A former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo is facing federal corruption and bribery charges in connection with two companies that were trying to do business with the state.
In a federal complaint, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced Thursday that Joe Percoco and seven others are facing a wide array of criminal charges.
Percoco, who served as the governor’s executive secretary, is accused of taking more than $600,000 in bribes from an energy company that needed state approval to build a power plant in the Hudson Valley and an upstate developer that received several state contracts.
In addition, Percoco is accused of getting a job at the energy company for his wife, a former school teacher.
Cuomo released a statement condemning the alleged pay-to-play schemes, saying, "I learned this morning of the charges filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office that include a former member of my administration. If the allegations are true, I am saddened and profoundly disappointed.
"I have zero tolerance for abuse of the public trust from anyone. If anything, a friend should be held to an even higher standard," he said.
The complaint says that the men were involved in "two overlapping criminal schemes involving bribery, corruption and fraud in the awarding of hundreds of millions of dollars in state contracts and other official state benefits."
Some of those contracts were administered through SUNY Polytechnic Institute, where Percoco allegedly worked with a consultant in the scheme. SUNY Polytechnic’s president is among those facing charges.
Court documents state the consultant, Todd Howe, is cooperating with investigators and pleaded guilty Wednesday to fraud and extortion.
The complaint is also full of some colorful details, including the fact that Percoco referred to cash payments as "ziti," which was lifted from the HBO series "The Sopranos," which, incidentally, was about mobsters.
Percoco spent decades as one of the closest friends and aides to the governor, who referred to Percoco as the late Mario Cuomo’s third son.
Also named in the complaint are two top executives at Syracuse-based COR Development, Steve Aiello and Joseph Gerardi, who are accused of bribing Percoco.
Alain Kaloyeros, who leads of SUNY Polytechnic Institute, also faces charges. He is accused of steering state contracts connected to projects in Syracuse and the Buffalo Billion to two companies that had sent kickbacks to a SUNY Polytechnic consultant.
SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and Chairman H. Carl McCall said in a statement that Kaloyeros has been relieved as his duties and suspended without pay.
“It is imperative that any charges brought against SUNY Poly President Alain E. Kaloyeros today do not distract from the educational mission, ground-breaking research, and academic operation of SUNY Polytechnic Institute or negatively impact the thousands of students, faculty, researchers, and staff that the campus serves," the SUNY statement reads.
Others named include Buffalo-based LP Ciminelli Chairman Louis Ciminelli and company executives Kevin Schuler and Michael Laipple.
Questions had circled whether Percoco represented clients who had business before the state as part of the Buffalo Billion.
“The state Legislature does not have a monopoly on corruption,” Bharara said.
“In each case, the bids were rigged and the results were pre-ordained,” Bharara said. “Companies got rich and the public got bamboozled.”
Percoco's attorney issued a statement on his behalf, saying, "This prosecution, based on information provided by someone of utterly unreliable credibility, seeks to criminalize conduct that the Supreme Court of the United States recently found to be not unlawful. It is an overreach of classic proportions. Mr. Percoco performed services honestly and within the bounds of the law at all times. He will enter a plea of not guilty because he is not guilty. We are confident that a jury that fairly considers the facts and correctly applies the law will find him not guilty."