Government star witness in Cuomo ex-aide trial is arrested


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By LARRY NEUMEISTER

The government's star witness in the bribery trial of a former top aide to Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was behind bars Feb. 9 for violating his cooperation agreement.

Todd Howe, 57, was taken into custody for violating his bail conditions, but the development isn't expected to derail his continuing testimony in the trial of former Cuomo aide Joseph Percoco and three businessmen. Prosecutors did not comment.

The government has used Howe's testimony to prove Percoco was paid more than $300,000 in bribes in exchange for helping his co-defendants with state business, including approvals for the massive CPV power plant in Waywayanda.

His arrest was approved by a judge who wrote that the government notified him that the revocation of Howe's $100,000 bail was appropriate.

Sometimes, the government keeps cooperating witnesses detained to send a stern message that any violations will be dealt with severely. It also suggests Howe might not get as much leniency as he expected after pleading guilty to crimes that carry a potential penalty of decades in prison. And it allows prosecutors to show he was punished for his indiscretions.

Howe has testified that he hoped to avoid prison by testifying truthfully, cooperating fully and avoiding any more crimes.

Nicholas Biase, a spokesman for prosecutors, said no new charges were filed against Howe, who was arrested Feb. 8.

Howe, shackled at the ankles, shuffled into court for a three-minute hearing last Friday. A magistrate judge read him his rights, and a prosecutor said he had agreed to continued detention.

His hair seemed wind-blown, like he'd just stepped off a beach, and he was wearing a sweatshirt with a print of a Martha's Vineyard beach permit from 2014. Martha's Vineyard is a seaside resort town in Massachusetts that defense lawyers had highlighted as among vacation spots Howe visited while he stole tens of thousands of dollars from mortgage companies, contractors, his employer and a dog walker.

During cross examination the day before, Howe admitted he had not informed the government that he tried to improperly recover the cost of a $600 luxury Manhattan hotel room just weeks after signing a cooperation deal in 2016 in which he promised not to commit any more crimes.

He also admitted failing to say in a 2014 application for disability insurance that he had been convicted of fraud in 2010 for trying to dupe a bank into thinking he had deposited $45,000 when he had not.

Percoco's lawyer, Barry Bohrer, had promised jurors they would find Howe to be too disreputable to trust his testimony. He said Percoco acted legally and appropriately.

Howe's lawyer, Richard Morvillo, was asked after Friday's court appearance how his client was doing.

“I'm sure you can imagine," he said.

He also was asked if Howe would be back on the witness stand Monday, when the trial resumes.

“That's an interesting question. I'm planning to be here Monday morning," he said.

Howe has testified that he now lives in Idaho, where he works as a golf course groundskeeper, sometimes mowing grass and digging ditches.



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