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Star witness testifies Cuomo showed temper when deal fell apart

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, 2018, in New York. Credit: Louis Lanzano

Star prosecution Albany corruption witness Todd Howe finished his testimony Thursday after seven days on the witness stand in the bribery trial of former top gubernatorial aide Joe Percoco by offering up two unflattering depictions of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Both came during cross examination from the lawyers for two Syracuse developers, Steve Aiello and Joseph Gerardi, who are accused of using lobbyist Howe as a conduit to pass $35,000 to Percoco in return for using his power as Cuomo’s top aide to do favors.

During questioning in Manhattan federal court by Aiello’s lawyer, Howe — a former Cuomo aide who has told jurors about his close ties over 30 years to the governor — described meeting with Cuomo and Aiello, a big campaign donor, to discuss a failed plan to build a stadium in Syracuse that had fallen apart.

At the meeting in 2014 as the governor was preparing for re-election, he showed his temper while giving Howe a tongue lashing over the failure of a project supported by both Cuomo and Aiello, ordering him to work to smooth over political disputes in Syracuse that had doomed it.

“That’s a day that will forever be etched in my mind,” said Howe, describing Cuomo’s fury. Defense lawyer Steve Coffey asked him if he thought it was fair for him to be blamed for the fiasco.

“I know the governor well enough to know what’s fair and unfair doesn’t really matter in a situation like that,” Howe answered.

Later, Gerardi’s lawyer, Milton Williams, questioning Howe about emails in which he invoked Cuomo’s name to try to enhance his own standing, asked Howe if he had discussed Cuomo in 2016 when he was debriefed by federal agents as part of his deal to be a cooperating witness.

“Did you ever tell the government representatives that Andrew Cuomo deserves attention and scrutiny and is a bully?” Williams asked. Howe said he didn’t remember, but then was shown notes of his interview.

“I recall this,” Howe said.

Percoco, 48, of South Salem, is charged with taking over $300,000 in bribes from the Syracuse men and an energy company official, another Howe lobbying client. Cuomo has not been charged with any wrongdoing, and Thursday’s questioning appeared to be tangential to the charges.

For Howe, once a big time lobbyist in Washington, D.C. and New York who testified that he is now working as a groundskeeper at a golf course in Idaho while he awaits sentencing for bribery and embezzlement, it marked the end of a grueling two weeks.

Defense lawyers forced him to recount in detail a two-decade history as a deadbeat dodging creditors while living an extravagant lifestyle, and then a week ago prosecutors had him detained in the Metropolitan Correction Center jail after he appeared to admit a new case of credit card fraud in his testimony.

When he was finally done, U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni said goodbye, exclaiming, “Mr. Howe, go back to Idaho!”

Then she remembered, and corrected herself: “No! Go back to the MCC!”

Testimony resumes on Friday.

State & Region