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Key witness in Percoco case is jailed

Key witness in Percoco case is jailed

A stunning development in the case against former top aide to Cuomo
Key witness in Percoco case is jailed
Todd Howe, center, the key witness in the federal corruption trial of Joseph Percoco, leaves a Manhattancourthouse Feb. 5, 2018.
Photographer: Dave Sanders/The New York Times

NEW YORK — Todd R. Howe, the government’s star witness in a sweeping corruption trial centered on Albany, was taken into custody Thursday night, just hours after he admitted in court that he had violated the terms of the cooperation deal he had reached with prosecutors.

The jailing of Howe, a former lobbyist and loyalist to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his father, was a stunning development in the case against Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to the governor, and three other defendants.

Howe, who was being held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan, was expected to be brought before a judge in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on Friday for a bond revocation hearing.

“He was remanded for violating the terms of his bail,” said Nicholas Biase, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan. “No additional charges have been filed.”

Howe struck the cooperation deal in September 2016 and has assisted prosecutors in their investigation of Percoco and alleged bribery schemes involving companies doing business the state. One provision of Howe’s agreement was that he “commit no further crimes whatsoever.”

But on Thursday, Howe, under a grueling cross-examination, testified that in spring 2016, on one of his numerous trips to New York to meet with prosecutors in preparation for the cooperation agreement, he stayed at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

He admitted that in October, several weeks after he had signed his deal, he called his credit card company and claimed that he had not stayed at the Waldorf, and asked that the $600 hotel charge be credited back to him.

“You lied to your credit card company about staying at the Waldorf the very night that you had come to New York to see the government?” a defense lawyer, Daniel M. Gitner, asked Howe on cross-examination Thursday.

“Correct,” Howe replied.

“As you sit here now,” Gitner said, “do you realize that you are in violation of your cooperation agreement?”

“I do, looking at this, yes,” said Howe, who had been shown a copy of the agreement.

“As you sit here now, do you think they’re going to rip it up?” Gitner asked.

“I sure hope not,” Howe replied.

Howe’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the arrest, which was reported Friday by The Wall Street Journal.

Prosecutors often rely on witnesses whose credibility can be called into question. Many mob-related trials, for example, have featured the testimony of former organized-crime figures; in a case against John Gotti, a key witness, Salvatore Gravano, admitted his participation in 19 murders.

In some of the cases, prosecutions have ended in mistrials, largely because of jurors’ concerns about the credibility of the witness.

But to have a government witness arrested midway through cross-examination is exceedingly uncommon, and poses an obvious problem for prosecutors when the trial resumes Monday.

Howe, an old friend of Percoco’s, has pleaded guilty to felony charges and has been cooperating with the government against Percoco and three executives of two firms, COR Development and Competitive Power Ventures, who are also on trial.

Percoco has been charged with taking at least $315,000 in bribes from the executives, paid to Percoco’s wife through a third party and through a company operated by Howe, in return for taking official actions on the firms’ behalf.

Prosecutors have been candid about the questions concerning Howe’s credibility. During opening arguments, a prosecutor, Robert L. Boone, pre-emptively told the jury that Howe was a criminal who had pleaded guilty to eight felonies, many of which related to him telling lies.

“He has lied to his employer, he has lied to the IRS and he’s even lied to the defendants. He will tell you all about it,” Boone said in his opening statement.

But under questioning by Gitner, who represents one of the executives charged in the case, Peter Galbraith Kelly Jr., Howe seemed to admit to lies that the government had not been aware of.

He acknowledged, for example, that in applying for a disability insurance policy in 2014, he checked a box stating that he had never been convicted of a felony, even though that was not true.

“And the government is hearing about that for the first time right now?” Gitner asked.

“Yes,” Howe said.

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