Prosecutor: Gov. Cuomo's ex aide's own words can convict him

In this Jan. 25, 2018, file photo, Joseph Percoco arrives at Federal Court, in New York. Jurors in the bribery trial of Percoco, a former top aide to Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, may begin deliberations as early as next week. The government rested its case Thursday, Feb. 22, in federal court in Manhattan against Joseph Percoco and three businessmen. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

By LARRY NEUMEISTER, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — A former top aide to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo proved his guilt by repeatedly quoting from the mob drama “The Sopranos” as he described bribes he was receiving from three businessmen, a prosecutor told jurors as closing arguments began Tuesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Zhou told the Manhattan federal court jurors that they could use Joseph Percoco’s own words — and a word for bribes borrowed from the popular HBO show — to convict him.
Zhou said Percoco was repeatedly “begging, requesting, demanding ziti” in his discussions with an Albany lobbyist, demonstrating that he understood that roughly $320,000 he was receiving from the businessmen were bribes. All but $35,000 in the alleged bribes came in the form of a job given to Percoco’s wife.
Zhou began his summation by reading from emails in which Percoco demanded “ziti.”
The prosecutor said Percoco “sold out his vast power. He sold out his influence and betrayed the people of New York.”
Percoco, 48, has pleaded not guilty. He has been on trial for five weeks along with the three businessmen.
Cuomo has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
Percoco’s lawyer has said his client acted honestly and was being framed by a corrupt government cooperator, Todd Howe.
Zhou didn’t dispute Howe’s criminal past, saying he had lied and cheated “throughout his life.”
But he said Percoco and his co-defendants relied on Howe, 57, because they knew he was corrupt enough to carry out their schemes.
“Who else would do such a sleazy job?” Zhou asked. “The government didn’t choose Todd Howe as a witness. The defendants did.”
The prosecutor noted that Howe was imprisoned during the trial. Howe had been free on bail after pleading guilty to eight crimes that could potentially carry a prison sentence of over 100 years. His bail was revoked after he confessed to a defense lawyer that he’d violated the terms of his cooperation deal with prosecutors.
Howe has testified that he sought to help Percoco, once a close friend, overcome financial woes by arranging for developers to funnel bribes to Percoco’s wife. In exchange, Percoco worked to clear the way for state permits for a power plant and get a pay raise for one of the developer’s sons, who worked for Cuomo, he said.
Howe said he hired Percoco in the late 1980s to work for then-Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo, Andrew Cuomo’s late father. Percoco then became so close to Andrew Cuomo that he ran his 2014 re-election campaign for governor.
At Mario Cuomo’s funeral in 2015, Andrew Cuomo described Percoco as “my father’s third son who sometimes I think he loved the most.” He also has likened him to a brother.
Jurors could begin deliberating later this week.