The star witness at the bribery trial of a longtime top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo returned to the witness stand on Tuesday and faced an aggressive cross-examination about his surprise arrest last week for violating his bail conditions.
Jurors in federal court in Manhattan heard defense attorney Daniel Gitner pepper Todd Howe with questions about how he was jailed following testimony suggesting he lied to a credit card company to try to get it to remove a $600 fee for a night he spent at a luxury Manhattan hotel. Prosecutors said the possible credit card fraud, which wasn’t previously disclosed to them, was a violation of his cooperation agreement from his guilty plea that required he commit no further crimes.
Armed with fresh ammunition to attack Howe’s credibility, Gitner asked the witness whether he had spent the weekend in jail and then woke in jail on Tuesday morning. The witness quietly answered “yes” to both questions.
Asked if he thought he was in more trouble than ever, Howe responded, “I believe I’m in a whole lot of trouble altogether, counselor.”
At one point, Howe sought defend himself by saying, “My intent was not to defraud my credit card company. I just didn’t remember what I had done.”
Howe appeared in a regular suit after his attorneys said that his wearing an orange prison jumpsuit would prejudice the jury against him.
Judge Valerie Caproni allowed the questioning despite arguments by prosecutors that a one-sentence explanation from her about the arrest would suffice.
The arrest was an unusual twist in the case against Joseph Percoco, a multi-decade confidant of the Democratic governor, who has pleaded not guilty to charges that he accepted over $300,000 in bribes from three businessmen who had business with the state and could benefit from his influence.
Howe, 57, has testified that how he sought to help Percoco, once a close friend, overcome financial woes by arranging for developers to funnel bribes to Percoco’s wife. In exchange Percoco worked to clear the way for state permits for a power plant and get a pay raise for one of the developer’s sons, who worked for Cuomo, he said.
The witness has pleaded guilty to eight crimes that carry a potential of up to 130 years in prison. The longtime Washington lobbyist has testified that he hopes his cooperation wins him leniency.