Governor Andrew Cuomo’s best friend and body man was taken into custody by the FBI this morning as one of nine former government employees, lobbyists, and developers indicted for bribery and corruption in the highest levels of state government.
In a searing complaint detailing the brazen solicitation of bribes, corruption, and fraud, the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, lays out how Joseph Percoco, who Cuomo once referred to as his father’s “third son,” took bribes from energy and development companies looking to get in on Cuomo’s “Buffalo Billion” plan to revitalize upstate New York’s economic prospects. Also indicted were Peter Galbraith Kelly Jr., lobbyist for a major energy company, and several executives at businesses that showered the Cuomo aides with money in an effort to win contracts from the state.
Another former Cuomo aide, Todd Howe, is cooperating with investigators.
According to the indictment, between 2012 and 2016, two companies, Competitive Power Ventures and COR Development, funneled $315,000 to Percoco through a third party, looking to win $100 million in state funding for Competitive Power Ventures and a reversal of a costly decision by the state’s economic development corporation for COR Development. COR was a major donor to Cuomo, giving his campaign $500,000 this year, and more than $300,000 since he became governor in 2010.
Investigators say that Percoco and others were less than subtle about asking for bribes. From the indictment:
Howe has explained that ‘zitti’ or ‘ziti’ was a code word he and Percoco used for money, which Percoco came up with based on the use of the term in the television show “The Sopranos.”
Percoco, whose code-name was “Herb” not only tried to elicit bribes, but also leaned on Competitive Power Ventures to hire his wife. Again, from the indictment:
Hower later wrote, “herb — need 7500 boxes of zitti!! Percoco responded, “yes 7500/month is her old salary.”
“Mr. Percoco performed services honestly and within the bounds of the law at all times,” Percoco’s lawyer, Barry Bohrer said in a statement. “We are confident that a jury that fairly considers the facts and correctly applies the law will find him not guilty.”
Dr. Alain Kaloyeros, the head of SUNY-Polytechnic and Cuomo’s chosen tech-visionary, was also arrested as part of the indictment. Kaloyeros had spent the last few years posting photos of a $300,000 Ferrari on Facebook and sharing sexist memes. According to the indictment, Kaloyeros abetted corruption and bribery in order to keep his lucrative position at SUNY-Poly, where he was paid upward of $1.3 million a year. Kaloyeros, known as “Dr. K” in much of the indictment, will also be facing charges later today from the state’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman.
Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, began investigating the details of the “Buffalo Billion” plan after Governor Cuomo prematurely disbanded his anti-corruption initiative, the Moreland Commission. Bharara’s office has secured convictions against the former leaders of both state houses, however he’s made it abundantly clear that his primary target is the executive branch. Cuomo plans to run for reelection in 2018.
Bharara will be giving a press conference in downtown Manhattan at noon. Should be, like a well done ziti, quite delicious.
UPDATE: Governor Cuomo released this statement on Percoco’s and Kaloyeros’ arrests.
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 hold my administration to the highest level of integrity. I have zero tolerance for abuse of the public trust from anyone. If anything, a friend should be held to an even higher standard. Like my father before me, I believe public integrity is paramount. This sort of breach, if true, should be and will be punished.
SUNY has rightly relieved Alain Kaloyeros from his duties and has suspended him without pay, effective immediately.
This matter is now in the hands of the court, which is exactly where it belongs. My administration will continue to be fully cooperative in the matter as we have been since it began.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 22, 2016