NEW YORK – It was what U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni, at 1:15 p.m. Thursday, called the “magic time.’’
That’s when federal prosecutors rested their case – nearly five weeks into the alleged bribery trial of Joseph Percoco, a longtime friend and former close adviser to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, along with three business executives.
The trial is not over. But Caproni was more confident sounding Thursday that the jury could get the case sometime by the end of next week.
Daniel M. Gitner, a defense attorney who represents a former energy company executive charged in the Percoco case, brought up Raj Addepalli as the first defense witness in a case that began Jan. 22.
Addepalli is a retired top regulator at the state Public Service Commission. He gave a long and detailed description to jurors of the process officials went through to add more power generation – including via a new power plant in Orange County central to one of the bribery allegations.
Before the witness took the stand, Gitner said Addepalli would be important to show the state went through due deliberations in studying the need for more power generation – and that the decisions affecting the Orange County power plant were based on that work, not the allegedly illegal influence of Percoco on behalf of the energy company, Competitive Power Ventures.
CPV paid Percoco’s wife nearly $300,000 over three years – for what defense lawyers have portrayed as legitimate work, but what prosecutors allege was a series of monthly alleged bribes, aimed at pleasing Percoco in his top post with Cuomo.
Percoco’s wife, Lisa Percoco, could be called in coming days as a defense witness, lawyers said.
Before ending their case, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan summoned Andrew Ball, who joined the Cuomo campaign team out of college in 2010.
Ball said he considered Percoco – Ball's boss when Percoco worked for Cuomo – a mentor.
Ball provided some light moments that made Caproni smile. Ball, who is a senior aide to Cuomo, talked of the many tasks he’s handled on behalf of the governor, from advance work for Cuomo’s travels to being a point person with a number of state agencies.
One job he’s done: being responsible for sending out thousands of holiday cards for Cuomo each December. “It is the bane of my existence,’’ Ball testified.
It wasn’t all light, however. Prosecutors sought to continue a theme they have pounded from the start: that Percoco was still a powerful force in state government matters even after he left state service in the spring of 2014 to run Cuomo’s re-election campaign.
With a floor plan of Cuomo’s New York City government office suite shown on a large screen in the Manhattan courtroom Thursday, Ball showed Cuomo’s corner office – and, nearby, office number 3902, the office assigned to Percoco.
Percoco was able to keep his government-issued building swipe card to maintain regular access to his Third Avenue office, even after he became a private citizen in 2014. Ball testified that Percoco even kept his personal belongings in the office – such as photographs – after he left to head Cuomo’s campaign team.
Prosecutors then called Mason Posilkin, a special agent with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
He was asked about a series of email evidence that, collectively, showed Percoco involved with a number of government matters after he left the state payroll. Prosecutors are trying to show Percoco continued having a role with the Cuomo administration during a period in which he allegedly accepted some of the alleged bribe money from Syracuse company Cor Development, whose founders, Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi, are on trial with Percoco.
Percoco was depicted in several email chains allegedly pushing to get some senior Cuomo administration officials not to leave their jobs.
In one, Percoco was called in to try to work something out to retain Peter Cutler, a longtime Cuomo insider and former top official to Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown. Cutler had moved back home to Buffalo and told Percoco and others that he could no longer work for the administration, according to one email. In one email, Percoco warned there was a "code red alert with Cutler.''
Howard Glaser, a former top Cuomo adviser, wrote in a 2014 email to Todd Howe, a former lobbyist and longtime associate of Cuomo -- with a copy sent to Percoco -- that Cutler had been treated badly.
Howe, the star prosecution witness in the trial, whose former lobbying clients included LPCiminelli, the contractor on RiverBend, wrote back to say Cutler’s departure was going to cause “serious problems” with development work at RiverBend and an IBM project in Buffalo.
Howe wrote that Cutler “took care of all the day to day politics with the City (of Buffalo) and the Buffalo press.’’
On Wednesday evening, lawyers and the judge spent three hours in the court after the jury went home, arguing over evidence and other key procedural matters.
On Thursday, they were back at it in the afternoon – with the jury waiting to return – as defense lawyers made verbal appeals to get some of the charges dismissed against the four defendants based on what they said were legal deficiencies in the government’s case.
By Thursday night, during another session with the judge after jurors were sent home, defense lawyers indicated that half of the two dozen or so potential witnesses are now not going to be called as part of the defense's case. Among the key people who had been expected and now won't testify, one defense lawyer said, is Glaser, who for years was a part of Cuomo's inner circle of advisors.
Still uncertain is whether two of the defendants -- Aiello and Gerardi -- are going to testify. Both have been planning to, their lawyers say, but likely won't if the judge allows prosecutors to ask the two men about their activities in the separate Buffalo Billion corruption scandal. One lawyer said he wants to avoid a "mini-Buffalo Billion" trial within the Percoco trial that could harm the defense expected for Aiello and Gerardi during the Buffalo Billion trial expected for June.
The judge said she expects to rule on how far to let prosecutors ask about the Buffalo Billion case sometime on Friday morning.