SCOTUS overturns convictions of former Cuomo aide Joseph Percoco

Joe Percoco

Joe Percoco, former senior aide to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, leaves federal court after being sentenced to six years in prison for corruption, September 20, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court on Thursday overturned the conviction of Joseph Percoco, a former lawmaker for former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Part of a pair of unanimous decisions, the High Court opinions are part of a series of cases, making it harder for federal prosecutors to bring corruption cases to the public.

Former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has sued Percoco and entrepreneur Louis Ciminelli in a series of lawsuits that have captivated New York tabloids under the “Albany on Trial” banner. His office brought down then-leaders of both branches of the Empire State legislature: now-disgraced Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Republican Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Silver. Dean Skelos.

Bharara then turned his attention to the executive mansion, suing Percoco, Governor Cuomo’s former top aide and family friend, for allegedly accepting illegal payments for the benefit of a Syracuse-area developer. Ciminelli was found guilty in connection with a bid-rigging scandal involving a project known as “Buffalo Billions”, a Cuomo-backed development.

All prosecutions ended in jury convictions, as well as lengthy appeals. Silver failed, but Skelos first found success following the Supreme Court’s decision in McDonnell v. United States, which narrowed the definition of what constituted an official act.

In the case, former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (right) was prosecuted for arranging a meeting with a donor who gave him more than $135,000 in gifts including a Rolex watch, loans and travel. A jury found him guilty on a quid pro quo basis, but the high court ruled that a meeting did not constitute an official act. Skelos used this precedent to secure a new trial, in which he was again convicted under the revised standard.

Now, the legacy of this series of anti-corruption lawsuits in New York faces another setback in the High Court.

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