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Opening Statements Begin In Corruption Trial Of Former Cuomo Aide

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Prosecutors and the defense are making their opening statements to a jury in the trial of a former aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Boone said longtime Cuomo confidante Joseph Percoco acted out of greed and sold his powerful influence to businessmen willing to pay bribes.

He claims Percoco accepted over $300,000 in bribes, mostly in salary paid to his wife who was hired by a businessman who needed state permits to build an energy plant. He says $35,000 more came from real estate developers.

The prosecution claims Percoco abused his power and influence as Cuomo's right hand man, telling the jury that a call from Percoco was like a call from the governor.

As CBS2's Tony Aiello reported, that reputation was reinforced at Mario Cuomo's funeral when the governor put Percoco's relationship with the family into perspective.

"Joe Percoco, who was my father's third and perhaps favorite son," Governor Cuomo said.

Defense attorney Barry Bohrer told the jury that his client accepted no bribes and that Percoco is wrongfully prosecuted.

Prosecutor Robert Boone told jurors that Percoco had authority and influence, and cited hundreds of emails in which Percoco allegedly called the bribe payments 'ziti.'

Bohrer said the government built a case out of legitimate payments paid to Percoco and his wife for work that was done. He says Percoco is being victimized by a former corrupt business partner who reached a deal to cooperate with prosecutors in return for leniency for his crimes.

The defense contends Percoco was the victim, betrayed by his friend and mentor Todd Howe who they say fingered Percoco to save his own skin when he was targeted by the government. The defense calls Howe, the star witness, a pathological liar.

Cuomo has not been accused of wrongdoing and is not expected to testify.

There's debate over whether this case could be as damaging to Gov. Cuomo as the George Washington Bridge scandal was to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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