A defense attorney in the corruption trial for Joseph Percoco, the former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, put the credibility of the government’s star witness on the ropes during cross-examination on Wednesday, grilling the witness over a checkered financial history that includes a slew of nonpayment suits from mortgage lenders, lawyers and relatives, among others.
The witness, Todd Howe, is a former lobbyist for Whiteman Osterman & Hanna who said he participated in alleged pay-to-play schemes in which Percoco—and who, like Howe, has longtime ties to the Cuomo family—is accused of peddling his influence on the behalf of two firms seeking to do business before the state.
Percoco is accused of taking at least $315,000 combined in bribes by executives from Competitive Power Ventures, which sought a power purchase agreement from the state for power generated from a new plant in Orange County; and from COR Development, which sought government contracts for projects in the Syracuse area.
Former CPV executive Peter Galbraith Kelly Jr. and former COR executives Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi are standing trial with Percoco in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
In 2016, Howe pleaded guilty to eight counts related to the schemes and began cooperating with the government. He admitted to setting up fake bank accounts and a shell company to funnel bribes.
During direct examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Janis Echenberg, which ran from Monday morning to Wednesday morning, Howe provided testimony that focused on Percoco’s money troubles, as well as opened a window into the jocular relationship between Percoco, Howe and executives from CPV and COR.
But Barry Bohrer, a partner with Schulte Roth & Zabel who leads Percoco’s defense team, who began cross-examination on Wednesday morning, turned the focus of questions onto Howe, addressing a 2009 offense in which he made a false bank deposit of $45,000—a felony that resulted in a one-year sentence of probation for Howe—and Howe’s admissions that he embezzled money from Whiteman Osterman while he was in charge of the firm’s lobbying subsidiary, WOH Government Solutions.
Bohrer then spent hours hammering on Howe’s troubled financial past, which dates back to the late 1990s, when he faced a foreclosure in Maryland.
A few years later, after leaving a position with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and taking a new job with the Mortgage Bankers Association, Howe took out three mortgages to purchase a home in Bethesda, Maryland, with a $985,000 purchase price, but later defaulted, and was back in foreclosure proceedings.
“I was living above my means and I dug myself into a deep hole,” Howe said. He also admitted to lying during a sworn deposition in the 2003 foreclosure case about why he was fired by the Mortgage Bankers Association—he said during the deposition that his departure from the company was the result of he and the organization not seeing “eye to eye,” but said that he was fired for checking into a non-approved hotel during a business trip.
“Did the oath not mean anything to you?” Bohrer asked.
“I was as truthful as I could be at that point,” Howe replied.
Howe’s legal troubles also included nonpayment suits by a credit card company, contractors he hired for home improvement jobs and a tutor he hired for his son. He was also sued by an attorney who represented him in a foreclosure and another who represented him in a rental nonpayment case brought by a landlord who rented out a house in Washington, D.C., to Howe who had acquired the house from Howe himself following Howe’s 2003 bankruptcy.
After the jury left the courtroom for lunch, U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni of the Southern District of New York told Bohrer to move on to topics other than Howe’s various financial issues.
“I let you go, but enough,” Caproni said.
At one point on Wednesday afternoon, while answering questions from Bohrer about the agreement he reached with prosecutors, Howe seemed to push back against Bohrer’s barrage of questions.
“I find it a bit insulting that you’re saying the only reason I’m telling the truth was to get a ‘get out of jail free’ card,” Howe said to Bohrer. “You finished, counselor?”
In addition to Echenberg, the prosecution team includes Assistant U.S. Attorneys Robert Boone, David Zhou and Matthew Podolsky.
Percoco’s defense team also includes Schulte Roth attorneys Michael Yaeger, Andrew Gladstein and Abigail Coster. Bohrer will continue cross-examination of Howe on Thursday, after which attorneys for Percoco’s co-defendant will have opportunities to cross-examine Howe.