WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday narrowed the scope of a federal anti-corruption law by ruling in favor of a former aide to former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was convicted of accepting a bribe from a real estate developer.
The court, in a 9-0 vote, threw out the conviction of Joseph Percoco for accepting a $35,000 payment for managing Cuomo’s 2014 re-election campaign.
The court ruled that his conduct was not covered by federal law that requires “honest services” be provided to the public. Percoco did not work for the government at the time, so he did not have a duty to provide honest services, the court said.
In a separate ruling in a related case, the court dismissed a The wire fraud conviction of the Buffalo real estate developer is another blow to federal prosecutors.
The court ruled unanimously in favor of Louis Ciminelli, who the government says had tried to rig the bidding process for city redevelopment contracts.
In Percoco’s case, prosecutors said he was only temporarily working for Cuomo’s campaign when he was paid by developer Steven Aiello, who was seeking state funding for a construction project. Percoco worked as a top aide to Cuomo, a Democrat, from 2011 to 2016, except for eight months when he ran the campaign.
Percoco was convicted in 2018 on one count of honest services fraud for real estate payments. At the same trial, he was also convicted of another count of honest services fraud and one count of soliciting a bribe to arrange for Competitive Power Venture, an energy company doing business with the state, to make payments to his wife. .
He was sentenced to six years in prison for the three crimes.
The Supreme Court did not address whether the other two convictions should also be overturned, as Percoco’s lawyers had argued.
Percoco appealed to the higher court after the New York-based US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld their convictions in a September 2021 ruling. In the same decision, the appeals court upheld the convictions of several other people in the sweeping New York investigation, including Ciminelli.
In the Ciminelli case, the court threw out a legal theory that the Justice Department had relied on in other cases. Under the «right to control» theory, someone commits fraud by depriving another person of «potentially valuable economic information.»
The court agreed with Ciminelli’s lawyers and other critics of the theory that fraud can only be committed if there is a loss of money or property.
Several others named in the investigation, including Aiello, have their own appeals pending in the Supreme Court.
Cuomo, who resigned in 2021 after facing sexual harassment allegations, was not charged.
In recent years, the Supreme Court has already limited the reach of anti-bribery laws, most notably in a 2010 ruling in favor of Jeff Skilling, the former CEO of Enron Corp. More recently, the court in 2016 threw out the convictions. for corruption of the former governor of Virginia. Robert McDonnell, Republican.