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Jailed Percoco trial star witness can wear suit, judge rules

Todd Howe leaves federal court after testifying in

Todd Howe leaves federal court after testifying in the Joseph Percoco corruption trial on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018, in Manhattan. Credit: Louis Lanzano

Star government corruption witness Todd Howe, unexpectedly arrested Thursday as he testified in the bribery trial of Joe Percoco, a former aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, will be allowed to wear a regular suit, rather than a prison jumpsuit when his testimony resumes in Manhattan federal court.

U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni approved Howe’s clothing at the request of prosecutors, who had Howe arrested on a bail violation after he admitted during cross examination he violated his cooperation agreement with the government by trying to defraud his credit card company.

Howe, an ex-lobbyist and Cuomo aide, had been expected to continue his testimony Monday in the trial of Percoco and three others, but it was postponed until Tuesday afternoon after a defense lawyer became ill over the weekend.

Percoco, 48, of South Salem in Westchester County, is accused of taking more than $300,000 in bribes funneled to him by longtime friend Howe on behalf of two clients, an energy company and a Syracuse developer, in return for using his clout as Cuomo’s right-hand man to help them.

Howe pleaded guilty to the bribe scheme and embezzlement in 2016, and promised to tell the truth and stop committing crimes in a cooperation agreement that could earn him a letter from the government urging a lenient sentence.

During his testimony, he admitted being a serial deadbeat and to having pleaded guilty to bank theft through a fake deposit in 2010, but insisted he had changed his ways. Under cross-examination on Thursday, however, he admitted he tried to fraudulently recover $604 from Capital One for a hotel stay at the Waldorf Astoria after signing his deal in 2016.

At a hearing Monday morning, prosecutor Janis Echenberg said the government got an order revoking Howe’s bail and had him arrested after hearing that testimony, but hasn’t reached a conclusion about whether he committed fraud because prosecutors can’t speak to Howe while he’s being cross-examined.

Echenberg told Caproni she planned to tell Howe’s lawyer, Richard Morvillo, and defense lawyers the status of the cooperation agreement Monday. If the government concludes he violated it by committing crimes, Howe could lose his opportunity for a letter urging leniency.

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