look at other eras, the 1800s, the 1900s, the Tammany Hall period, and other periods like that.</p> <p>“So I think we need a historical perspective when it comes to corruption, and thwarting immediate frustration. It didn’t happen overnight and it’s not going to get solved overnight.”</p> <p>GG: What’s the latest on the Museum of Corruption?</p> <p>BR: “We’re moving forward. We are still seeking sources of funding. We do want to build a state-of-the-art museum in downtown Albany. We’re definitely taking the long-term view, not only of our project, but of corruption in general. We can’t simply look at any particular headline. We understand that to fix corruption, it’s going to take a long-term cultural change, and that’s what we hope our institution will do.”</p> <p>GG: What birthed the idea to create a museum of corruption?</p> <p>BR: “I think the idea originally started because there were so many headlines of corruption back in 2012 and 2013. What started off as just an idea soon blossomed into a full-blown project, once I began discussing this with others, who also thought it was an excellent and unique idea and a way that we here in Albany could contribute to ethical governance in our state. That’s when we got serious and became chartered and are moving this forward.”</p> <p>GG: You are a music professor at the College of Saint Rose. Have you ever worked for government before, or is your interest in ethical governance a byproduct of growing up in Albany?</p> <p>BR: “I actually grew up downstate and I’ve been here 20 years now. I’ve always had an interest in government and public affairs even in my own creative work as a composer. I’ve often been inspired by public causes. I’m the composer of a piece called the Camp David Overture for the Middle East Peace Accords.</p> <p>“Several years ago, I was commissioned to write a piece for the Albany Symphony on speeches and writings of [President and New York State Governor] Theodore Roosevelt, and I became very inspired by him, especially Roosevelt’s call for the public to engage in the civil discourse of their community. So that’s what I’m seeking to do also.</p> <p>“Also, I have to admit, I have also enjoyed being part of the public discussion when I organized a grassroots campaign to bring Trader Joe’s to the capital district.”</p> <p>GG: Thank you for that…</p> <p>BR: “Well, yeah, everyone thanks me for that. Your quite welcome, I’m enjoying it myself. It was just the gratitude that I received from the community for being involved with that that has spurred my continued interest in working for the community. I feel the best way I can do that is to try and find an educational way that we can address governmental corruption.”</p> <p>GG: What’s the long game? Have you selected partners to run the museum while you are at your day job once you have a brick-and-mortar location?</p> <p>BR: “The long game is -- obviously, we do have a board of trustees -- is to hire a full staff, including an executive director, who is knowledgeable about museum management, running our museum as a museum ought to be run. We want this to be a first-class cultural institution for our city and a tourist draw at that.”</p> <p>GG: How will you keep up with the endless stream of headlines and corruption trials and incorporate them into the museum’s exhibits?</p> <p>BR: “We will keep up. We want the museum to be current. There will be rotating or evolving exhibits that will address what is going on currently, even as we also take the broader, historic view of corruption that has gone on for centuries in New York, as well as understanding the causes of corruption, and what we can do about corruption.</p> <p>“We do want to have in the museum what I’m calling Solutions Hall, where museum-goers will be invited to participate in discussing or uncovering solutions that can help us to achieve more ethical government.”</p> <p>GG: Have any lawmakers have reached out in support of this idea or taken an interest in this project?</p> <p>BR: “I can tell you that [Republican] Minority Assembly Leader Brian Kolb has been interested in our project -- along with some others. We are completely non-partisan and we want to make sure that we reach across the aisle and we want to bring all of our leaders onboard. Because this is not about a particular leader, this is about fixing our government and the public working with our leaders to create a better, more effective government.</p> <p>“I can tell you that one of the initiatives in which we are currently engaged is a collection of quotes on ethical leadership. We’re seeking quotes from leaders in a number of different fields, including politics and sports and religion and education. We do want to collect these quotes and perhaps even put them into a volume some day. We already received a quote -- a handwritten quote at that -- from former President Jimmy Carter, we’ve received a quote from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and one from Congressman Paul Tonko -- here in the Capital District -- and from Assemblymember Pat Fahy, and also Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon.</p> <p>“I want to make sure we have a wonderful, diverse representation of quotes on ethical leadership. Because even though we are a Museum of Political Corruption, we want to turn this around and make sure it leads to something positive.”</p> <p>GG: Corruption is certainly not limited to government. Do you hope that the ideas that come out of this will produce solutions that transcend government and apply to other institutions?</p> <p>BR: “Absolutely. I think it will. If we can address ethical leadership in one field, we can certainly address ethical leadership in every field. That’s of course why we want to get the leaders in the world of sports and arts and entertainment to engage with us in this search for bits of wisdom of how we can be more ethical in all facets of our society.”</p> <p>GG: So is the objective to educate the public about corruption or to solicit feedback and crowdsource some solutions to the problem?</p> <p>BR: “It’s both. Ultimately we want to educate and inform, but we also want to empower as well....For those people who are cynical and think nothing can ever be done and nothing can ever change, we hope that by the time they leave our exhibits, they too feel that they can make a difference in our society.</p> <p>“We look at all of these headlines, and trials, and retrials, and with tremendous respect to everything that’s is going on with our legislature and our prosecutors, we also think the public needs to get involved too. Of course, the best way and the first way we get involved is at the ballot booth. That’s why we feel education is import part of any change.</p> <p>“If there is indeed a culture of corruption in Albany, it’s going to take a cultural institution to fix it. And that’s what we are going to be: a cultural institution.”</p> <p>GG: Having moved to Albany last year to cover the Capitol, one thing I was struck by is how dramatic state government is, from the castle-like building, to the theatrics that happen daily on the Senate floor. As someone with a music background, do you plan to incorporate art, music, and performance into the museum’s exhibits?</p> <p>BR: “Of course! The whole discussion of public corruption can be held on so many levels. We’re going to have a Tammany Lecture hall in the museum where we can do panel discussions and public speaking, but can also do film theories or musical productions that address the subject as well. Art frequently has important things to say about what is going on in society. And so, I certainly want to encourage that.</p> <p>“I could also see us engaging or commissioning visual artists to have an art collection. We are certainly going to have a collection of political historic cartoons. So very much, art definitely has something to say about politics, and we will incorporate that into our design.”</p> <p>GG: Circling back to the current trials. Any new additions inspired by the trial of former Cuomo top aide Joe Percoco?</p> <p>BR: “You can expect that on the menu for the Cozy Crony Cafe we will be serving ziti.”</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/museum_of_corruption.jpeg" alt="museum of political corruption" width="600" height="297" /></p> <p>(image: Museum of Political Corruption)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York State legislature is <a href="http://www.politifact.com/new-york/statements/2016/sep/19/elaine-phillips/new-york-has-been-most-corrupt-state-decades/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">often cited</a> as the most corrupt in the nation and Bruce Roter, founder and president of the board of trustees of Albany’s upcoming <a href="http://www.museumofpoliticalcorruption.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Museum of Political Corruption</a>, wants to tell the story of how we got there and help the state change course.</p> <p>A music professor by trade, Roter made a name for himself in the Albany area in 2012, when he led a successful grassroots campaign to bring Trader Joe’s to the capital region.</p> <p>Roter has since turned his energy to a somewhat more ambitious endeavor: tackling New York state government’s reputed “culture of corruption” by building an interactive, state-of-the-art, national attraction in downtown Albany.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bruce_roter.png" alt="bruce roter" width="250" height="321" style="margin-right: 12px; float: left;" />“We want to make sure we do this right. We want this museum to be a source of pride for our downtown,” said Roter (pictured), who has been plotting, planning, and building support for the not-for-profit museum for a few years.</p> <p>While the tentative open date for the brick-and-mortar location is in 2019, the museum team has kept the project in the limelight by hosting panel discussions and attending various events around town. On May 5, Nelly Bly’s birthday, the group will present its second annual Nelly Bly Award for investigative reporting, and a virtual exhibit may become available on the website soon. Susanne Craig of The New York Times was given the first Nelly Bly award in November 2017 at an event in downtown Albany.</p> <p>In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Roter discussed the museum’s progress and importance, this year’s series of state government-related corruption trials, and a very special menu item that will be featured in the museum’s “Cozy Crony Cafe.”</p> <p><em>The Q-and-A below is lightly edited for clarity.</em></p> <p>Gotham Gazette (GG): We seem to be in an important moment in New York corruption history. The fate of Governor Cuomo’s former top aide Joe Percoco is being decided, two former legislative leaders will be retried this spring, among others. Have you been keeping up with the headlines?</p> <p>Bruce Roter (BR): “I do try to follow when I can. It’s all very concerning, of course. On the one hand, it’s concerning, and on the other hand, I just remember that this is just one more stage in corruption that our state has had, and that’s the long-term view that we are taking.</p> <p>“There are those who think that this is probably the most corrupt time that New York has ever had. That’s not the truth at all. One can look at other eras, the 1800s, the 1900s, the Tammany Hall period, and other periods like that.</p> <p>“So I think we need a historical perspective when it comes to corruption, and thwarting immediate frustration. It didn’t happen overnight and it’s not going to get solved overnight.”</p> <p>GG: What’s the latest on the Museum of Corruption?</p> <p>BR: “We’re moving forward. We are still seeking sources of funding. We do want to build a state-of-the-art museum in downtown Albany. We’re definitely taking the long-term view, not only of our project, but of corruption in general. We can’t simply look at any particular headline. We understand that to fix corruption, it’s going to take a long-term cultural change, and that’s what we hope our institution will do.”</p> <p>GG: What birthed the idea to create a museum of corruption?</p> <p>BR: “I think the idea originally started because there were so many headlines of corruption back in 2012 and 2013. What started off as just an idea soon blossomed into a full-blown project, once I began discussing this with others, who also thought it was an excellent and unique idea and a way that we here in Albany could contribute to ethical governance in our state. That’s when we got serious and became chartered and are moving this forward.”</p> <p>GG: You are a music professor at the College of Saint Rose. Have you ever worked for government before, or is your interest in ethical governance a byproduct of growing up in Albany?</p> <p>BR: “I actually grew up downstate and I’ve been here 20 years now. I’ve always had an interest in government and public affairs even in my own creative work as a composer. I’ve often been inspired by public causes. I’m the composer of a piece called the Camp David Overture for the Middle East Peace Accords.</p> <p>“Several years ago, I was commissioned to write a piece for the Albany Symphony on speeches and writings of [President and New York State Governor] Theodore Roosevelt, and I became very inspired by him, especially Roosevelt’s call for the public to engage in the civil discourse of their community. So that’s what I’m seeking to do also.</p> <p>“Also, I have to admit, I have also enjoyed being part of the public discussion when I organized a grassroots campaign to bring Trader Joe’s to the capital district.”</p> <p>GG: Thank you for that…</p> <p>BR: “Well, yeah, everyone thanks me for that. Your quite welcome, I’m enjoying it myself. It was just the gratitude that I received from the community for being involved with that that has spurred my continued interest in working for the community. I feel the best way I can do that is to try and find an educational way that we can address governmental corruption.”</p> <p>GG: What’s the long game? Have you selected partners to run the museum while you are at your day job once you have a brick-and-mortar location?</p> <p>BR: “The long game is -- obviously, we do have a board of trustees -- is to hire a full staff, including an executive director, who is knowledgeable about museum management, running our museum as a museum ought to be run. We want this to be a first-class cultural institution for our city and a tourist draw at that.”</p> <p>GG: How will you keep up with the endless stream of headlines and corruption trials and incorporate them into the museum’s exhibits?</p> <p>BR: “We will keep up. We want the museum to be current. There will be rotating or evolving exhibits that will address what is going on currently, even as we also take the broader, historic view of corruption that has gone on for centuries in New York, as well as understanding the causes of corruption, and what we can do about corruption.</p> <p>“We do want to have in the museum what I’m calling Solutions Hall, where museum-goers will be invited to participate in discussing or uncovering solutions that can help us to achieve more ethical government.”</p> <p>GG: Have any lawmakers have reached out in support of this idea or taken an interest in this project?</p> <p>BR: “I can tell you that [Republican] Minority Assembly Leader Brian Kolb has been interested in our project -- along with some others. We are completely non-partisan and we want to make sure that we reach across the aisle and we want to bring all of our leaders onboard. Because this is not about a particular leader, this is about fixing our government and the public working with our leaders to create a better, more effective government.</p> <p>“I can tell you that one of the initiatives in which we are currently engaged is a collection of quotes on ethical leadership. We’re seeking quotes from leaders in a number of different fields, including politics and sports and religion and education. We do want to collect these quotes and perhaps even put them into a volume some day. We already received a quote -- a handwritten quote at that -- from former President Jimmy Carter, we’ve received a quote from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and one from Congressman Paul Tonko -- here in the Capital District -- and from Assemblymember Pat Fahy, and also Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon.</p> <p>“I want to make sure we have a wonderful, diverse representation of quotes on ethical leadership. Because even though we are a Museum of Political Corruption, we want to turn this around and make sure it leads to something positive.”</p> <p>GG: Corruption is certainly not limited to government. Do you hope that the ideas that come out of this will produce solutions that transcend government and apply to other institutions?</p> <p>BR: “Absolutely. I think it will. If we can address ethical leadership in one field, we can certainly address ethical leadership in every field. That’s of course why we want to get the leaders in the world of sports and arts and entertainment to engage with us in this search for bits of wisdom of how we can be more ethical in all facets of our society.”</p> <p>GG: So is the objective to educate the public about corruption or to solicit feedback and crowdsource some solutions to the problem?</p> <p>BR: “It’s both. Ultimately we want to educate and inform, but we also want to empower as well....For those people who are cynical and think nothing can ever be done and nothing can ever change, we hope that by the time they leave our exhibits, they too feel that they can make a difference in our society.</p> <p>“We look at all of these headlines, and trials, and retrials, and with tremendous respect to everything that’s is going on with our legislature and our prosecutors, we also think the public needs to get involved too. Of course, the best way and the first way we get involved is at the ballot booth. That’s why we feel education is import part of any change.</p> <p>“If there is indeed a culture of corruption in Albany, it’s going to take a cultural institution to fix it. And that’s what we are going to be: a cultural institution.”</p> <p>GG: Having moved to Albany last year to cover the Capitol, one thing I was struck by is how dramatic state government is, from the castle-like building, to the theatrics that happen daily on the Senate floor. As someone with a music background, do you plan to incorporate art, music, and performance into the museum’s exhibits?</p> <p>BR: “Of course! The whole discussion of public corruption can be held on so many levels. We’re going to have a Tammany Lecture hall in the museum where we can do panel discussions and public speaking, but can also do film theories or musical productions that address the subject as well. Art frequently has important things to say about what is going on in society. And so, I certainly want to encourage that.</p> <p>“I could also see us engaging or commissioning visual artists to have an art collection. We are certainly going to have a collection of political historic cartoons. So very much, art definitely has something to say about politics, and we will incorporate that into our design.”</p> <p>GG: Circling back to the current trials. Any new additions inspired by the trial of former Cuomo top aide Joe Percoco?</p> <p>BR: “You can expect that on the menu for the Cozy Crony Cafe we will be serving ziti.”</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
After Prosecutors' Final Rebuttal, Jury Deliberations Begin in Percoco Trial 2018-03-01T22:47:02+00:00 2018-03-01T22:47:02+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7511-after-prosecutorial-rebuttal-jury-deliberations-begin-in-percoco-trial Ben Max <p>&nbsp;<img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/percoco-legal-team.jpg" alt="percoco legal team" width="600" height="364" /></p> <p>Joseph Percoco, rear, his legal team, and others (photo: Samar Khurshid)</p> <hr /> <p>Jury deliberations began Thursday in the federal corruption trial of Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo, and three corporate executives who were allegedly involved in a criminal conspiracy to pay Percoco bribes in exchange for favorable official actions in their efforts to do business with the state government.</p> <p>In federal district court in lower Manhattan on Thursday morning, the prosecution offered its rebuttal to the defense’s closing arguments from the previous two days, capping a six-week long trial that has exposed the inner workings of the state government and put on display the actions and behavior of Percoco, whom Cuomo once referred to as “my father's third son.” The trial has raised questions about what Cuomo knew about Percoco’s activities, including his former top aide’s use of a government office while technically on leave to run Cuomo’s reelection campaign.</p> <p>The charges against Percoco and his co-defendants -- Peter Galbraith Kelly, Joseph Gerardi and Steven Aiello -- stem from two separate bribery schemes tied together by the government’s key witness, former lobbyist Todd Howe, who pleaded guilty to facilitating payments totalling more than $300,000 from the executives to Percoco and his wife, Lisa Percoco.</p> <p>Percoco and the others have been charged with ten felony counts of solicitation and payment of bribes and gratuities, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, extortion under the color of official right and conspiracy to commit extortion under the color of official right, wire fraud, and making false statements to federal investigators. (One extortion charge, related to actions Percoco took while he was working on the governor’s reelection campaign in 2014, was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni on Monday.)</p> <p>One of the schemes involved real estate developer COR Development and it’s executives Gerardi and Aiello. The second involved energy firm Competitive Power Ventures and Kelly, who is accused of giving Percoco’s wife a “low-show” job paying $90,000 annually.</p> <p>The defense largely based its case on attacking Howe’s credibility as a witness, claiming that he manipulated Percoco and the others into the schemes. Once he was caught for his own crimes, the defense attorneys claimed, he pointed fingers to try and reduce his prison sentence. That argument was bolstered in part when Howe was arrested during the trial for violating his cooperation agreement with the government.</p> <p>Prosecutors, however, have pointed to other evidence, including thousands of emails, that they say shows the corrupt agreements struck between the defendants. Howe’s testimony formed only a part of their case, they claim, and was far from the foundation of the prosecution.</p> <p>“Their best defense is to make you think it all comes down to Todd Howe,” said prosecutor Janis Echenberg, in the government’s rebuttal Thursday morning. “See the defense arguments for what they are. They are asking for a free pass. They’re saying ‘We dealt with a bad guy so we should get away with it.’”</p> <p>Echenberg also sought to counter the “friendship defense” forwarded by attorneys for both Percoco and Kelly, who claimed that the two did favors for each others because they were close friends. One example the defense cited was Percoco and Kelly going on a fishing trip together.</p> <p>“This whole fishing sideshow,” Echenberg told the jury, “You’re being played hook, line and sinker.”</p> <p>“Even if there was a friendship between them...you don’t get a pass on bribery just because you’re bribing a friend,” she added.</p> <p>After Echenberg’s plea to the jury for a guilty verdict, Judge Caproni addressed the jury, reading through a 40-page booklet of all the charges against the defendants and instructing them to carefully consider their decision.</p> <p>Later in the day, the jury sought clarification on whether Percoco had to have been a public official throughout the duration of the two schemes he is accused of participating in in order to be found guilty. The prosecution had argued that though Percoco left state government to work on the governor’s reelection campaign, he still wielded his influence within state government to pressure officials for favorable action towards his co-defendants. The defense, on the other hand, in the words of Percoco’s lawyer Barry Bohrer, said Percoco couldn’t possibly have been “selling his office” during the campaign since “he had no office to sell.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p>&nbsp;<img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/percoco-legal-team.jpg" alt="percoco legal team" width="600" height="364" /></p> <p>Joseph Percoco, rear, his legal team, and others (photo: Samar Khurshid)</p> <hr /> <p>Jury deliberations began Thursday in the federal corruption trial of Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo, and three corporate executives who were allegedly involved in a criminal conspiracy to pay Percoco bribes in exchange for favorable official actions in their efforts to do business with the state government.</p> <p>In federal district court in lower Manhattan on Thursday morning, the prosecution offered its rebuttal to the defense’s closing arguments from the previous two days, capping a six-week long trial that has exposed the inner workings of the state government and put on display the actions and behavior of Percoco, whom Cuomo once referred to as “my father's third son.” The trial has raised questions about what Cuomo knew about Percoco’s activities, including his former top aide’s use of a government office while technically on leave to run Cuomo’s reelection campaign.</p> <p>The charges against Percoco and his co-defendants -- Peter Galbraith Kelly, Joseph Gerardi and Steven Aiello -- stem from two separate bribery schemes tied together by the government’s key witness, former lobbyist Todd Howe, who pleaded guilty to facilitating payments totalling more than $300,000 from the executives to Percoco and his wife, Lisa Percoco.</p> <p>Percoco and the others have been charged with ten felony counts of solicitation and payment of bribes and gratuities, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, extortion under the color of official right and conspiracy to commit extortion under the color of official right, wire fraud, and making false statements to federal investigators. (One extortion charge, related to actions Percoco took while he was working on the governor’s reelection campaign in 2014, was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni on Monday.)</p> <p>One of the schemes involved real estate developer COR Development and it’s executives Gerardi and Aiello. The second involved energy firm Competitive Power Ventures and Kelly, who is accused of giving Percoco’s wife a “low-show” job paying $90,000 annually.</p> <p>The defense largely based its case on attacking Howe’s credibility as a witness, claiming that he manipulated Percoco and the others into the schemes. Once he was caught for his own crimes, the defense attorneys claimed, he pointed fingers to try and reduce his prison sentence. That argument was bolstered in part when Howe was arrested during the trial for violating his cooperation agreement with the government.</p> <p>Prosecutors, however, have pointed to other evidence, including thousands of emails, that they say shows the corrupt agreements struck between the defendants. Howe’s testimony formed only a part of their case, they claim, and was far from the foundation of the prosecution.</p> <p>“Their best defense is to make you think it all comes down to Todd Howe,” said prosecutor Janis Echenberg, in the government’s rebuttal Thursday morning. “See the defense arguments for what they are. They are asking for a free pass. They’re saying ‘We dealt with a bad guy so we should get away with it.’”</p> <p>Echenberg also sought to counter the “friendship defense” forwarded by attorneys for both Percoco and Kelly, who claimed that the two did favors for each others because they were close friends. One example the defense cited was Percoco and Kelly going on a fishing trip together.</p> <p>“This whole fishing sideshow,” Echenberg told the jury, “You’re being played hook, line and sinker.”</p> <p>“Even if there was a friendship between them...you don’t get a pass on bribery just because you’re bribing a friend,” she added.</p> <p>After Echenberg’s plea to the jury for a guilty verdict, Judge Caproni addressed the jury, reading through a 40-page booklet of all the charges against the defendants and instructing them to carefully consider their decision.</p> <p>Later in the day, the jury sought clarification on whether Percoco had to have been a public official throughout the duration of the two schemes he is accused of participating in in order to be found guilty. The prosecution had argued that though Percoco left state government to work on the governor’s reelection campaign, he still wielded his influence within state government to pressure officials for favorable action towards his co-defendants. The defense, on the other hand, in the words of Percoco’s lawyer Barry Bohrer, said Percoco couldn’t possibly have been “selling his office” during the campaign since “he had no office to sell.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Defense Concludes Closing Arguments in Percoco Trial 2018-02-28T05:00:00+00:00 2018-02-28T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7507-defense-concludes-closing-arguments-in-percoco-trial Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/j-percoco.jpg" alt="j percoco" width="600" height="324" /></p> <p>Barry Bohrer and his client, Joseph Percoco, behind (photo: Samar Khurshid)</p> <hr /> <p>Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo, was not “one of the most powerful officials in state government,” argued Barry Bohrer, Percoco’s defense attorney, on Wednesday, the second day of closing arguments in the federal corruption trial of Percoco and three corporate executives, Joseph Gerardi, Steven Aiello, and Peter Galbraith Kelly.</p> <p>Percoco and the others face charges of bribery, fraud, and bid-rigging related to two separate schemes involving state contracts. The prosecution, which made its own closing argument on Tuesday, has alleged that Percoco used the immense power at his disposal to assist his co-defendants. “For a state employee, getting a call from Percoco was like getting a call from the governor himself,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Boone in his opening statement when the trial began six weeks ago.</p> <p>But Bohrer sought to counter that image, which he said was conjured by prosecutors and former lobbyist Todd Howe, a cooperating government witness who pleaded guilty to several felonies and admitted to facilitating the bribes that Percoco allegedly received. &nbsp;</p> <p>Attorneys for each of the four defendants hammered home the notion that Howe is an unreliable witness who has sought to scapegoat their clients for his own misdoings and criminal schemes. Bohrer, who spoke last and longest over the last two days, said, in the government and Howe’s view, “apparently, there’s no one bigger than Joe Percoco. But you know from the evidence that that’s an exaggeration, that’s a stretch, that’s Todd Howe in action.”</p> <p>Bohrer downplayed the influence that Percoco had in state government, calling him more of an “advance man” for the governor whose duties included office management, personnel relations, intergovernmental relations, and labor relations. Percoco was not “the guy who ruled the roost” in New York State, Bohrer said, but rather “the guy who takes care of his friends,” “who rolls out the red carpet,” “who greets them with a firm handshake.”</p> <p>Percoco, he said, never entered into a “corrupt bargain” to sell his office for personal gain and that the actions he is accused of taking to benefit his co-defendants were simply favors for his friends.</p> <p>“The government’s case is all talk, no action -- certainly no official action,” Bohrer said Wednesday, emphasizing that the definition of an official act under federal corruption statutes is limited. &nbsp;</p> <p>As with the other attorneys, Bohrer described Howe as a “pathological liar, a congenital liar,” who exploited the better nature of the individuals on trial, who were his close friends. “Todd Howe described Joe Percoco as a brother, just like Cain described Abel,” he said.</p> <p>Howe, who was a go-between for Percoco and the other defendants, has a long history with both Percoco and Cuomo and a checkered past, with a prior felony conviction and a laundry list of misdeeds to his name. During the course of the trial, in which thousands of emails were entered into evidence, much of that was laid bare, including Howe’s tendency to alter emails when forwarding them to others to either bolster his own standing or to mislead the recipients of those emails. “Mr. Howe was the butcher of emails. He was Mr. Cut and Mr. Paste,” Bohrer said.</p> <p>Bohrer also rejected the prosecution’s contention that Percoco turned to a criminal conspiracy because he faced financial troubles. That was just another lie manufactured by Howe, Bohrer insisted. “Mr. Todd ‘Ransom’ Howe...he thought he could save himself by providing ‘substantial assistance in the prosecution of another,’” he said, using a legal term in Howe’s cooperation agreement with the government. &nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier in the day, Daniel Gitner, the lawyer for Peter Galbraith Kelly, had also concluded his closing statement, reiterating that the government was attempting to “whitewash” Howe’s part in the prosecution. &nbsp;</p> <p>On Tuesday, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7506-prosecutors-make-closing-argument-in-trial-of-former-top-cuomo-aide" target="_blank" rel="noopener">prosecutors summed up their case</a>, arguing that the defense attorneys would attempt to confuse the jury and complicate a corruption case that involved a very straightforward quid-pro-quo between the defendants. Bohrer, in turn, said Wednesday that it was the prosecution that had muddied the waters, particularly by repeatedly citing emails in which Howe and Percoco spoke of “ziti,” a term that the prosecution said they adopted from the television show “The Sopranos” as a code for bribes.</p> <p>“It’s not the language of criminals,” Bohrer said, in a reference to <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7506-prosecutors-make-closing-argument-in-trial-of-former-top-cuomo-aide" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the prosecution’s closing argument from Tuesday</a>, “just because someone watches “The Sopranos” and picks up a phrase from “The Sopranos.” Millions of people would be in jumpsuits if they watched “The Sopranos” and picked up the language, if that were the case.”</p> <p>“You’ll find 16 ‘ziti’ emails and the score is 14 to 2,” he said, insisting that the term originated with Howe. “There are 14 instances in which Howe mentions the word and two where Joe does.”</p> <p>Outside the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan, in brief comments to reporters, Bohrer again criticized the prosecution’s focus on the “ziti.”</p> <p>“It <em>has</em> been a diversion,” he said, when asked by a reporter. “The evidence is totally lacking with regards to the changes.”</p> <p>Percoco stood somber behind Bohrer, betraying little emotion. When asked how he felt about his lawyer’s closing, he said, “Barry’s doing all the talking now. He’s doing great.”</p> <p>On Thursday morning, prosecutors will offer their rebuttal to the defense’s closing arguments. They will have a total of two hours to do so, Judge Valerie Caproni said Wednesday. The judge will then read all the charges to the jury and they will likely head into deliberations Thursday afternoon.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/j-percoco.jpg" alt="j percoco" width="600" height="324" /></p> <p>Barry Bohrer and his client, Joseph Percoco, behind (photo: Samar Khurshid)</p> <hr /> <p>Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo, was not “one of the most powerful officials in state government,” argued Barry Bohrer, Percoco’s defense attorney, on Wednesday, the second day of closing arguments in the federal corruption trial of Percoco and three corporate executives, Joseph Gerardi, Steven Aiello, and Peter Galbraith Kelly.</p> <p>Percoco and the others face charges of bribery, fraud, and bid-rigging related to two separate schemes involving state contracts. The prosecution, which made its own closing argument on Tuesday, has alleged that Percoco used the immense power at his disposal to assist his co-defendants. “For a state employee, getting a call from Percoco was like getting a call from the governor himself,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Boone in his opening statement when the trial began six weeks ago.</p> <p>But Bohrer sought to counter that image, which he said was conjured by prosecutors and former lobbyist Todd Howe, a cooperating government witness who pleaded guilty to several felonies and admitted to facilitating the bribes that Percoco allegedly received. &nbsp;</p> <p>Attorneys for each of the four defendants hammered home the notion that Howe is an unreliable witness who has sought to scapegoat their clients for his own misdoings and criminal schemes. Bohrer, who spoke last and longest over the last two days, said, in the government and Howe’s view, “apparently, there’s no one bigger than Joe Percoco. But you know from the evidence that that’s an exaggeration, that’s a stretch, that’s Todd Howe in action.”</p> <p>Bohrer downplayed the influence that Percoco had in state government, calling him more of an “advance man” for the governor whose duties included office management, personnel relations, intergovernmental relations, and labor relations. Percoco was not “the guy who ruled the roost” in New York State, Bohrer said, but rather “the guy who takes care of his friends,” “who rolls out the red carpet,” “who greets them with a firm handshake.”</p> <p>Percoco, he said, never entered into a “corrupt bargain” to sell his office for personal gain and that the actions he is accused of taking to benefit his co-defendants were simply favors for his friends.</p> <p>“The government’s case is all talk, no action -- certainly no official action,” Bohrer said Wednesday, emphasizing that the definition of an official act under federal corruption statutes is limited. &nbsp;</p> <p>As with the other attorneys, Bohrer described Howe as a “pathological liar, a congenital liar,” who exploited the better nature of the individuals on trial, who were his close friends. “Todd Howe described Joe Percoco as a brother, just like Cain described Abel,” he said.</p> <p>Howe, who was a go-between for Percoco and the other defendants, has a long history with both Percoco and Cuomo and a checkered past, with a prior felony conviction and a laundry list of misdeeds to his name. During the course of the trial, in which thousands of emails were entered into evidence, much of that was laid bare, including Howe’s tendency to alter emails when forwarding them to others to either bolster his own standing or to mislead the recipients of those emails. “Mr. Howe was the butcher of emails. He was Mr. Cut and Mr. Paste,” Bohrer said.</p> <p>Bohrer also rejected the prosecution’s contention that Percoco turned to a criminal conspiracy because he faced financial troubles. That was just another lie manufactured by Howe, Bohrer insisted. “Mr. Todd ‘Ransom’ Howe...he thought he could save himself by providing ‘substantial assistance in the prosecution of another,’” he said, using a legal term in Howe’s cooperation agreement with the government. &nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier in the day, Daniel Gitner, the lawyer for Peter Galbraith Kelly, had also concluded his closing statement, reiterating that the government was attempting to “whitewash” Howe’s part in the prosecution. &nbsp;</p> <p>On Tuesday, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7506-prosecutors-make-closing-argument-in-trial-of-former-top-cuomo-aide" target="_blank" rel="noopener">prosecutors summed up their case</a>, arguing that the defense attorneys would attempt to confuse the jury and complicate a corruption case that involved a very straightforward quid-pro-quo between the defendants. Bohrer, in turn, said Wednesday that it was the prosecution that had muddied the waters, particularly by repeatedly citing emails in which Howe and Percoco spoke of “ziti,” a term that the prosecution said they adopted from the television show “The Sopranos” as a code for bribes.</p> <p>“It’s not the language of criminals,” Bohrer said, in a reference to <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7506-prosecutors-make-closing-argument-in-trial-of-former-top-cuomo-aide" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the prosecution’s closing argument from Tuesday</a>, “just because someone watches “The Sopranos” and picks up a phrase from “The Sopranos.” Millions of people would be in jumpsuits if they watched “The Sopranos” and picked up the language, if that were the case.”</p> <p>“You’ll find 16 ‘ziti’ emails and the score is 14 to 2,” he said, insisting that the term originated with Howe. “There are 14 instances in which Howe mentions the word and two where Joe does.”</p> <p>Outside the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan, in brief comments to reporters, Bohrer again criticized the prosecution’s focus on the “ziti.”</p> <p>“It <em>has</em> been a diversion,” he said, when asked by a reporter. “The evidence is totally lacking with regards to the changes.”</p> <p>Percoco stood somber behind Bohrer, betraying little emotion. When asked how he felt about his lawyer’s closing, he said, “Barry’s doing all the talking now. He’s doing great.”</p> <p>On Thursday morning, prosecutors will offer their rebuttal to the defense’s closing arguments. They will have a total of two hours to do so, Judge Valerie Caproni said Wednesday. The judge will then read all the charges to the jury and they will likely head into deliberations Thursday afternoon.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>