Ex-lobbyist Todd Howe, the star federal witness in the bribery trial of former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo aide Joseph Percoco, was held in jail Friday after admitting he tried to cheat his credit card company in violation of a cooperation deal promising he would commit no further crimes.
Howe signed the agreement after pleading guilty in 2016 to an alleged bribery scheme with Percoco, but his bail was revoked Thursday night after he reluctantly conceded on cross examination that a few weeks later he tried to scam Capital One out of $604 for a stay at the Waldorf Astoria.
Appearing briefly in Manhattan federal court Friday afternoon in a faded blue T-shirt with a “Martha’s Vineyard” logo, looking sleepless, disheveled and bedraggled, Howe did not contest his detention. Magistrate Stewart Aaron outlined his rights and asked if he understood.
“I do,” said Howe, shackled at the ankles, in a resigned voice.
After guards ushered him into the holding cells, reporters asked his lawyer Richard Morvillo how Howe was doing. “I’m sure you can imagine,” Morvillo said.
During four days of testimony this week, Howe — himself a former aide to both Mario and Andrew Cuomo, and a high-powered lobbyist in Washington, D.C., and New York — described how he arranged more than $300,000 in bribes from two clients, who are also charged, to old friend Percoco in return for his influence.
He freely admitted he had spent two decades as a deadbeat stiffing dozens of creditors, and had pleaded guilty to bank theft in 2010 for spending a phony $45,000 bank deposit as well as bribery and embezzlement as part of his plea deal.
Howe blamed his past behavior on an “extravagant lifestyle” that he couldn’t afford, said he was now a golf course groundskeeper in Idaho and assured jurors that he had a “come to Jesus moment” before agreeing to cooperate and tell the truth. When asked if he was an honest man, he answered, “I am today.”
Although prosecutors appeared to be caught by surprise by Thursday’s admissions, the U.S. attorney’s office said Friday that Howe would be back on the witness stand Monday for further cross examination.
A spokesman declined to comment on whether he’ll be wearing a jail jumpsuit or the business suit he wore this week, and there was no indication whether the government would still vouch for his assistance and support leniency at Howe’s future sentencing or tear up the cooperation agreement.
Legal experts said Howe’s arrest and the testimony that led to it would sap his value as a credible narrator of the alleged bribe scheme and leave prosecutors with an uphill slog to make their case.
“The sanctity of a cooperation agreement is about as important as anything in life,” said defense lawyer Josh Dratel. “This guy acted as if it was just another contract to break. Something without meaning. So how can you rely on him at all?”
But they also said the blow is not necessarily fatal, with prosecutors likely to rely even more heavily on emails between Howe, his clients and Percoco to corroborate their case, and possibly arguing that Howe’s defects reflect on his friends and associates — the defendants.
“The government takes the position that it would never bring a case with his testimony alone, there’s corroboration and the corroboration is overwhelming,” predicted defense lawyer Gerald Lefcourt. “It should be fatal, but it’s normally not.”
In addition to the trial of Percoco and three Howe clients — energy executive Peter Galbraith Kelly and Syracuse developers Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi — Howe is scheduled to testify in a second Albany corruption trial in June focused on former SUNY official Alan Kaloyeros.
After that, Howe will face sentencing on his plea. The magistrate told him to appear on his case before U.S. District Judge Richard Berman for a status hearing on March 2.