Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s former right-hand man Joseph Percoco was sentenced to 6 years in prison Thursday for taking more than $300,000 in bribes from a developer and an energy company to exercise his clout in a case both the judge and Cuomo’s critics linked to out-of-control Albany corruption.
“If you can’t live with a public sector salary, get out of government,” Manhattan U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni lectured a stonefaced Percoco. “What you can’t do is stay in government and make up the difference by taking bribes. If you do so, this court will show you no mercy.”
Percoco, the former executive deputy secretary to Cuomo with close personal and professional ties dating to Gov. Mario Cuomo’s administration in the 1980s, was convicted in March of conspiracy and soliciting bribes to facilitate a Hudson Valley power plant and clear away red tape for a Syracuse developer.
Caproni condemned the “corrosive” effect of his behavior on the public — “The citizenry of this state have absolutely lost faith,” she said — and blamed Percoco’s crimes on “greed and arrogance” and the deference he got from others in government due to his close ties to Cuomo
“He spoke for the governor whether Andrew Cuomo knew what he was doing at any given time or not,” the judge said.
Percoco, 49, of South Salem, made a brief statement expressing remorse to Caproni before the sentencing — “I would just like to express how sorry I am for my actions,” he said — but was impassive as the judge imposed sentence, and testily declined to comment afterward.
“What do you want me to say?” he repeated three times to a group of persistent reporters.
Reaction to the sentence — four years more than Percoco’s lawyers sought, and one year under the 7-year sentence former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver got from Caproni in July for a $4 million bribery scheme — was swift from the governor’s office and some of his political opponents.
“Joe Percoco is paying the price for violating the public trust,” Cuomo said in a statement that barely referenced their relationship. “And it should serve as a warning to anyone who fails to uphold his or her oath as a public servant. On a personal level, the human tragedy for Joe’s young children and family is a very sad consequence.”
Marc Molinaro, the Republican candidate for governor, castigated Cuomo for creating the atmosphere in Albany in which Percoco operated. “Andrew Cuomo was sentenced today — he just doesn’t have to do the time,” Molinaro said.
And good government groups said they hoped Percoco’s sentence — which follows other corruption convictions this year of Silver, former Senate leader Dean Skelos, and former SUNY official Alain Kaloyeros, a top Cuomo economic development adviser — would finally lead to change.
“New York State government is sick and the governor and legislature must adopt common sense reforms,” said Reinvent Albany director John Kaehny.
During an eight-week trial, prosecutors alleged that lobbyist Todd Howe, a longtime friend of Cuomo and Percoco, arranged for client Competitive Power Ventures to pay Percoco’s wife, Lisa, $287,000 for a “low show job” beginning in 2012 in exchange for his clout on their power plant.
Howe also testified that another client, COR Development of Syracuse, paid Percoco $35,000 in 2014 while he was managing Cuomo’s campaign, and Percoco later helped COR with state-funded projects when he returned to government in 2015 before leaving finally in 2016.
Caproni also castigated Percoco for behavior that went beyond his convictions — citing his violation of rules that prohibit using personal email for work, and evidence that he used a government office near Cuomo’s while he was serving as campaign manager.
“When the executive deputy secretary flouts the most basic rules ... is it any surprise that other state employees follow his lead, to the detriment of the rule of law and transparency in government?” she said.
But the judge said her sentence was mainly driven by the need to change behavior in the capital. “I hope that this sentence will be heard in Albany,” she said.
Caproni gave Percoco, whose wife and two daughters wrote letters seeking leniency, until Dec. 28 to surrender. Howe and executives convicted with Percoco in the payoff schemes have not yet been sentenced.