United States v. Percoco

Citation13 F.4th 180
Decision Date08 September 2021
Docket Number19-1272,18-3710,August Term 2019,Nos. 18-2990,s. 18-2990
Parties UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Joseph PERCOCO, Steven Aiello, Joseph Gerardi, Louis Ciminelli, Alain Kaloyeros, aka Dr. K, Defendants-Appellants, Peter Galbraith Kelly, Jr., Michael Laipple, Kevin Shuler, Defendants.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)

Matthew D. Podolsky (Robert L. Boone, Janis M. Echenberg, Won S. Shin, on the brief), Assistant United States Attorneys, for Audrey Strauss, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, New York, NY, for Appellee United States of America.

Michael L. Yaeger, Carlton Fields, P.A., New York, NY (Walter P. Loughlin, New York, NY, on the brief), for Defendant-Appellant Joseph Percoco.

Alexandra A.E. Shapiro (Daniel J. O'Neill, and Fabien Thayamballi, on the brief), Shapiro Arato Bach LLP, New York, NY for Defendant-Appellant Steven Aiello.

Before: Raggi, Chin, and Sullivan, Circuit Judges.

Richard J. Sullivan, Circuit Judge:

This case, which concerns public corruption in New York State, requires us to again consider the reach of the federal fraud and bribery statutes. Defendants-Appellants Joseph Percoco and Steven Aiello appeal from judgments of conviction entered in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Caproni, J. ), after a jury found Aiello guilty of conspiracy to commit honest-services wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349, and found Percoco guilty of both conspiracy to commit honest-services wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349, and solicitation of bribes or gratuities, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 666(a)(1)(B) and 2.1

On appeal, the defendants argue that the district court committed reversible error when it (1) instructed the jury that it could convict defendants of conspiracy to commit honest-services fraud based on Percoco accepting payment to take official action to benefit the briber "as opportunities ar[i]se"; (2) charged the jury that the defendants could be liable for conspiracy to commit honest-services fraud for actions Percoco took while he was not formally employed as a state official; (3) instructed the jury that Percoco could be liable under § 666 for soliciting, demanding, accepting, or agreeing to accept a gratuity as a reward for certain action; (4) constructively amended Aiello's indictment by permitting his conviction to be based on acts Percoco committed while he was not a public official; (5) denied defendantsmotions for a judgment of acquittal based on the insufficiency of the evidence at trial; and (6) ordered forfeiture against Percoco in the amount of $320,000. Finding none of these arguments persuasive, we AFFIRM .

A. Facts

This case involves two schemes in which Percoco – a longtime friend and top aide to former Governor Andrew Cuomo – accepted payment in exchange for promising to use his position to perform official actions. For the first scheme, Percoco promised to further the interests of an energy company named Competitive Power Venture ("CPV"). For the second, Percoco agreed with Aiello to advance the interests of Aiello's real estate development company, COR Development Company. Drawing from the evidence introduced at trial, we briefly describe the facts of these schemes in the light most favorable to the government. See United States v. Silver , 948 F.3d 538, 546 n.1 (2d Cir. 2020), cert. denied , ––– U.S. ––––, 141 S. Ct. 656, 209 L.Ed.2d 18 (2021).

1. The CPV Scheme

The CPV scheme started in 2012, when Percoco served as a high-level official in the Governor's Office, also called the Executive Chamber. For all his political influence, Percoco found himself financially constrained. So he reached out to his friend Todd Howe, who was an influential and corrupt lobbyist. Percoco confided in Howe that money was tight, and he asked if any of Howe's clients would hire Percoco's wife. Sometime later, Howe approached Peter Galbraith Kelly, Jr., whose energy company, CPV, was angling for a so-called "Power Purchase Agreement" that would have required New York State to purchase power from CPV.

Percoco, Howe, and Kelly met over dinner to discuss an arrangement whereby Percoco would help CPV secure the Power Purchase Agreement in exchange for securing employment for – and sending payments to – Percoco's wife. Throughout the fall of 2012, Percoco pressured Howe to close the deal with Kelly so that Percoco could earn what he and Howe code-named "ziti" – a reference to the term for payoffs featured in the mafia-themed television show "The Sopranos." See Suppl. App'x at 1–3; App'x at 553. CPV later hired Percoco's wife as an "education consultant" paying her $7,500 a month for a few hours of work each week. To conceal this arrangement, Kelly instructed his employees to omit the last name of Percoco's wife from CPV materials, and routed the payments through a third-party contractor, whom Percoco referred to as Kelly's "money guy." Suppl. App'x at 212. Invoices from Kelly's "money guy" likewise excluded any reference to Percoco's wife.

In exchange for these payments, Percoco agreed to help CPV obtain a Power Purchase Agreement from New York State. Later, while serving as Executive Deputy Secretary in Cuomo's administration, Percoco confirmed in an email that he would "push on" the supervisor of New York's state agencies, Howard Glaser, to discourage the state from awarding a Power Purchase Agreement to one of CPV's competitors. Howe replied that Percoco had to "[h]old [Glaser's] feet to the fire" to "keep the ziti flowing." Id. at 30.

Percoco also accepted continued payments to influence New York State officials to approve a so-called "Reciprocity Agreement" between New York and New Jersey, which was designed to allow CPV to build a power plant in New Jersey by purchasing relatively inexpensive emission credits in New York. After an assistant commissioner in New York's Department of Environmental Conservation ("DEC") told Kelly that he would need a "push from above" to secure the agreement, id. at 8–10, Kelly, through Howe, reached out to Percoco for that push. In response, Percoco stated that he would contact the Commissioner of the DEC. When Howe followed up with Percoco about a week later, Percoco indicated that his mother was not well, and referred Howe to Glaser and another high-ranking official in Governor Cuomo's administration who could contact the DEC Commissioner. Copying Percoco on the email, Howe forwarded the message to Glaser and the other official. Glaser and the other official then successfully directed the Commissioner to have the state agency enter into the Reciprocity Agreement with New Jersey.

2. The COR Development Scheme

The second scheme began while Percoco was temporarily managing Governor Cuomo's reelection campaign in 2014. Pursuant to this scheme, Aiello arranged for his company, COR Development, to pay Percoco to take action to benefit the company. Initially, Aiello sought out Percoco's assistance so that COR Development could avoid entering into a potentially costly agreement with a local union, known as a "Labor Peace Agreement," prior to receiving state funding for a project. On July 30, 2014, Aiello emailed Howe asking whether "there is any way Joe P can help us" with the Labor Peace Agreement "while he is off the 2nd floor working on the Campaign." App'x at 680. The next day, Aiello followed up with an email to Howe asking him to "call Joe P." for "help" on the Labor Peace Agreement. Suppl. App'x at 59. Less than two weeks later, COR Development transferred $15,000 to an entity that Howe controlled, prompting Howe to cut a $15,000 check to Percoco's wife. In October 2014, after several emails were exchanged but before Percoco had taken any action concerning the Labor Peace Agreement, COR Development sent an additional $20,000 to Percoco through the same circuitous route. Percoco received both payments after he had told his bank and several others that he intended to return to the Governor's Office.

After receiving payment, Percoco directed a state agency, Empire State Development ("ESD"), to reverse its previous decision requiring COR Development to enter into a Labor Peace Agreement. On December 3, 2014, Howe forwarded Percoco an email from Aiello's partner, Joseph Gerardi, pressing Howe to have Percoco resolve the issue. Percoco responded that Howe should stand by; within an hour, Percoco called Andrew Kennedy, who oversaw ESD, and urged him to move forward without the Labor Peace Agreement.

At that point, Percoco was a few days from formally returning to his position in the Governor's Office and had already signed and submitted his reinstatement forms. In fact, Percoco's swipe-card and telephone records revealed that he was at his desk in the Executive Chamber when he directed Kennedy to resolve the Labor Peace Agreement in COR Development's favor. Kennedy testified that he interpreted Percoco's call as "pressure" coming from one of his "principals," who was a "senior staff member[ ]," and that he relayed this sentiment to another senior executive at the agency when encouraging that official to waive the required Labor Peace Agreement. App'x at 535. After his call with Kennedy, Percoco contacted Howe to confirm that the state agency would soon reach out to Gerardi "with a different perspective" on the need for a Labor Peace Agreement. Id. at 710 (internal quotation marks omitted). The following morning, the agency did as Percoco predicted.

After he resumed his official role in Governor Cuomo's administration, Percoco pressured subordinate state officials to prioritize and release outstanding funds that the state owed COR Development. Percoco also ordered the Director of Administrative Services for the Executive Chamber and employees of the Office of General Services to process a stalled pay raise for Aiello's son, who at that time worked in the Executive Chamber. Recognizing Percoco's role in procuring a raise for...

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    • LexBlog United States
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    • American Criminal Law Review No. 60-3, July 2023
    • July 1, 2023
    ...(analyzing f‌iduciary duties owed by public off‌icials and private individuals pre- and post- Skilling and Black ). 388. U.S. v. Percoco, 13 F.4th 180, 194 (2d Cir. 2021), cert. granted , 142 S. Ct. 2901 (U.S. June 30, 2022). 389. See United States v. Bahel, 662 F.3d 610, 641 (2d Cir. 2011)......
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    • American Criminal Law Review No. 59-3, July 2022
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    .... .inf‌luence . . . [over a public off‌icial] as specif‌ic opportunities [arose]” after payment). But see United States v. Percoco, 13 F.4th 180, 189–90 (2d Cir. 2021) (holding that jury instructions which did not require conviction only on a showing of bribery in relation to a “specif‌ic a......

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