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Jury selected on first day of Percoco corruption trial

NEW YORK — A jury was selected Monday in the trial of Joseph Percoco, a longtime associate of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, and three other defendants, setting the stage for opening arguments to begin Tuesday morning in an alleged bribery case with multiple legal and political twists.

The jury – composed of seven women and five men – will hear testimony in a trial that for the next four to six weeks will take them on a journey through the inner workings of the Cuomo administration while providing a taste of how state government works.

U.S. District Court Judge Valerie E. Caproni, who has already presided over one major case of corruption of the former top Democrat in the Legislature, pushed some 20 defense and prosecution lawyers to keep to her plans to get a jury quickly assembled.

What the judge heard over and over from prospective jurors was a lack of patience with government corruption and concerns about the influence of political donations on government matters.

The judge sought to see if some prospective jurors could separate their personal views from a jury’s obligation to fairly consider the evidence in this case. “Everyone feels that corruption is bad,’’ Caproni told one man.

“If you were a defendant would you want you to sit on this jury?’’ she asked him.

He answered in the negative. He was dismissed from the jury pool.

The case involves alleged bribes that the prosecution claims were steered to Percoco by executives with two companies – a downstate energy firm and a Syracuse real estate development company – allegedly in return for influence that the former top Cuomo confidante wielded with government agencies in order to financially benefit the two firms.

Some jurors wrote in the questionnaires they were given last week of their sharp critiques of the Trump administration. “This trial is not going to be a referendum on the president,’’ the judge told one person.

The jury pool represented an array of people and cut across age, ethnic and racial lines.

The jury pool also reflected New York City, with educators, health care workers and retirees, along with residents of Manhattan, the Bronx and the northern suburbs.

There was also a producer on a CNN crime show, a money management fund executive and a jewelry designer.

One woman identified herself as a photo editor who was worried about an upcoming photo shoot with someone she identified as a “celebrity.’’ By day’s end, when the woman was unable to say if she could get the shoot re-scheduled, the judge dismissed her.

“Good luck,’’ the woman said as she left the fourth floor courtroom in the Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse on Foley Square.

Earlier in the morning, protestors opposed to a gas pipeline that will fuel a power plant – owned by the company whose former executive is accused of bribing Percoco – rallied outside the courthouse and heckled Percoco as he went in. Several hours later, Percoco said hello to a reporter in an elevator during an afternoon break. Suddenly, a woman – among the group of environmental protestors – started shouting at Percoco.

Percoco shot her a glance and said she was yelling at him only “because there is a reporter here.’’

Earlier in the morning, protesters opposed to an Orange County power plant – owned by the company whose former executive is on trial, accused of allegedly bribing Percoco – rallied outside the courthouse and heckled Percoco as he went in.

On Tuesday afternoon, Linda Lacewell, Cuomo's chief of staff, is being called by prosecutors to testify. Like Percoco, she has been one of Cuomo's most trusted advisors, both in his previous job as state attorney general and since he was elected governor in 2010.

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