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U.S. Supreme Court Tosses Bribery Conviction of Former Andrew Cuomo Aide

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


In a ruling on Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the bribery conviction of Joseph Percoco, a former aide to ex-New York Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo. This decision imposes additional constraints on federal prosecutors, restricting their capacity to pursue corruption cases.

As reported by Reuters, the high court ruled in favor of Joseph Percoco, who served as the executive deputy secretary under Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo. Percoco was charged in 2016 as part of a federal corruption investigation that focused on the state capital of Albany and aimed to crack down on corruption in government.

In the aide’s case, the jury was required “to determine whether he had a ‘special relationship’ with the government and had ‘dominated and controlled’ government business,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court. “We conclude that this is not the proper test for determining whether a private person may be convicted of honest-services fraud, and we, therefore, reverse and remand for further proceedings.”

In 2018, Percoco was found guilty and subsequently sentenced to six years in prison on charges of soliciting $315,000 in bribes. In return for the bribes, Percoco had allegedly offered assistance to two corporate clients of Albany lobbyist Todd Howe, who were seeking state benefits and business opportunities.

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Thursday’s ruling marked another instance where the Supreme Court, with a 6-3 conservative majority, has placed restrictions on prosecutors in cases involving political corruption.

The current ruling follows previous cases such as the 2020 decision to overturn the convictions of two aides to former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the “Bridgegate” scandal, as well as the 2016 decision to dismiss the bribery conviction of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell, who is a Republican, Reuters noted.

“The Supreme Court heard arguments in November in the case involving Percoco and a related one involving former construction company executive Louis Ciminelli. The Supreme Court also overturned Ciminelli’s conviction on Thursday,” Reuters noted, adding:

Percoco was convicted alongside an executive at a real estate developer, Steven Aiello, who prosecutors said orchestrated bribes to Percoco. Howe pleaded guilty and cooperated with investigators. Prosecutors said Percoco referred to the payments as “ziti,” a type of pasta that became a term for money by characters in “The Sopranos” mobster TV series.

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At the time of the actions at issue, Percoco was no longer serving in government as Cuomo’s aide but instead managing the governor’s 2014 reelection campaign, a fact his lawyers said meant he could not be convicted of bribery.

Defense lawyers contended that Percoco’s position as a private citizen meant that his acceptance of money with the intention of influencing the government did not constitute criminal behavior. Instead, they argued that he should be viewed as a lobbyist who was entitled to receive compensation for utilizing his influence.

In 2021, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York upheld Percoco’s conviction, determining that he held a secure position in Cuomo’s administration following the election. The court concluded that during this period and beyond, Percoco exerted significant influence over government decisions, thereby owing a responsibility to the public.

Former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, appointed by President Barack Obama, led the prosecution in the cases against Percoco and Ciminelli. Bharara had also pursued corruption charges against prominent state lawmakers, including former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. While Cuomo himself was not charged in relation to these cases, he resigned in 2021 due to an unrelated sexual harassment scandal, Reuters noted.

The case involving Ciminelli revolved around the role of Howe as a consultant employed to assist in the implementation of Cuomo’s “Buffalo Billion” revitalization initiative, a $1 billion project aimed at revitalizing the Buffalo, New York, area.

According to prosecutors, executives from two companies, including Ciminelli, conspired with Howe and Alain Kaloyeros, who was responsible for overseeing the grant application process of the project. The alleged conspiracy involved bid-rigging, with the intention of ensuring that contracts were awarded to their respective firms, the report added.

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