The star witness in the corruption trial for Joseph Percoco, a former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo accused of taking part in bribery schemes, was effectively placed on trial himself Thursday as defense attorneys for a second day tried to erode the witness’s credibility by focusing on his past legal and financial misadventures.
Percoco, who was close enough to the Cuomo family that Gov. Mario Cuomo, Andrew Cuomo’s father, once referred to Percoco as his “third son,” is accused of taking more than $315,000 in bribes from two firms seeking to do business with the state.
Prosecutors say executives from Competitive Power Ventures, who sought a power purchase agreement from the state for a new power plant in Orange County, bribed Percoco by giving his wife a “low-show” job as an education consultant that paid a $90,000 annual salary.
They also allege that executives from COR Development, which sought government contracts for projects in Syracuse, paid $35,000 in bribes to Percoco so that he could help navigate their projects through bureaucratic red tape.
Eight defendants were charged with participating in the schemes, who have been divided into two trial groups.
Percoco is standing trial alongside former CPV executive Peter Galbraith Kelly Jr. and former COR executives Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi.
But through Wednesday and Thursday, the defendants’ alleged crimes have been overshadowed by the past of star witness Todd Howe, a former lobbyist for Whiteman Osterman & Hanna who says he helped facilitate relationships between Percoco and the executives.
He pleaded guilty to eight felony counts as part of an agreement with the prosecution. Throughout the cross-examination, kicked off on Wednesday by Schulte Roth & Zabel partner Barry Bohrer, who represents Percoco, Howe has answered for his admissions that he embezzled money from Whiteman Osterman as well as a past criminal felony conviction for making a false bank deposit for $45,000.
Howe has also addressed a long line of lawsuits filed against him over the past decade by mortgage lenders, attorneys, home improvement contractors and even a tutor he hired for his son who all alleged that Howe failed to pay up when his bills were due.
On Thursday, after Bohrer concluded his examination, Daniel Gitner of Lankler Siffert & Wohl, who leads Kelly’s defense team, homed in on the Howe’s cooperation agreement with the prosecution brokered in 2016, specifically a provision requiring Howe to disclose past crimes. Gitner noted that Howe had admitted on the stand on Wednesday to lying in a deposition for one of his foreclosure cases about why he was fired from the Mortgage Bankers Association prior to his employment with Whiteman Osterman.
Gitner also revealed during the cross-examination that, apparently unbeknownst to prosecutors, Howe had submitted an application for disability insurance in 2014 in which he said he had never been convicted of a felony.
“The government is hearing about this for the first time now, correct?” Gitner said. Howe replied that he did indeed make a false statement on the application, but said he checked boxes on the application without “paying attention.”
Gitner then tuned questions to Howe’s troubles with various auto dealers, rental car companies and a credit card company. In dealing with rental car companies that contacted him about overdue rentals, Howe said he would often put them off by falsely stating that he was an attorney busy with a major case.
For his part, Howe said that, while he has been truthful with prosecutors in the case, he had spun a “spider web of lies” with regard to his financial misdealings.
“I was in way over my head with a lot of things, financially, and this probably fell into this category,” Howe said.
In one instance in 2016, while he was in New York City discussing the corruption case with prosecutors, he checked out a $604 room at the Waldorf-Astoria with a Capital One card, but later attempted to dispute the charge.
During a break in which the jury was not in the courtroom, Gitner told U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni of the Southern District of New York that questions about Howe’s finances may take up another day of trial, which drew a rebuke from the judge.
“The jury is well aware that Mr. Howe was not a good guy,” Caproni said. “He was in deep financial trouble and has more garnishments than anyone should ever have. Why your clients got in bed with him is beyond me.”
Kelly’s defense team also includes Lankler Siffert & Wohl associates Rachel Berkowitz, Samantha Reitz and Jun Xiang.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Janis Echenberg, Robert Boone, David Zhou and Matthew Podolsky are prosecuting the case. Cross-examination of Howe continues on Feb. 12; Echenberg told Caproni on Thursday that the prosecution plans to call at least seven more witnesses.