NEW YORK (AP) — A lawyer for a longtime confidante and top aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told jurors Wednesday that his client accepted no bribes, or “ziti,” as prosecutors like to call it.
Attorney Barry Bohrer mocked how prosecutors made the word from the popular HBO series “The Sopranos” a focus of their closing argument in the trial of Joseph Percoco, who was chairman of Cuomo’s 2014 successful re-election campaign.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Zhou began his closing argument Tuesday by reading aloud a few emails in which Percoco, 48, and his former friend, lobbyist Todd Howe, used the word in their communications. Zhou told jurors Percoco was “begging, requesting, demanding ziti” and got it when one businessman who needed help from the state hired his wife at a job that paid her a total of $290,000 while two real estate developers arranged for him to get another $35,000.
Bohrer said ziti proved nothing.
“Comb the record for all the ziti emails to see who, in fact, invokes the word,” Bohrer urged the Manhattan federal court jurors.
He said they’ll discover that the word was first used 14 times by Howe and only twice by his client, who is on trial along with the three businessmen.
“This isn’t the language of criminals. It’s not evidence of a crime. But that’s what they led with yesterday,” the attorney said.
Howe was the government’s star witness in the five-week-old trial. An admission during his multiday testimony that he violated his cooperation deal with prosecutors by failing to mention that he had tried to improperly recover the cost of a night at a Manhattan luxury hotel from a credit card company caused him to be imprisoned for a possible bail violation.
Howe pleaded guilty to eight federal charges, and defense lawyers have argued that he lied on the witness stand to try to escape the potential for decades in prison.
Bohrer attacked Howe’s claims that Percoco was seeking bribes because he was suffering financially in 2012.
The lawyer told jurors to review the savings account for Percoco and his wife, saying they’ll see that he had $63,000 in savings in September 2012 and the same amount two months later.
“See if you agree this was a picture of financial desperation,” Bohrer said. “You’ll see that the Percocos, their finances were just fine.”
Cuomo, a Democrat, has not been accused of wrongdoing.
The jury will likely begin deliberations Thursday, following three days of summations and after hearing 25 witnesses and viewing scores of exhibits.