In a federal courtroom Thursday, a judge not only sentenced the former top aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to prison for six years, but also delivered a verdict on New York State government.
It wasn’t pretty.
A string of convictions that netted the former leaders of the State Senate and Assembly, along with others, has had a “corrosive” effect on the public’s perception of how things work, Judge Valerie Caproni said, leaving New Yorkers with no “faith in their government.”
“There’s so much money sloshing around in politics,” Caproni said, “even the most Pollyannish of citizens has to wonder whether any public decision is being made on the merits.”
Another corruption trial, and Albany is under the microscope again.
“Healthy state governments do not have their political elites in federal prisons,” said John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany, a watchdog group that has called for stronger campaign-finance laws and increased oversight of state contracts.
State legislators and Cuomo have failed to adopt tougher measures, despite what activists call an extraordinary wave of public-corruption scandals that “cast a shadow on government decision making,” Kaehny said.
On Thursday, Caproni presided over the sentencing of Joseph Percoco, Cuomo’s former right-hand man and campaign manager, to 6 years in prison after he was convicted of accepting bribes to help developers land projects in New York. That was just the latest high-profile court proceeding.
Sheldon Silver, who as Assembly speaker wielded enormous power in the state for two decades, was convicted in a kickback scheme involving a high-end real estate company and medical malpractice attorneys. Earlier this year, Caproni sentenced him to 7 years in prison.
Dean Skelos, the longtime Long Island lawmaker who controlled the State Senate from 2011-15, was convicted of extortion for shaking down companies on behalf of his son.
Also, Alain Kaloyeros, former president of the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute, was convicted in a bid-rigging trial involving some of the Cuomo administration’s high-profile, high-tech upstate projects.
Cuomo has said lawmakers have approved different ethics laws in five of his eight years in office. But the measures generally center around more reporting of lawmakers’ outside incomes, which are allowed under state law. He supported public financing of campaigns but did not put much political muscle behind the idea, critics say. He and the Democratic-led Assembly failed this year to get behind a bill to strengthen contract oversight.
Earlier this summer, the governor said no law will completely stop illegal behavior. “Can you stop people from doing venial things? No,” Cuomo said. “Can you stop people from doing criminal things? No.”
The governor, who is running for re-election in November, said Percoco’s sentence “should serve as a warning to anyone who fails to uphold” his oath of office.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro has sought to use the convictions against the incumbent, barnstorming the state on a "Cuomo corruption tour."
Caproni sounded exasperated as she rattled off the string of trials, saying the perception of government “eats at the workings of government.”
“In the state of New York, the speaker of the Assembly and the majority leader of the Senate have been convicted of fraud in recent years. This case reached the highest level of the executive branch,” Caproni said, referring to Percoco. “Frankly, it’s not surprising that the citizenry of this state have absolutely lost faith in their government.”
The judge said the court would show “no mercy” to bribe-taking officials and added: “I hope this sentence is heard in Albany.”