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Cuomo insiders - but not Cuomo - ask for leniency in Percoco sentencing

ALBANY — A who's who of longtime insiders to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and his late father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, have written letters to a federal judge asking her to be lenient when she sentences Joseph Percoco next month on his bribery conviction earlier this year.

Notably not on the list of letter writers: Andrew Cuomo, who once said Percoco, his longtime personal, government and political adviser, was like a brother to him.

Cuomo, who has said he was surprised by Percoco's actions, offered no explanation Thursday for not seeking to get a reduced sentence for his onetime friend.

The reason appeared obvious, though: Cuomo, who rode into office in 2010 promising to restore Albany's tarnished reputation, is in a battle with both Democratic and Republican opponents who want to take his job away from him this fall in primary and general election contests.

"Cuomo was a longtime friend and it should be expected that he would write a letter (for Percoco) and it shouldn't be politically damaging, but it would be," said Douglas Muzzio, a political scientist at Baruch College.

The Cuomo administration did not return a call or email seeking comment.

Percoco corruption conviction is a political blow for Cuomo

Percoco was convicted earlier this year of taking $300,000 in bribes in return for using the power of his senior position working in Cuomo's office to help two companies that had business dealings before the state.

Defense lawyers this week filed a packet of letters written by dozens of people to U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni seeking leniency when she sentences Percoco on Aug. 10. They included written boosts for Percoco from Larry Schwartz and Steve Cohen, who go back years serving in top posts with Cuomo, along with former top Democratic Party leader John Marino during the days when Mario Cuomo was governor. Mario Cuomo referred to Percoco as his "third son."

Also writing were family members, including Percoco's wife, children and cousins, along with ex-Court of Appeals Judge Joseph Bellacosa, whom Mario Cuomo tapped for the state's highest court post in 1987. At least two lobbyists who have known the Cuomo family for years, including Richard Ostroff and David Weinraub, also wrote to the judge.

"The most important things I can share with you is Joe was a loyal and tireless worker to both Mario and Andrew Cuomo and a dedicated public servant," wrote Schwartz, the former top government staffer to Andrew Cuomo who was Mario Cuomo's deputy campaign manager in 1994 when he first met Percoco.

Prosecutors, too, had their own letter to the judge with a different twist than the Percoco boosters.

Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan whose office prosecuted the Percoco and recent Buffalo Billion trial, asked Caproni to sentence Percoco to at least five years in federal prison. Caproni presided over the Buffalo Billion trial, which featured the bid-rigging convictions of four men, including Buffalo businessman Louis Ciminelli and former SUNY Polytechnic Institute leader Alain Kaloyeros. They will be sentenced by Caproni in October.

The Percoco trial, federal prosecutors wrote this week," exposed wrongdoing at high levels of state government that is hardly aberrant. Recent prosecutions and trials in this district have laid bare the ugly truth that, too often, political power and responsibility in New York leads to political corruption," prosecutors wrote.

"This Court is well positioned and should send a strong message to those who might consider following in this disgraceful tradition. In short, a significant prison term for Percoco is warranted both in light of the extent of his corruption and to promote general deterrence," the government wrote.

Federal sentencing guidelines call for a minimum sentence of 15 years. Prosecutors are not seeking that level, but said Percoco's prison term sentence should "meaningfully exceed 60 months."

Insiders from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's administration are requesting leniency for former Cuomo advisor Joseph Percoco. (Harry Scull Jr./News file photo)

Prosecutors noted how Percoco began his state service working for Mario Cuomo's administration, and served with Andrew Cuomo when he was state Attorney General and later as governor. Percoco also ran Cuomo's campaigns, including in 2014 after he left the state payroll but was still permitted to use his former government office in Manhattan for campaign work. Republicans have called for a criminal investigation of that matter.

Defense lawyers may not have had Andrew Cuomo write a letter on Percoco's behalf, but they quoted Cuomo's words about Percoco in a 2014 memoir the governor wrote. Percoco, Cuomo wrote, "had the guts, brains, and stick-to-itiveness necessary to attack any project — hard."

Percoco's lawyers, in their July 18 letter to Caproni, said the "most severe punishment" to Percoco has already come "in the court of public opinion." They cited "seemingly endless public scrutiny" since he was arrested in 2016.

"Such scrutiny will only increase as the gubernatorial election approaches," defense lawyers wrote, adding that Percoco spent years advocating for and supporting the Cuomo family "and enhancing its reputation."

"That his name, his picture and this case will be used in an attempt to sully that reputation is itself stiff punishment," wrote Percoco's legal team from Schulte Roth & Zabel in Manhattan.

The defense lawyers wrote Caproni that a prison term of two years or less will act as a deterrent to others "and will sufficiently punish Joe as an individual."

The Percoco trial was once legally linked to the Buffalo Billion case before it was separated into two trials last year by Caproni. On Thursday, Caproni sent word to lawyers in that case that she intends to delay until sometime in mid-November the sentencing of Kevin Schuler, the former LPCiminelli executive from Buffalo who pleaded guilty for his role in the bid-rigging scheme and cooperated with prosecutors in their case against Ciminelli and the others.

Jury convicts Ciminelli, Kaloyeros in Buffalo Billion bid-rigging scheme

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