Prosecutors in the corruption trial for Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, wrapped up their case on Tuesday by portraying Percoco as willing to abuse the powers of his office in exchange for bribes.
But defense attorneys who also presented summations on Tuesday turned their sights on Todd Howe, the prosecutors’ star witness in the case, whose credibility was continually challenged throughout the six-week trial and who was arrested at one point after admitting on the stand that he violated the terms of his cooperation agreement with the government.
Percoco is accused of taking more than $300,000 in bribes that included a “low-show” job for his wife as an education consultant for Competitive Power Ventures Inc., an energy company that sought a power purchase agreement from the state.
Percoco is also accused of taking $35,000 in bribes from COR Development, a developer that sought government contracts for projects in the Syracuse area.
Howe, a former lobbyist for Whiteman Osterman & Hanna who has been friends with Percoco for decades, testified that he played a key role in facilitating the contacts between Percoco and his co-defendants.
Percoco is standing trial alongside former CPV executive Peter Galbraith Kelly and former COR executives Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi. Neither of the defendants took the stand at the trial.
While presenting the government’s closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Zhou focused on the repeated use of “ziti” by Percoco and Howe in emails to describe alleged bribe payments, a reference to a term used for money on the “The Sopranos,” a TV show about the mob.
“This is not how honest and honorable public servants talk,” Zhou said. “This is how criminals talk.”
Zhou said that Percoco was willing to show off the “trappings of power” in exchange for bribes. With respect to the alleged “low-show” job for Percoco’s wife, Lisa Toscano-Percoco, Zhou said she was paid a $90,000 annual salary for teaching a total of 66 hours over a two-year period, while another individual who held the same position was paid $30,000 a year.
“We have put more time in this trial than Lisa Percoco put in her $90,000-a-year job,” Zhou said to the jurors.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni of the Southern District of New York threw out of the extortion counts against Percoco, finding that he was working for Cuomo’s re-election campaign at the time of the alleged offense and not for the state government.
A highlight of the trial was the cross-examination of Howe by the defense teams for Percoco and the other three defendants in the case.
Howe was arrested after admitting on the stand that he fraudulently challenged his purchase of a luxury Manhattan hotel room with his credit card company, apparently in violation of his cooperation agreement with the government.
He also admitted during cross-examination that he falsely stated in 2014 while filling out an application for disability insurance that he had no prior felony convictions, when in fact he had previously been convicted of wire fraud.
Howe pleaded guilty to eight felony counts as part of the agreement with the government. In closing arguments, Milton Williams Jr. of Walden Macht & Haran, who represents Gerardi, focused on Howe’s misrepresentations, saying that his client is part of a “long line of people who were played like a fool” by Howe and that he put his cooperation agreement with the government at risk during the trial.
“As long as he delivers on the convictions the government will allow him to do whatever he wants,” Williams said.
Stephen Coffey of O’Connell and Aronowitz, who is appearing for Aiello in the case, said to jurors during his closing arguments that they should feel free to reject Howe’s testimony, calling it the “word of a man who insulted you and lied to you repeatedly.”
“Todd Howe is a walking, talking reasonable doubt,” Coffey said.
Closing arguments by defense attorneys continue on Wednesday.