It was all just a big misunderstanding.
That was star federal corruption witness Todd Howe’s explanation Tuesday as he returned to the witness stand for the first time since his arrest last week after apparently admitting to credit card fraud during testimony at the federal bribery trial of Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
But ex-lobbyist Howe, who spent the weekend in jail after his bail was revoked and faces new questions on whether prosecutors will still go to bat for him when he is sentenced on an earlier plea to bribery and embezzlement, did admit he hadn’t done himself any favors.
“I believe I’m in a whole boatload of trouble altogether, counselor,” Howe testified in Manhattan federal court.
Percoco, 48, of South Salem, is charged with taking more than $300,000 in bribes set up by Howe from three lobbying clients, a power company executive and two Syracuse developers. Howe, who pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate in 2016, laid out the scheme in testimony last week.
A serial deadbeat who admitted stiffing dozens of creditors over 20 years, Howe said Thursday on cross-examination he also tried to recover the $604 cost of a Waldorf Astoria stay while he was meeting with prosecutors in 2016 — telling his credit card company he wasn’t there after signing a cooperation agreement in which he agreed not to commit crimes.
For his return to court, prosecutors got permission from U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni for Howe to wear a suit and tie, rather than prison garb, but Dan Gitner, the defense lawyer who brought out the credit card incident, immediately had Howe describe being arrested after last week’s testimony.
When Gitner asked him if he expected to be detained for the foreseeable future, Howe responded glumly, “That’s uncertain.”
He did have a new explanation for the testimony that got him into hot water. A Washington, D.C., lobbyist with a practice in New York at the time — he’s now a groundskeeper at a golf course in Idaho — Howe told Gitner he stayed at the Waldorf frequently on business.
The visit in question occurred in June 2016, Howe said, and he called to dispute it in October because, while reviewing bills, the visit in June had slipped his mind. It was just a big confusion, he said.
“I wasn’t denying that I stayed there,” Howe said. “I was just disputing it because I wasn’t certain at that point, five months later, if I had or I hadn’t. I just didn’t recall.”
Gitner, out of the jury’s hearing, told Caproni he could show Howe was lying again and trying to “weasel” out of it. But she said it was a side issue and told him to move on.
Howe’s appearance marked the start of the fourth week of the trial. He and Percoco were close friends for three decades who worked together as aides to both Mario and Andrew Cuomo.
In addition to Percoco, Howe clients Peter Galbraith Kelly, an executive with Competitive Power Ventures, and Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi, partners in Syracuse’s COR Development, are facing charges in the case.
Prosecutors said Percoco used his influence as Cuomo’s right hand man to do favors for payoffs. An FBI agent testified Tuesday that Percoco, long known as the governor’s enforcer, once told her in an interview he was known as “the guy with the hammer” in the administration.
Testimony resumes on Wednesday.