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Indictments add fuel for public distrust of Albany

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announces corruption charges against

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announces corruption charges against two former aides to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and seven other defendants at a Manhattan news conference on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

The endless spigot of corruption that is New York State has been opened again. This time, after years of wading through the legislative cesspool, federal prosecutors are diving deep into the executive branch. And the smell is no less fetid.

The main target of indictments unsealed Thursday by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was a man who until January was one of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s closest aides — Joseph Percoco, whose family ties go back to the 1990s, when he and Andrew worked for then-Gov. Mario Cuomo.

Percoco was accused of soliciting and accepting more than $315,000 in bribes from two companies seeking state contracts or project approvals. Lobbyist Todd Howe, who also once worked for both Cuomos, was accused of arranging for the bribes, some paid to Percoco’s wife.

Also disappointing is that the charges against Percoco, Howe, another state official, and six others stemmed from an investigation into Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative, an otherwise-commendable attempt to revive the upstate economy by bringing in economic development. But the Empire State is the state of self-interest, and there seems to be no end to officials with hands out and others willing to fill them. The behavior alleged here is not far removed from campaign contributors expecting results from the people to whom they donate — the bigger the gift, the bigger the favor. “I do hope there’s a trial in this case,” Bharara said Thursday, “so that all New Yorkers can see, in gory detail, what their state government has been up to.”

Bharara said there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Cuomo in the complaint, and the trial has to play out. But if the charges are proved true — Howe already has pleaded guilty to extortion, bribery and wire fraud — the governor will have to answer hard questions about his judgment and oversight.

Meanwhile, the public’s trust in government erodes. Cynicism and frustration fester. The insiders get the spoils, and the smell taints us all. — The editorial board


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