NEW YORK >> A former top aide to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo was among eight people charged Thursday in a bribery and fraud case that threatened to tarnish Cuomo's efforts to revitalize the upstate economy and the reputation of a governor who until now had been spared from a federal prosecutor's public corruption crusade.
Joseph Percoco, Cuomo's former executive deputy secretary and one of his most loyal advisers, was named in a criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court. Percoco also worked for Cuomo's father, Gov. Mario Cuomo. At the former governor's funeral last year, Andrew Cuomo called Percoco "my father's third son who sometimes I think he loved the most."
According to the federal complaint, Percoco took more than $315,000 in bribes from 2012 through 2016 from Syracuse-based COR Development and Competitive Power Ventures, an energy company looking to build a power plant in the Hudson Valley. Todd Howe, a consultant for the two companies and former Cuomo associate, set up bank accounts and a shell company to funnel bribes, including payments to Percoco's wife, the complaint said.
"If the allegations are true, I am saddened and profoundly disappointed," Cuomo said. "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."
The eight individuals facing charges were expected to appear in court Thursday.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara detailed the charges Thursday in Manhattan.
"Today's charges shine a light on yet another sordid side of the show-me-the-money culture that has so plagued government in Albany," he said. "The bids allegedly were rigged, the results preordained; companies got rich and the public got bamboozled."
Percoco will plead not guilty, according to his attorney, Barry Bohrer.
"It is an overreach of classic proportions," Bohrer said. "Mr. Percoco performed services honestly and within the bounds of the law at all times... We are confident that a jury that fairly considers the facts and correctly applies the law will find him not guilty."
The federal probe revealed a web of individuals and businesses tied to Cuomo that were poised to profit from the Buffalo Billion, Cuomo's signature effort to boost New York's second-largest city, as well as Nano, an initiative effectively led by Alain Kaloyeros, president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute who was also named in the complaint.
Howe pleaded guilty to several federal charges, including conspiracy to commit fraud, extortion, bribery and wire and tax fraud. His attorney, Richard Morvillo, said Howe "has accepted responsibility for his actions and will testify truthfully if called upon."
In an apparent reference to Howe's cooperation, Bohrer said the case against Percoco is "based on information provided by someone of utterly unreliable credibility."
Percoco resigned as Cuomo's executive deputy in 2014 to lead Cuomo's re-election campaign. He rejoined the administration in late 2014, then quit a second time in January to become a vice president at Madison Square Garden.
According to state financial disclosures, Percoco made as much as $125,000 by becoming a consultant for COR Development and CHA Consulting, two firms involved in Buffalo Billion and Nano. The firms are also big Cuomo political donors.
Peter Galbraith Kelly, an executive at Competitive Power Ventures, is accused in the complaint of conspiracy and paying bribes to Percoco. The company, based in Braintree, Massachusetts, didn't immediately reply to queries.
Authorities accused Percoco of conspiring with Kaloyeros and Howe to rig bidding in the Buffalo Billion project and deceive Fort Schuyler, the state-funded entity awarding the lucrative contracts, so they would go to COR Development and Buffalo contractor LPCiminelli. They said Kaloyeros, who oversaw the application process for many of the state grants, retained Howe to help him, and Howe in turn solicited and received bribes.
Kaloyeros was suspended without pay Thursday, Cuomo said.
Also charged in the complaint are two executives at COR Development — Steven Aiello and Joseph Girardi — and three executives at LPCiminelli: Michael Laipple, Kevin Schuler and CEO Louis Ciminelli.
Ciminelli and COR didn't respond to requests for comment. Kaloyeros wasn't immediately available for comment.