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Federal judge signals she will release star witness in corruption trial

Todd Howe leaves federal court after testifying in

Todd Howe leaves federal court after testifying in the Joseph Percoco corruption trial on Feb. 8. Credit: Louis Lanzano

A Manhattan federal judge on Thursday signaled that she was prepared to release star government corruption witness Todd Howe from jail as the former lobbyist and aide to Gov. Andrew M.Cuomo made his first court appearance since the end of two corruption trials in which he had a key role.

U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni said she didn’t understand why Howe, who had his bail revoked in February amid allegations of lying and fraud during his testimony at the corruption trial of former Cuomo lieutenant Joe Percoco, needed to be locked up pending sentencing.

“My view is that he’s taking up a bed that could perhaps be better used for other people,” said Caproni, who raised the issue without prompting from prosecutors or the defense.

Howe, who came to court from the federal jail in Manhattan in a blue jumpsuit, with his hands and feet shackled, hadn’t asked for a bail review. But after Caproni encouraged it, his lawyer hinted one was likely.

“You can extrapolate from what any normal human being’s desire would be,” defense lawyer Savannah Stevenson told reporters outside court.

Howe, 58, of Washington, D.C., worked as an aide to Gov. Mario Cuomo and later Andrew Cuomo when he was secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, before becoming a lobbyist in Washington and New York.

After being caught up in a federal corruption investigation, he told prosecutors he had bribed Percoco on behalf of two clients, and had also arranged to rig bids for upstate development projects on behalf of two clients with SUNY official Alain Kaloyeros. He pleaded guilty to eight charges, including embezzling from his law firm, and agreed to cooperate.

But during cross-examination at Percoco’s trial, his bail was revoked after he appeared to admit to fraud on a hotel bill despite signing his agreement to cooperate and stop breaking the law. Percoco was convicted, as was Kaloyeros, after a trial in which prosecutors featured Howe's emails but kept him off the stand.

Prosecutors have not brought any additional charges based on Howe’s testimony at the Percoco trial, and revealed Thursday that they have not torn up his cooperation agreement, under which prosecutors write a letter describing a defendant’s assistance at sentencing.

He faces a maximum sentence of 130 years in prison. Caproni scheduled sentencing for Nov. 2.

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