Cuomo distances himself from Percoco corruption scandal

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks Aug. 7, 2018, at the Hotel Saranac in Saranac Lake. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

GEDDES — Gov. Andrew Cuomo flatly denied this week that he has ever heard former top aide Joseph Percoco — now facing a federal prison term after being convicted of felony corruption charges — use the word “ziti” as a code word for money.

Percoco, slated to be sentenced next month, wrote numerous messages using ‘ziti’ when demanding bribe payments that were the basis for the felony convictions he faces, according to federal prosecutors.

They said he and Todd Howe, a former Cuomo associate who admitted his role in the bribery schemes, chose the code word after hearing it in a similar context in the former cable television show, “The Sopranos.”

Cuomo responded “no” when asked by CNHI on opening day of the New York State Fair Wednesday if he was familiar with Percoco using the term.

Denies role

Cuomo, a Democrat now seeking a third term as governor, has previously said that Percoco was so close to him and his family that he considered him a brother.

The governor has repeatedly stated he had no personal role in what prosecutors have described as pay-to-play schemes in which developers in Buffalo and central New York were awarded lucrative state contracts after making hefty contributions to Cuomo’s campaign account.

Cuomo defended contributions his campaign gets from companies seeking to do business with the state, pointing out such donations are legal.

“It’s the law of the state of New York,” he told reporters.

“I’ve tried to change it many times,” he added.

He insisted such donations have no influence on decisions made by state officials who work in his administration.

“I don’t care if the person gives a lot of money or if a person gives a little bit of money,” Cuomo said at the opening of a new $63 million state fair exhibition center.

“If you are a person who is influenced by donors, you shouldn’t be in this business. Period.”

Money from Trump

At his recent trial, prosecutors introduced evidence that showed Percoco often used the governor’s state office in Manhattan while serving as the campaign manager in 2014.

The evidence showed that more than 800 calls were made in less than 10 weeks from a phone on Percoco’s desk.

Allegations of corruption within the Cuomo administration have been a major theme of two Cuomo challengers this year, Democrat Cynthia Nixon and Republican Marc Molinaro. The latter is scheduled to bring his campaign to the State Fair Sunday.

With progressive Democrats expected to have a major voice in the outcome of the state’s Sept. 13 primary, Nixon and Cuomo have both stepped up their criticism of President Donald Trump, a Republican.

In Manhattan Wednesday, Nixon argued that Cuomo should return more than $60,000 he received from Trump from 2001 to 2009. That money flowed to Cuomo before he became governor in 2011.

Cuomo, asked about former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s guilty pleas to federal crimes arising from payments to two women said to have had flings with Trump before he became president, told reporters that a presidential pardon to Cohen now would amount to “defacto silencing of a witness.”

State, federal probe

Meanwhile, following revelations that Cohen is willing to cooperate with ongoing state and federal probes involving suspected tax fraud at the Trump Foundation, the president’s charity, the New York State Tax Department acknowledged it was sending a subpoena to Cohen and would be working with state prosecutors in that probe.

The state agency made its move after Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, told CNN host Chris Cuomo, Andrew Cuomo’s brother, that Cohen would be willing to share information on the Trump Foundation with investigators.


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