The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously reversed the public corruption conviction of a longtime aide and friend to the Cuomo family.
Joseph Percoco, who served as an aide to New York Democratic Govs. Mario Cuomo (D) and Andrew Cuomo (D), was found guilty on conspiracy to commit honest-services fraud and bribery charges in 2019.
The justices ruled Thursday that the jury that convicted Percoco was given an erroneous instruction, sending it back to the lower courts for further proceedings in a 9-0 decision.
The arrangement involved a $35,000 payment that Percoco allegedly accepted in exchange for helping a real estate developer avoid needing to enter a costly labor agreement. Percoco worked in the governor’s office before and after the scheme, but he was serving as the younger Cuomo’s reelection campaign manager for the duration of it.
Percoco had argued that he should not have been convicted for conspiracy to deprive the government of “honest services” because he was a private citizen for the entirety of the scheme.
At trial, the jury was instructed to determine if Percoco had a “special relationship” with the government and had “dominated and controlled” government business.
“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,” conservative Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority.
The Justice Department contended that it could bring the charge against Percoco because of his influence with the Cuomos and state agencies, despite him being a private citizen at the time. Percoco’s lawyers pushed back that the federal government’s position effectively would criminalize lobbying.