ALBANY - Gov. Andrew Cuomo will deliver his eighth State of the State address Jan. 3, when he will outline what will likely be an ambitious to-do list for himself and lawmakers for the coming year.
Five days later, another event will threaten to overshadow it all: His most loyal aide will face trial on felony bribery charges.
The trial of Joseph Percoco, Cuomo's longtime friend and confidant, will begin Jan. 8 at the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse in Manhattan, where prosecutors will argue he pocketed more than $300,000 in bribes from companies with business before the state.
Cuomo himself is not accused of wrongdoing, and Percoco pleaded not guilty.
But the Democratic governor's longtime working relationship and personal bond with Percoco will have plenty of Capitol watchers following the trial's ins and outs as it moves along.
Here's what you need to know about the case against Percoco, a resident of South Salem, Westchester County.
Feds say Percoco took bribes
The crux of the case against Percoco, 48, is this: Federal prosecutors say he took bribes from two companies. He's accused of taking $287,000 from CPV Energy, a Maryland-based company building a power plant in Orange County, and $35,000 from COR Development, a Syracuse-area developer with considerable business before the state.
In exchange, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan, Percoco used his considerable influence in Cuomo's administration to do favors for the companies, including pressuring officials to approve a purchasing agreement that would have secured a buyer for power from CPV's plant and relax a labor agreement that increased COR's costs.
The indictment accuses the companies of disguising the payments, which were arranged by Todd Howe, a former Cuomo aide when Cuomo worked in Washington and a lobbyist who has already pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors.
Three other defendants will also be on trial with Percoco: Steven Aiello and Joseph Girardi of COR, and Peter Galbraith Kelly of CPV.
Percoco, a Rockland County native, and his co-defendants have maintained their innocence and denied the payments were bribes.
Percoco's attorneys also argue he wasn't an "official government actor" at the time of the alleged crimes, anyway, since he had stepped aside from his government job to run Cuomo's 2014 campaign. (He later returned to Cuomo's government payroll.)
Prosecutors say that's not true: He continued to hold a "senior advisory role" in Cuomo's office and assisted in hiring employees and coordinating the governor's events even after he left, they argue.
Percoco was Cuomo's right-hand man
Just how close were Cuomo and Percoco?
Percoco had been the governor's most loyal aide and enforcer, sticking by him after Cuomo's ill-fated first run for governor in 2002. Prior to that, Percoco worked for Cuomo in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and before that for Cuomo's father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo.
He continued as one of Cuomo's top aides through Cuomo's time as attorney general from 2007 through 2010 and throughout much of his first five years as governor.
But the bond between Cuomo and Percoco went deeper than that.
To hear Cuomo tell it, they were family.
Delivering a eulogy at Mario Cuomo's funeral in January 2015, Andrew Cuomo called Percoco "my father's third son, who I sometimes think he loved the most."
Cuomo's up for re-election
It's never a good time for a politician to have their top aide facing a criminal trial.
It's particularly bad timing, however, when you're up for re-election.
Cuomo will be seeking his third term in 2018. And by the time voters head to the polls in November, two major corruption trials that stung his administration will have played out before the public's eyes.
Percoco comes first in January. Come June, former SUNY Polytechnic Institute President Alain Kaloyeros will stand trial on charges he rigged the bids for major projects that were centerpieces of Cuomo's economic-development program, including a massive solar-panel factory in Buffalo that received more than $700 million in state funds.
Cuomo was brief when asked last week whether he has any concern Percoco's trial could be a distraction for him in 2018. "No," he said.
Could Cuomo testify?
One of the major unanswered questions heading into trial is whether Cuomo himself will take the stand.
For his part, Cuomo seems unconcerned.
Asked last week whether he believes he will be called to testify, Cuomo again said simply: "No."
He did, however, give a deposition in 2016. And in court papers, Percoco's attorneys have already suggested Cuomo's prior testimony may be a significant part of their defense.
Specifically, Percoco's legal team argues Cuomo indicated to government investigators that Percoco had not been intending to return to Cuomo's administration after the 2014 election, though he ultimately did.
Percoco argues the payments to him weren't illegal in part because they happened when he was working for Cuomo's campaign, not for the government.
Prosecutors, though, contend Percoco always intended to return to Cuomo's administration and still maintained his influence in the governor's office when he was working on the campaign.
"It was not until near the end of the year that Cuomo asked Percoco to change his plans and come back to work in the Chamber for a period of time to stabilize things," Percoco lawyer Barry Bohrer wrote in a Nov. 22 court filing, referring to testimony Cuomo gave in November 2016.
"Cuomo added that the discussion with Percoco about changing his plans was not something that happened within a short period of time; it was a major switch that he was asking Percoco to make and it did not happen in one conversation."
The argument that Percoco wasn't an "official government actor" while he was working on the campaign, however, was dealt a blow earlier this month when U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni denied his motion to dismiss the case.
In a Dec. 11 ruling, she wrote that the argument is "without merit."
A complete witness list is due to the court Dec. 26.
Another trial upcoming
In some ways, Percoco's trial is the opening act.
The Kaloyeros trial that begins in June will center on alleged bid-rigging surrounding some of the building contracts associated with the Cuomo administration's top economic-development projects, including a Solar City plant in Buffalo that received more than $700 million in public funds.
Kaloyeros will stand trial along with the COR executives and three others who ran Buffalo-based firm LPCiminelli: Louis Ciminelli, Michael Laipple and Kevin Schuler.
It's part of the same case that snared Percoco and relies heavily on testimony from Howe, a longtime Percoco ally who counted CPV, COR, SUNY Poly and LPCiminelli as clients.
But Caproni agreed to separate the case into two separate trials. Now, one will center on Percoco; the other on Kaloyeros.
Like Percoco, Kaloyeros maintains his innocence.