NEW YORK (AP) — A federal jury hearing testimony on Tuesday was served a steady diet of "ziti," the word prosecutors say a former close aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo used as code to refer to bribe payments he received to push forward projects for three businessmen.
Again and again, the word arose in emails shown to the jury and in the testimony of Todd Howe, the government's prized turncoat witness, who provided details to support the government's claims against his longtime friend Joseph Percoco, Cuomo's former aide.
Percoco, who directed the Democratic governor's 2014 re-election campaign, is on trial in Manhattan along with the three businessmen, who prosecutors say teamed with Howe to funnel more than $300,000 to Percoco in return for his help on advancing their business quests.
"I have no ziti," Percoco was quoted as grumbling in one exchange when Howe said Percoco wanted money to pay his hefty mortgage and other bills.
Howe had told him he was on vacation.
"Enjoy your vacation," Percoco wrote in an email read into the court record. "I'll send my kids in the backyard with the garden hose."
Howe testified a day earlier that Percoco told him the word "ziti" was inspired by its use on HBO's mob drama "The Sopranos."
Prosecutors say most of the bribes paid to Percoco since 2012 resulted from a consulting job for his wife, a schoolteacher, so he would help clear the way for the opening of a power plant in Orange County, while about $35,000 came through checks two Syracuse real estate developers wrote to her so that he would help obtain permits necessary for the redevelopment of Syracuse's Inner Harbor.
A lawyer for Percoco has told jurors Percoco acted legally as he worked for decades for the governor and his father, the late Gov. Mario Cuomo. He called Howe, who has pleaded guilty to charges carrying up to 130 years in prison, a liar trying to reduce his sentence.
Through testimony, Howe made Percoco seem desperate in late 2012 to find work for his wife so he could afford his pricey Westchester County home.
Percoco, when told in December 2012 that the first of monthly $7,500 checks was about to arrive, said in an email that he was grateful, Howe testified.
"Down to the wire here," Percoco wrote, according to Howe.
Testimony and emails also revealed Tuesday how Percoco and Howe repeatedly referred to one of Percoco's co-defendants, Peter Galbraith Kelly Jr., as "fat man."
Howe said in one email exchange that Kelly, an executive with Competitive Power Ventures, was panicking as he tried to arrange a contract to sell power to the state while the company pursued state construction projects related to economic development in western New York.
Howe wrote that he was "heading to Home Depot to buy some ... sheets of plywood to build the pine box for fat man."
"Get the jumper cables out of the state rig, fat man is down for the count," he added. "He's in free fall."
Kelly has pleaded not guilty.
Cuomo, who is not accused of wrongdoing, has said if the allegations against Percoco are true he'll be "saddened and profoundly disappointed."