The star prosecution witness in former New York gubernatorial aide Joe Percoco’s bribery trial admitted he spent the past two decades as a recidivist deadbeat and had tampered with emails to exaggerate his closeness to both Andrew and Mario Cuomo as cross-examination began Wednesday.
Ex-lobbyist Todd Howe put up little resistance as Percoco defense lawyer Barry Bohrer laid out a litany of stiffed creditors – from mortgage lenders on million-dollar houses to HVAC and kitchen contractors to tutors, nurseries and a succession of his own lawyers who got bad checks and then had to sue and garnish his wages.
Although Howe had upscale jobs with the federal government, a top Washington trade group and the Albany law firm Whiteman Osterman & Hanna, Bohrer noted his many unpaid bills even included a $2,900 invoice for repair of a pricy Audi Quattro he owned “while you were stiffing all these other folks?”
“It was a used Audi,” offered Howe, who has been on the witness stand for three days in Manhattan federal court.
Percoco, 48, of South Salem, Gov. Cuomo’s longtime right-hand man, is accused of taking bribes of over $300,000 set up by Howe from two of his clients – an energy company executive and two Syracuse developers – in return for using his influence to solve problems with the state.
Howe’s ties to the Cuomo circle go back 30 years, when he worked for ex-governor Mario Cuomo and started a three-decade friendship by hiring Percoco as an aide. His credibility is critical to the government case, and Bohrer’s first question was, “Are you an honest man?”
“I am today,” Howe answered.
But it wasn’t always that way he admitted. In addition to pleading guilty in 2016 to charges relating to the bribery schemes, Howe said, he also admitted embezzling close to $1 million from Whiteman and cheating on taxes. In 2010 he pleaded guilty to making a fraudulent bank deposit.
He admitted to Bohrer that despite lying to his victims – including relatives and friends – for years, he had been able to vacation in the Caribbean and spots like Martha’s Vineyard and Sundance, but he never offered a clear explanation for it all.
“I was living above my means and dug myself a deep hole,” Howe testified.
When Andrew Cuomo decided to run for governor in 2010, Howe said, Percoco sent him an email that it was time to activate the “brotherhood” and he eagerly weighed in to help, seeing it as a “great opportunity” to improve his finances through contacts that would enhance his cachet as a lobbyist.
He admitted that at times, he altered e-mails he received from Cuomo aides – falsely putting a “tear” in Mario Cuomo’s eye when he spoke of Howe in one, and saying Andrew wanted to have dinner in another – before forwarding them to his boss to make himself look good.
But he said self-promotion wasn’t his “overriding” goal. “I wanted to raise money for Andrew and I wanted to help him,” he testified. “I wasn’t out with a sign saying Todd Howe would be able to make more money.” .
And near the end of a day of battering, he said he had decided it was time to stop lying and accept responsibility in a “come to Jesus moment” with his lawyer, and lashed back at Bohrer for suggesting he was testifying to spare himself from jail.
“I’m not telling the truth just because of that,” he said. “I am telling the truth because I made horrible mistakes, I wrecked my career, I damaged my family…. I find it a bit insulting you’re saying the only reason I told the truth is to get a get out of jail free card.”
Howe’s testimony resumes on Thursday