Supreme Court Reverses Former Cuomo Aide’s Bribery Conviction

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Supreme Court Reverses Former Cuomo Aide’s Bribery Conviction


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The 2018 conviction of an aide to former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was partially overturned Thursday in a Supreme Court decision that scaled back a public corruption law.

Joseph Percoco was convicted in 2018 for honest-services wire fraud after he accepted $35,000 from a real-estate development company while working on Cuomo’s campaign, according to court documents. Though he was a private citizen at the time, the jury was told Percoco could be convicted of honest-services wire fraud — the crime of defrauding the public of their “intangible right of honest services” — if they could determine he had “dominated and controlled” government business and had a “special relationship” with the government.

“We conclude that this is not the proper test for determining whether a private person may be convicted of honest-services fraud, and we therefore reverse and remand for further proceedings,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his majority opinion.

The decision narrows the instances in which the public corruption law can apply by rejecting the Second Circuit’s 1982 test for including private citizens, which Alito notes could “also be used to charge particularly well-connected and effective lobbyists.”

“From time immemorial, there have been éminence grises, individuals who lacked any formal government position but nevertheless exercised very strong influence over government decision,” he wrote.

Percoco worked as the governor’s executive deputy secretary from 2011 to 2016, but stepped down for eight months in 2014 to work on Cuomo’s campaign, according to court documents. Days before resuming his role as Cuomo’s aide, Percoco used his influence with a senior official to get the company out of a required “labor peace agreement” with local unions.

The case will be sent back to the Second Circuit, where Percoco’s entire conviction could now be reversed. While the Court only addressed one count of conspiracy to commit honest-services wire fraud, Percoco was also charged with a second count of conspiracy to commit honest-services wire fraud and one count of soliciting bribes.

A separate case the Supreme Court also decided on Thursday found that the Second Circuit was wrong to uphold the wire fraud conviction of Louis Ciminelli, whose New York construction company secured a government contract after apparently manipulating the bidding process to guarantee it would be selected.

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