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Feb. 1, 2019

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Feb. 1, 2019

 

ALBANY - Can't keep track of all the corruption scandals in New York state government? You're not alone.

The year 2018 has been a busy one for corruption convictions in the Empire State, with some of the state's most powerful lawmakers and some of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's top allies among those who have been found guilty since the year began.

Many of those government officials are due for sentencing in the days and months ahead.

Here's who has been convicted since the beginning of the year and when they're expected to learn their fate:

 

 

By Jon Campbell, Albany Bureau

 

Joseph Percoco

Joseph Percoco, one of Gov, Andrew Cuomo's former executive

Joseph Percoco, one of Gov, Andrew Cuomo's former executive deputy secretary, leaves U.S. District court, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) (Photo: Mary Altaffer, AP)

 

Who: One of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's closest personal friends for more than two decades; served as a top aide and campaign manager to Cuomo.

What he was convicted of: Percoco, a South Salem resident, accepted more than $320,000 from COR Development and CPV Energy, a pair of companies with business before the state that leaned on Percoco for favors. Much of the money was paid by CPV through a lucrative job for Percoco's wife that required little work.

DATABASE: The list of troubled state lawmakers in New York since 2000

He was convicted of one felony bribery count and two counts of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud.

When: A jury convicted Percoco (along with COR executive Steven Aiello) in March. Jurors acquitted another COR executive, Joseph Gerardi, and couldn't reach a verdict on Peter Galbraith Kelly of CPV, who later agreed to a plea deal.

Sentencing: Percoco is due for sentencing Aug 10. Prosecutors are seeking a "significant" prison term of more than five years; Percoco's attorneys are looking for two years.

Alain Kaloyeros

Alain Kaloyeros, a former president of the State University

Alain Kaloyeros, a former president of the State University of New York's Polytechnic Institute, arrives to federal court in New York. He was found guilty in a bid-rigging trial on July 12, 2018. (Photo: Seth Wenig, AP)

 

Who: The founding president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute, Kaloyeros was trusted by Cuomo to oversee many of the governor's top economic-development initiatives, including the Buffalo Billion program.

What he was convicted of: Kaloyeros was found to have rigged the bid for contracts that led to state-funded jobs worth more than $850 million, including a $750 million job to build a Tesla/Panasonic solar-panel manufacturing facility that is the centerpiece of the Buffalo Billion.

The contracts went to LPCiminelli and COR Development, whose executives were also convicted.

When: Jurors convicted Kaloyeros, LPCiminelli's Louis Ciminelli and COR's Aiello and Gerardi on July 12. They've vowed to appeal.

Sentencing: Kaloyeros' sentencing is set for Oct. 11.

Sheldon Silver

Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver arrives

Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver arrives at federal court, Monday, April 30, 2018, in New York. (Photo: Mark Lennihan, AP)

 

Who: Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, was one of the most powerful people in New York government during his two-decade tenure as speaker of the state Assembly, which ended when he was indicted in 2015.

What he was convicted of:  Silver, an attorney, was convicted of accepting $4 million disguised as legal payments from law firms specializing in real estate and asbestos claims.

In return, he steered research dollars to a Columbia University cancer researcher who was directing clients to him, which he referred to the asbestos firm in exchange for fees. He directed Glenwood Management, a major real estate firm and campaign donor, to steer work to the real estate law firm that was paying him.

When: Jurors first convicted Silver in November 2015, but his conviction was overturned in 2017 after the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the corruption law he was convicted under. Prosecutors were allowed to retry the case, however, and secured a second conviction in May.

Sentencing: Silver is due for sentencing July 27. He was previously sentenced to 12 years in prison with a $1.75 million fine and $5.2 million in forfeiture before his previous conviction was overturned.

Dean Skelos

Dean Skelos arrives to federal court in New York, Thursday,

Dean Skelos arrives to federal court in New York, Thursday, July 12, 2018. (Photo: Seth Wenig, AP)

 

Who: A Nassau County Republican, Skelos was the powerful state Senate majority leader in 2008 and from 2011 through 2015.

What he was convicted of: Skelos was found guilty of using his considerable influence and power to secure more than $300,000 for his adult son, Adam, through low-show jobs and a $20,000 payment from firms with business before the state.

Adam Skelos was also found guilty.

When: Dean and Adam Skelos were originally convicted by a jury in 2015 before their verdicts were overturned when the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the corruption law they were charged under. But, like Silver, they were convicted in a retrial this year — July 17, specifically.

Sentencing: Dean Skelos is due for sentencing Oct. 24. He was previously sentenced to 5 years in prison  before his first conviction was overturned.

George Maziarz

Former state Sen. George Maziarz (left) enters a courtroom

Former state Sen. George Maziarz (left) enters a courtroom in the Albany County Judicial Center with his attorney E. Stewart Jones on Friday, March 2, 2018. (Photo: Jon Campbell / Albany Bureau)

 

Who: A Niagara County power broker, Maziarz served 20 years in the state Senate before stepping aside in 2015. His district stretched into the Rochester area.

What he was convicted of:  Maziarz pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor count of offering a false instrument for filing.

It was quite the plea bargain for Maziarz: He had been facing trial on five felonies before the state Attorney General's Office agreed to the deal.

He was accused of orchestrating a scheme to hide payments from his campaign to a former staffer who had been accused of sexual harassment.

When: Maziarz agreed to the plea deal in March.

Sentencing: He paid a $1,000 fine.

Pamela Harris

Assemblywoman Pamela Harris, D-Brooklyn, speaks during

Assemblywoman Pamela Harris, D-Brooklyn, speaks during a debate in the state Assembly chamber at the Capitol in Albany. (Photo: NYS Assembly)

 

Who: Harris, D-Brooklyn, was a state assemblywoman in 2016 and 2017.

What she was convicted of: She pleaded guilty to four felonies after prosecutors had charged Harris with fraudulently pocketing $25,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $23,000 in New York City funds that were meant for Coney Island Generation Gap, a non-profit she once led.

When: She pleaded guilty in June.

Sentencing: Harris is due for sentencing Sept. 26.

Marc Panepinto

FILE--In
 this Jan. 21, 2016 file photo, Sen. Marc Panepinto, D-Buffalo, speaks in the Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y.

FILE--In this Jan. 21, 2016 file photo, Sen. Marc Panepinto, D-Buffalo, speaks in the Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y. (Photo: Mike Groll, AP)

 

Who: Panepinto served a single term in the state Senate in 2015 and 2016.

What he was convicted of: The Buffalo Democrat pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor count of promising benefits for political activity.

Panepinto tried to cover up unwanted sexual advances by offering his victim, a staff member of his, a job or money to stay quiet.

When: Panepinto entered his plea in late June.

Sentencing: He's due for sentencing Oct. 2. He faces up to a year in prison and a fine.

 

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Charles Homans

 

At one of the last rallies of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, I found myself speaking with a pair of middle-aged women who emigrated years ago from the Philippines. We got to talking about Rodrigo Duterte, the belligerent strongman who was elected president there six months earlier, and I asked them if they thought Duterte and Trump would get along. “Oh, my gosh!” the first woman said. “Probably — they are the same!”

Duterte had won in a landslide on his promises to extrajudicially exterminate the nation’s drug dealers and users, a pledge understood by Filipinos as a proxy battle in the country’s long war against endemic corruption. In 2006, Transparency International ranked the Philippines 121st out of the 163 countries on its Corruption Perceptions Index (that’s the bad end); a similar ranking the following year by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy rated it the most corruptnation in Asia.

“I came from the Philippines, right?” the second woman said. “When corruption sets in, it doesn’t stop at the top. It goes down. Every appointee will be somebody that is corrupt or can be corrupted, can be silenced. Look at now. If you have a corrupt judicial system — I think the only thing that’s standing now in America that isn’t so very corrupted is the military.”

“And you think Trump can stop that?” I asked.

“I will take him,” she replied. “Because I know what Hillary did already.”

 

Of all the apocalyptic prophecies on offer at Trump rallies, this was in a way the most familiar. An obsession with corruption is an American tradition; it dates back to the founding fathers, who declared independence in part on the conviction that the British monarchy was wielding its expanding financial and patronage power to subvert the independence of Parliament. In a 1994 essay, the historian John Murrin observed that after the revolution, “anxiety about corruption, instead of receding in the republic designed to destroy it, acquired unprecedented force in American public life, sometimes almost enough to overwhelm all other concerns.”

You could argue that Americans have been well served by this anxiety. By international standards, we live in a cleanly run country, and always have. For all but two of the 23 years that Transparency International has published its index, the United States has appeared in the Top 20 least-evidently-corrupt countries. It’s true that we have had our share of spectacular episodes: the Whiskey Ring and Boss Tweed in the 19th century; Teapot Dome and Abscam in the 20th. In 2006, the Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff was convicted of felony corruption, bringing 20 people, including a congressman, down with him. In 2011, Rod Blagojevich, the Democratic former governor of Illinois, went to prison for trying to auction off Barack Obama’s old Senate seat. But the fact that these incidents remain so memorable is the point; they were seen as unacceptable aberrations, with consequences in the courts of law and public opinion. People went to prison, lost elections and, in Abramoff’s case, were played by Kevin Spacey in a biopic.

And yet, in a Gallup poll released three years ago, 75 percent of American respondents said that corruption was “widespread” in the country’s government. Among the other countries in Transparency International’s Top 20 that were also surveyed by Gallup, none were remotely as pessimistic about corruption as the United States. No other country has done so well at containing corruption while leaving so many of its people convinced that it has done poorly.

If this reflects the legacy of the founders’ anxieties, it also reflects Americans’ expansive definition of “corruption.” The idea suffuses our politics and hangs heavily over any intersection of money and politics, however legal: The practice of earmarking appropriations bills is “inherently corrupt,” in the view of the former Republican senator Tom Coburn; the sweeping tax bill that Republicans hastily drafted and passed last year would have them “nailed with corruption,” Howard Dean vowed; post-Citizens United election spending is a “corrupt campaign-finance system,” in Bernie Sanders’s formulation.

Is it even worth distinguishing between this unseemly-but-legal stuff and true corruption if the outcome is, arguably, not much different? It’s an interesting question, but one you would only think to ask in a country, like the United States, where illegal corruption is relatively rare. The true cost of illegal corruption, in countries where it is rampant, is rarely the direct one; it is the way even the most banal and minor forms of it erode the rule of law, introducing uncertainty into every dealing with the state and reducing it to the self-interest of its human agents: not just politicians but also customs inspectors, permit issuers, police officers, anyone vested with enough power to extract a dollar.

Eventually the idea of reforming institutions starts to seem bewilderingly difficult — harder than just tearing them down. This is why anti-corruption crusades are expedient platforms for demagogues and authoritarians who, like Duterte, have no serious interest in corruption — the Philippines had generally improved under his predecessor and has slid back down the rankings during his presidency — but are eager to tear down institutions for very different reasons.

Trump’s invocations of corruption, like Duterte’s, have rarely been far from his own open pining for unchecked authority. “You look at the corruption at the top of the F.B.I. — it’s a disgrace,” he told the hosts of “Fox and Friends” in April. “And our Justice Department, which I try and stay away from — but at some point I won’t.”

What is incredible about this is not just that so many Americans now accept the sort of drastic rhetoric that usually only flies in countries with actual, existential corruption problems. It’s the fact that so many people accept it from, of all people, Donald Trump. “The Democrat I.T. scandal is key to much of the corruption we see today,” he tweeted on June 7. This was a week before New York’s attorney general filed a lawsuit seeking to disband Trump’s philanthropic foundation following a two-year investigation, alleging extensive campaign-law violations and extravagant self-dealing. (Trump blamed the lawsuit on “sleazy New York Democrats,” but the state’s evidence included a note in Trump’s own handwriting diverting foundation funds to his personal legal expenses.)

 

“Total corruption — the Witch Hunt has turned out to be a scam!” Trump tweeted about the F.B.I. on June 20, two days after Forbes reported that his commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, had lied to the Office of Government Ethics about his stakes in companies co-owned by the Chinese government and allies of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. “So many questions, so much corruption!” Trump fumed about the F.B.I. (again) on June 28, the day after the Environmental Protection Agency’s chief ethics officer reported that he was assisting in investigations of his own boss, Scott Pruitt, the target of 13 federal inquiries into his spending and management as the agency’s administrator. (A week later, Pruitt resigned.)

And that’s just in June. With each new revelation, reporters dutifully observe that it would be, for any other presidency, a defining scandal. This is a country where, as recently as 2009, failing to account for the use of a borrowed limo on an income-tax return, as Tom Daschle did, could force you to withdraw from a cabinet appointment. How did we get from there to Wilbur Ross, let alone Trump himself?

Forget political tribalism for a moment. There was a time, back before Trump locked up his party’s 2016 nomination, when a plurality of Republican primary voters decided to take at face value the anti-corruption bona fides of a man whose most sustained previous relationship with politics was navigating the favor exchanges of 1970s Brooklyn Democratic clubhouses; who had spent much of the last decade in business with an unambiguously corrupt Azerbaijani oligarch; who had derided the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which forbids American companies to bribe officials in other countries, as a “ridiculous,” “horrible law”; whose companies, according to his own campaign disclosure form, carried at least $315 million in debt to an opaque web of financial institutions, many of them in foreign countries. It’s still a nagging question: This guy?

It’s possible, however, to see Trump not as an exception but as the logical conclusion of a national fear of corruption that long ago curdled into a self-satisfied conviction that everything and everyone in politics already is corrupt. Trump campaigned on the idea, after all. He has always had a knack for channeling Americans’ fundamental cynicism about politics, no doubt because he shares it. In May, he mused that he was considering commuting Blagojevich’s 14-year sentence; the governor, he argued, had really only been convicted of “being stupid and saying things that every other politician, you know, that many other politicians say.” Most Americans would probably agree. If you believe all politicians are crooks, it no longer seems to matter much whether a particular one among them is: The answer to “This guy?” becomes “Why not this guy?” And in the end, you get the country you thought you had all along.

Charles Homans is the politics editor for the magazine. He last wrote about the rallies Trump has held since becoming president.

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