The biggest revelations in the Percoco trial

Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse courthouse in lower Manhattan in New York City
Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse courthouse in lower Manhattan in New York City
Felix Lipov/Shutterstock
Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse courthouse in lower Manhattan in New York City

The biggest revelations in the Percoco trial

The trial of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's former aide has generated bombshells.
February 13, 2018

The corruption trial for Joe Percoco, former executive deputy secretary to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, began in late January, and has provided weeks of explosive testimony detailing the alleged criminal activity of Percoco and three co-defendants. Cuomo has not been accused of any wrongdoing, but the ongoing trial includes dramatic revelations seemingly every day about the defendants or the governor. Here is a rundown of the biggest shocks – so far – from Percoco’s trial.

Speaking in code

Testimony and email evidence has revealed that the former Cuomo aide and his collaborators used figurative language and nicknames in their collaborations. Percoco often referred mentioned others in a disparaging manner, namely Peter Galbraith Kelly, a co-defendant and former executive of Competitive Power Ventures who allegedly gave Percoco’s wife a low-show job. According to testimony by Todd Howe, the prosecution’s star witness and a former lobbyist who pleaded guilty to eight felonies and is working with the government, the two mocked Kelly’s weight, referring to him behind his back as “fatso.”

Percoco and Howe often communicated in code language worthy of a TV show. They referred to money as “ziti,” a reference to “The Sopranos.” They also called each other “Herb,” a reference to a time when both were staffers for Gov. Mario Cuomo, and they mocked Cuomo’s opponent Herb London for his hairpiece.

These nicknames also reveal the balance of the relationship between Howe, Percoco and Kelly. Testimony on Feb. 6 revealed that Howe and Percoco negotiated to get Percoco’s wife, Lisa, a job in 2012, when Kelly was trying to secure a power purchase agreement from the Cuomo administration. The job was arranged over dinner with Kelly, a machination that Howe and Percoco called “Operation Fat Man.”

A hostile work environment

Percoco garnered a reputation during his tenure in the governor’s office for being Cuomo’s enforcer, and the trial has further revealed how he used his position to intimidate others. Testimony by former administration lawyer Seth Agata on Jan. 31 revealed that Percoco would encourage officials to stay with the administration by placing calls to them and even threaten to  tell prospective employers not to hire them. Andrew Kennedy, Cuomo’s former director of state operations, confirmed this, saying that he was offered a position at SUNY Albany in 2014, but the governor encouraged him not to take it. He was further warned by an administration official that if he took the job, someone from the executive chamber would call the university and ask that the offer be rescinded.

Kennedy also testified that Percoco went on a tirade filled with “rated ‘R’” language against him, urging him to include two businessmen in the 2015 “Capitol For a Day” event in Syracuse. One of those businessmen, Steven Aiello of COR Development, is on trial with Percoco for allegedly funneling bribes to him through Howe. Joseph Girardi, another COR executive, is also on trial.

Using the governor’s office

Cuomo’s chief of staff, Linda Lacewell, testified that Percoco continued to use his office at the executive chambers in Manhattan, even after he left the administration to run the governor’s 2014 reelection campaign. Cuomo was often at the office while Percoco was there. Circumstantial evidence may also show that Percoco conducted campaign business while at the governor’s office, which would be illegal. (Lacewell also revealed that the governor’s public schedules often do not include certain meetings or events and their participants.)

Percoco also continued to make phone calls to the governor’s staff after leaving his government post. Howe testified that Percoco would call state employees and instruct them on their business even after his departure.

Todd Howe arrested

In opening statements, defense attorneys painted Howe as an inveterate liar. On Feb. 8, Howe admitted during cross-examination that he had violated his plea deal with federal prosecutors requiring him not to commit any crimes. Howe acknowledged that he lied to his credit card company, denying that he had stayed in the Waldorf Astoria hotel and seeking a refund after he had, in fact, stayed in the hotel in June while seeking the deal with prosecutors. Howe was arrested on Thursday night.

He returned to court to testify on Feb. 13, and is allowed to wear a regular suit – instead of an orange jumpsuit.

Grace Segers
is City & State’s digital reporter. She writes daily content on New York City and New York state politics.