MANHATTAN (CN) – After years of deception to his state, employers and family members, the government’s chief accuser against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s former top deputy Joseph Percoco insists he has finally “come to Jesus.”
Percoco’s attorneys finally had a chance to undermine disgraced lobbyist Todd Howe’s assertion on his third day of testimony Wednesday, airing years of the star government witness’s dirty laundry from his criminal dockets, civil lawsuits and foreclosures on multiple homes.
“Mr. Howe, are you an honest man?” Percoco’s attorney Barry Bohrer asked with a flourish.
“I am today,” Howe replied.
Howe had just finished two days of tying Percoco to a more than $300,000 corruption scheme to funnel money from energy company Competitive Power Ventures and COR Development Company to his wife Lisa Percoco.
Though a crucial government witness, all sides agree Howe’s credibility is shaky: Bohrer described him in opening arguments as a “congenital” and “pathological liar,” and even prosecutors did not try to endear him to the jury.
“We are not asking you to like Todd Howe,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Boone said during opening arguments. “We are not asking you to approve of the way he has chosen to live his life. You shouldn’t.”
Howe pleaded guilty to eight federal offenses for conspiracies involving honest services fraud, wire fraud, extortion, conspiracy, tax evasion and other charges, stacked up onto a pre-existing bank fraud conviction in 2010.
The jury has seen a slew of emails between Howe and Percoco mocking their mutual friend, energy executive Peter Galbraith Kelly, as “Fat Man,” a nickname they did not share with the butt of their jokes.
Presiding U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni has shielded the jurors from even uglier messages from Howe containing anti-Semitic and misogynist slurs, which the judge found “vile” but irrelevant to the case.
During cross-examination, Bohrer tried to dirty up the witness further, while Howe insisted that he has come clean since meeting with his attorney to discuss cooperating with prosecutors in June 2016.
“I have done nothing but try to tell the truth since I had my ‘come-to-Jesus’ meeting with my lawyer,” Howe snapped to Bohrer in indignation.
Agreeing that his testimony could lighten his sentence, Howe added that this is not his sole motivation.
“I am telling the truth because I made horrible mistakes, I wrecked my career, I damaged my family, I lost all my associates that are in this room that I worked with for many years,” Howe said. “So I find it a bit insulting that you’re saying the only reason I’m telling the truth was a get-out-of-jail-free card because that is not true, counselor.”
Bohrer deflated Howe’s monologue with three short words.
“Are you finished?” he asked.
Neither of the men, however, was done: Howe continued to insist his transformation into an honest man had been genuine, and Bohrer rattled off evidence to the contrary, boring through trails of Howe’s doctored emails and broken promises.
The early half of cross-examination focused on Howe’s other litigation: Howe agreed that the amount of money he defrauded from his prior employer, lobbying firm Potomac Strategies, “could” have exceeded $1 million.
Howe also conceded that he embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from his other employer, a subsidiary of the firm Whiteman, Osterman & Hanna, and tried to persuade his brother-in-law, an attorney, to threaten that company with a defamation lawsuit.
But Howe denied that he ran up vacation expenses in Nantucket, the Virgin Islands, St. Lucia, Martha’s Vineyard, Palm Beach, Sedona, and Sundance, and even drove in an Audi while creditors waited to be repaid on court-ordered garnishments.
“I believe, counselor, that those people that were waiting were all paid at that point when I went on those trips,” he said.
Bohrer even depicted him as betraying two generations of New York governors: Mario and Andrew Cuomo.
After the elder Cuomo died, Bohrer said, Howe doctored an email to pad his profile with the political dynasty.
“It means a lot when you get an email like this one, right?” Howe wrote in an email that Bohrer said was faked.
Back in happier times, in 2010, Percoco invited his then-friend Howe to join Andrew Cuomo’s political campaign with an email: “It is time to activate the brotherhood,” according to Bohrer.
The defense attorney will continue to grill Howe well into Thursday, followed by questioning by lawyers for three of Percoco’s co-defendants.