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2nd Circuit affirms convictions of 5 'Buffalo Billion' defendants

Joseph Percoco (l) and former Gov. Andrew Cuomo
File Photo
Joseph Percoco (l) and his former boss.

Five "Buffalo Billion" defendants convicted of fraud and conspiracy in July 2018 have had their appeals denied.

The three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan heard the appeal in March of last year and announced Wednesday that they found no reason to overturn the convictions.

The five are Buffalo developer Louis P. Ciminelli, one-time Andrew Cuomo senior aide Joseph Percoco, former SUNY Polytechnic Institute head Alain Kaloyeros and Syracuse businessmen Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi.
They claimed their cases were rife with prosecutorial misconduct, insufficient evidence and alleged errors in jury instructions.

Percoco was convicted of accepting over $300,000 from companies seeking to influence the Cuomo administration and was sentenced to six years in prison.

Aiello was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in funneling bribes to Percoco to gain his influence in the Buffalo Billion development project aimed at encouraging economic development upstate.

Ciminelli won the contract to build the RiverBend facility that now houses a Tesla plant along the Buffalo River. He has been free pending the appeal. He now faces a 28-month prison sentence.

The scandal was a multi-year black cloud over the Cuomo administration and was frequently cited by critics as proof that Cuomo failed to address chronic corruption in state government, even within his own administration.

In a decision written by 2nd Circuit Judge Richard J. Sullivan, a three-judge appeals panel rejected arguments that a jury at a 2018 trial was improperly instructed on the law by a judge who improperly concluded there was sufficient evidence for convictions.

The appeals court agreed with lawyers for Percoco and Aiello that a judge's bribery instructions to the jury fell short of the legal standard that was recently clarified in another New York state corruption case, but it said the error was harmless and the jury would have convicted anyway.

Trial evidence overwhelmingly showed that Percoco and his co-conspirators understood that payments to Percoco's wife for a low-show job as an ``education consultant`` were in exchange for his help in getting energy company CPV a deal requiring New York state to purchase power from the company, the 2nd Circuit said.

In an amusing moment at trial, the payments were described in coded communications between the co-conspirators in 2012 as ``ziti,`` a reference to how payoffs were described by characters on the award-winning HBO series ``The Sopranos.`"

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