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Cuomo insider, lobbyist, won’t testify at bid-rigging trial

Todd Howe, center, exits federal court after testifying

Todd Howe, center, exits federal court after testifying in the Joseph Percoco corruption trial, Monday, Feb. 5, in Manhattan. Credit: Louis Lanzano

Todd Howe, the former lobbyist and Cuomo family insider whose testimony was instrumental earlier this year in the conviction of top governor’s aide Joe Percoco, will not be called to testify at the June bid-rigging trial of ex-SUNY official Alain Kaloyeros, prosecutors said Tuesday.

The surprise announcement could spare Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo awkward testimony from a man who exploited ties to the governor and close aides going back 30 years. It also appeared to be a concession to Howe’s controversial mixed performance as a cooperating government witness at Percoco’s trial, which ended with Howe being jailed amid questions about his credibility.

“I am proud that the U.S. attorney’s office has concluded, albeit belatedly, that Todd Howe is not worthy of belief,” said Paul Shechtman, a defense lawyer for Buffalo construction executive Louis Ciminelli, one of the defendants in the upcoming corruption trial.

Howe, 58, of Washington, D.C., a lobbyist who worked earlier in his career for both Cuomo and his ex-governor father, Mario, testified at the Percoco trial that he arranged bribes from two lobbying clients — an energy company and a Syracuse developer — to Percoco in return for his influence.

In the upcoming Kaloyeros case, Howe had been expected to testify he was a central player in a scheme by Kaloyeros to keep his high-paying post as head of SUNY Polytechnic Institute by rigging bids for multimillion-dollar state projects in Syracuse and Buffalo to favor major Andrew Cuomo donors.

But Howe’s credibility was severely damaged at the earlier trial. He was forced to admit he spent two decades as a deadbeat, stiffing dozens of creditors, had committed bank theft, and embezzled from his lobbying firm in addition to bribing Percoco, and had tried to cheat his credit card company in violation of his plea deal with the government.

Howe was jailed in the midst of his testimony and has remained there since February. Percoco and another defendant were convicted, but jurors also acquitted a Syracuse developer and deadlocked on charges against an energy executive implicated by Howe.

According to the indictment of Kaloyeros, Ciminelli, Ciminelli aide Michael Laipple, and Syracuse developers Joseph Gerardi and Steven Aiello, Howe was hired by Kaloyeros as a “consultant,” served as liaison to Cuomo’s senior staff, and got fees from both the Syracuse and Buffalo developers and helped coordinate their campaign contributions.

Although lawyers predicted his absence will leave the upcoming trial without a central narrator, the government signed up another witness earlier this month when Kevin Schuler, a former executive at Ciminelli’s construction company, pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate.

No date has been set for Howe’s sentencing on the bribery scheme involving Percoco. His lawyer did not return a call for comment.

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