Defendants in Buffalo Billion corruption case face Nov. 23 deadline for indictments ; plea negotiations possible

By LOUIS FLORES

Federal prosecutors in the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara face a deadline of 23 November to file indictments from a grand jury in the prosecution case against eight co-Defendants arrested in September in the Buffalo Billion corruption case. A ninth Defendant is reportedly coöperating with Federal prosecutors. The corruption alleged in the Government's prosecution involve contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. One of the chief co-Defendants is Joseph Percoco, who served as a top political aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-New York). Mr. Percoco is currently employed by the company that operates Madison Square Garden. Mr. Percoco was charged with accepting bribes from Government contractors whilst he worked for Gov. Cuomo. Although it has been reported that Mr. Percoco's wife, Lisa Toscano-Percoco, also accepted bribes, she was not charged with crimes by Federal prosecutors.

Under Federal rules, prosecutors must file an indictment within thirty (30) days of making an arrest. See 18 U.S. Code § 3161(b). The deadline of 23 November follows a continuance approved by U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Fox on the first deadline for indictments. The continuance was granted in order to reportedly facilitate plea negotiations, according to a report broadcast by WNBC Channel 4 News. Information obtained by Progress Queens indicated that the 23 November deadline may be subject to a request by Defendants for another continuance. It is not known if Mr. Percoco will definitively make another request for continuance ; if so, Federal prosecutors may seek Mr. Percoco's cooperation against other co-Defendants or unnamed Defendants in exchange for receiving leniency. It is also not known wheter Federal prosecutors are holding the possibility of charging Mr. Percoco's wife with crimes related to the acceptance of bribes to compel Mr. Percoco's coöperation in the prosecution case. Barry Bohrer, Mr. Percoco's defense counsel, did not answer a request for interview for this report.

Albany floundering to cope with changing political landscape

The deadline for indictments reportedly was a factor in an announcement made by Gov. Cuomo to exercise discretionary Executive powers to increase oversight in response to the spree of corruption scandals that have rocked the State capital, including at his signature economic development program for western New York. Gov. Cuomo's ethics proposal involves creating three new watchdogs, which would be political appointments made by the governor : a new chief procurement officer to oversee state contracts and new inspector generals for each of the State University of New York and the City University of New York, according to a report published by WGRZ Channel 2 News. In the past, there has been criticism about the independence of ethics officers that have served as political appointments, particularly at the Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

Gov. Cuomo's newfound role of recommending ethics reforms and reportedly ordering his political appointees to block pay raises for State legislators, who refused to legislate new ethics laws, followed the stunning defeat of former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in the general election for U.S. President. In the time since Election Day, establishment, neoliberal Democrats have been scrambling to appear reform-minded to deflect criticism from a resurgent Left wing of the Democratic Party.

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