NEW YORK – Defense lawyers in the trial of Joseph Percoco and three business executives told a judge Wednesday they plan on bringing a full slate of witnesses in an effort to clear their clients – in a case that has brought scrutiny about the inner workings of the Cuomo administration.
U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni, openly frustrated by the pace of the trial’s proceedings, said she plans on telling the jury first thing Thursday it’s likely they won’t begin deliberations in the trial until the week of March 5.
That would be the seventh week of what was originally billed to jurors as a four- to six-week trial.
The judge’s patience evaporated Wednesday when she yelled at one of the defense lawyers, Daniel Gitner, for taking so long to make his point during cross-examination of one prosecution witness.
Over the course of the trial, she had told defense lawyers they were driving her “crazy,’’ that their long questioning sessions had lost the jurors and, early on, that they were entitled to an aggressive defense “but not a tedious defense.’’
By Wednesday night, Caproni said – during one especially long gathering of lawyers, after the jury was sent home – that “it’s going to get ugly” if the defense lawyer seeks to lead one of the upcoming witnesses.
The prosecution expects to ends its case Thursday, according to lawyers from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan.
Caproni said she had gotten a note Wednesday from one of the jurors asking when the trial would be concluded. That led to sharp questioning by Caproni of both sides about how long they intend to take questioning upcoming defense witnesses.
If there were any questions about the defense’s case, lawyers sought to dispel at least Caproni of that notion Wednesday.
They checked off more than a dozen potential witnesses, including Lisa Percoco – who prosecutors allege was the direct recipient of more than $300,000 in alleged bribe money intended to influence her husband.
Joseph Percoco was one of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s most trusted advisers. He is accused of allegedly trading that position as a senior government aide to Cuomo to benefit two companies with business before the Cuomo administration.
Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi, founders of Syracuse-based Cor Development, are on trial accused of allegedly bribing Percoco. So, too, is Peter Galbraith Kelly, a former energy company executive.
Besides Lisa Percoco as a potential defense witness, lawyers Wednesday said they also plan to call Howard Glaser, another Cuomo confidante who was the governor’s state operations director during part of the time Percoco was allegedly receiving bribes.
Lawyers for Aiello and Girardi said they are planning to call their two clients to testify as early as Friday.
But there’s a hitch: They don’t want prosecutors to be able to lead the two defendants down the road into a discussion about the Buffalo Billion case.
That’s the trial scheduled to begin in June – also before Caproni – involving contracts awarded to several major upstate economic development projects, including the solar manufacturing plant at Buffalo’s RiverBend.
Defendants in the case include three former executives from LPCiminelli, the giant Buffalo general contracting firm, as well as Alain Kaloyeros, the former SUNY Polytechnic Institute leader who ran several of Cuomo’s major initiatives, including the Buffalo Billion.
The remaining defendants in the Buffalo Billion case: Aiello and Gerardi, who besides the alleged Percoco bribery case also are accused in a scheme that led to their company allegedly getting awarded Syracuse-area development projects funded by the state.
Steve Coffey, a lawyer for Aiello, said the decision to put his client on the stand could rest with whether “the door is opened” by the judge to permit prosecutors to ask Aiello about Buffalo Billion-related issues.
Defense lawyers are concerned the answers could affect the outcome for the two men in the Buffalo Billion trial.
Other defense witnesses include people who are or have been employed by Cuomo’s office, the state’s economic development agency, Cuomo’s budget division and the Public Service Commission, which regulates power plants such as the one built by Competitive Power Ventures, which employed Kelly, one of the defendants, and hired Percoco’s wife.
Lisa Percoco was retained by CPV in late 2012 at a time when prosecutors alleged the couple was experiencing financial difficulties. They say Percoco allegedly used his post with Cuomo to help drive favorable decisions by the state that helped the energy company’s financial bottom line.
Testimony was dominated Wednesday by two women who used to work with Percoco’s wife at the energy firm.
Prosecutors sought to reveal that Lisa Percoco allegedly did relatively little in return for the nearly $300,000 she was paid before her alleged deal was ended, after Joseph Percoco left his state job.
On Tuesday, Yanina Daigle, who was Lisa Percoco’s supervisor at CPV, said she complained numerous times about Lisa Percoco’s “work ethic.’’
Lisa Percoco was hired by CPV to develop a curriculum and teach classes to elementary school students that put a positive spin on the energy industry.
Under questioning from a prosecutor, Kerri Hamm, a former teaching consultant with Lisa Percoco at CPV, often characterized Lisa Percoco’s duties as less taxing than her work, though Hamm was paid less than the $90,000 annual fee given to the wife of the former Cuomo aide.
Under questioning by Gitner, Hamm then recited a number of meetings and work she conducted with Lisa Percoco.
Prosecutors expected Thursday to call two final witnesses. One is Andrew Ball, a senior aide to Cuomo.
The other is a federal agent who will help to summarize the prosecution’s case against the four defendants.
The judge Thursday will have to decide whether to let that agent discuss – as the prosecution wants – how Percoco came up with ziti as the term he used to describe what the government calls alleged bribe money.
Prosecutors had wanted to show a clip from TV show "The Sopranos,’’ in which the term was used.
That idea was rejected by Caproni. Now prosecutors at least want the agent to testify how Percoco got the idea from the show.
One government witness, Todd Howe, who pleaded guilty to felonies, has already testified that Percoco came up with the term from the TV show.
Barry Bohrer, Percoco’s lawyer, said the sole purpose of the request to let the agent discuss the TV show is to link “Mr. Percoco to Tony Soprano.’’
“The probative value is bordering on zero and the undue prejudice is over the top,’’ Bohrer told the judge during a conference Tuesday.