National News

Key Witness in Percoco Case Admits to Violating His Plea Deal

Posted February 8, 2018 8:53 p.m. EST

NEW YORK — Todd R. Howe, the prosecution’s star witness in the corruption trial of Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, testified this week about a “come-to-Jesus” meeting with his lawyer in 2016.

It was then, he said, after a life of lies, debt and unsavory business dealings, that he decided to plead guilty to eight felony charges. He traveled to New York for a series of meetings with prosecutors, staying at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel at least once.

In September, Howe signed a cooperation agreement with the government; one provision was that he “commit no further crimes whatsoever.”

But in court Thursday, Howe acknowledged under cross-examination that in October 2016, several weeks after signing the agreement, he called his credit card company, claimed that he had not stayed at the Waldorf and asked that the $600 charge be credited back to him.

“You lied to your credit card company about staying at the Waldorf the very night that you had come to New York to see the government?” asked a defense lawyer, Daniel M. Gitner, his voice tinged with incredulity.

“Correct,” Howe replied.

“As you sit here now,” Gitner continued, “do you realize that you are in violation of your cooperation agreement?”

“I do, looking at this, yes,” said Howe, who had been shown a copy of the agreement.

“As you sit here now, do you think they’re going to rip it up?” Gitner asked.

“I sure hope not,” Howe replied.

The exchange came at the end of the second day of cross-examination of Howe in the trial of Percoco and three co-defendants, who were executives with two firms that were seeking state contracts.

Percoco has been charged with taking at least $315,000 in bribes from the executives, paid to Percoco’s wife through a third party and through a company operated by Howe, in return for taking official actions on the firms’ behalf.

Howe, a former prominent lobbyist in Albany and Washington, testified Monday and Tuesday about his role in the scheme. Under questioning from prosecutors, Howe portrayed Percoco as a man consumed by the pursuit of bribe money — which the two men referred to as “ziti,” a reference from “The Sopranos” — from the two firms, Competitive Power Ventures and COR Development.

Howe was a friend to Percoco and Cuomo, and had the trust of both men. Cuomo, a Democrat seeking a third term, has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

Through his testimony, it has become clear that Howe had significant problems that had damage his credibility. The government has already told the jury of Howe’s tawdry past, which included a 2010 felony conviction for theft related to a fake $45,000 bank deposit, and indicated it would offer other supportive evidence to his testimony.

Howe also testified that under terms of his agreement, if he lied on the witness stand, the government could cancel his cooperation deal — he could face decades in prison.

But under questioning by Gitner, Howe seemed to make damaging admissions.

He acknowledged, for example, that in applying for a disability insurance policy in 2014, he checked a box stating that he had never been convicted of a felony, even though that was not true.

“And the government is hearing about that for the first time right now?” Gitner asked.

“Yes,” Howe said.

Howe’s cooperation agreement also required that he disclose to prosecutors “all crimes” which he had committed.

Questioned about his stay at the Waldorf, Howe acknowledged that although he was then unemployed (he had been fired by the Albany law firm where he had set up a lobbying practice) and would likely owe restitution for his crimes, he had not cut back on his expensive lifestyle.

“You stayed at the Waldorf,” said Gitner, who represents one of the executives charged in the case, Peter Galbraith Kelly Jr.

“I got a good deal there,” Howe said, claiming he had gotten a last-minute price of about $200.

Gitner then produced evidence that Howe’s bill, with taxes, had run about $600.

Gitner then asked about the call to the credit card company. “Isn’t it true that you told the bank you had canceled your stay at the Waldorf and that the hotel should refund your money?”

“I believe I did, yes.”

“And that was a lie?”

“I believe so, yes,” Howe replied.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan declined to comment on Howe’s testimony.

Before sending jurors home for the night, the judge, Valerie E. Caproni, gave the usual advisory that they not read about or listen to news accounts regarding the case, but she added a caution that they should not make up their minds because they had not heard all of the evidence.

After the jurors left, the judge said a court staff member had overheard an alternate juror joking about a mistrial.

Howe’s cross-examination will resume Monday.