MANHATTAN (CN) – Along with a photo of a sleek showroom boasting vintage hot rods, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s former top aide received a message from a close friend trying to interest his boss in two types of vehicles.
The first kind, lined up in a garage a short 20-minute drive away from Syracuse Airport, showed a showroom of Chevrolet Corvettes of various colors, shapes and sizes.
“Take a look at this place!!!” exclaimed disgraced lobbyist Todd Howe in a June 2013 email.
The other type cast a spotlight on New York’s so-called “LLC loophole,” which allows companies to skirt election transparency laws through shadowy corporate egos for funneling campaign donations.
“Steve wants to do $125 all from him…he will do 25k from 5 of his LLCs,” Howe continued in the email, referring to COR Development president Steven Aiello. “He has 35 LLC’s total. I told him to use the ones that don’t include the name ‘COR’ in them. He agreed.”
Testifying for his second day in a high-profile New York corruption trial, Howe told a federal jury why he had been gushing about the Chevys for sale on a red-and-black carpet next to a race-flag checkered floor of the garage.
“The governor is a big collector of Corvettes and a big Corvette person,” Howe said.
Federal prosecutors claim that the services of Cuomo’s former top deputy Joseph Percoco were also for sale to, among others, Aiello, who sent Howe the picture of the cars.
Five pages of records show various entities of Competitive Power Ventures, or CPV, including LLCs, made their way into multiple campaign vehicles associated with the governor, including Andrew Cuomo for Attorney General and Andrew Cuomo 2018, Inc.
Cuomo, who has not been accused of wrongdoing, has been weathering a political storm whipped up by the prosecution of his erstwhile “right-hand man” Percoco, and the trial has opened a window to a peculiarity of New York election law that makes an opaque form of fundraising legal.
At a New York City fundraising event that Howe arranged for Cuomo, he testified, COR executive vice president Jeffrey Aiello used the governor’s soft spot for cars as an opening to eventually talk business.
“He parked himself in the center of the ballroom and they talked about Corvettes for 35 minutes,” Howe said.
The insight into the lawful underbelly of Albany electioneering came well into a day filled with unseemly revelations that prosecutors group into the illicit variety.
For hours on end, a federal jury saw a slew of emails that Howe and Percoco traded with each other obsessing over “ziti,” which prosecutors call their code word for bribe money, swiped from the HBO mob drama “The Sopranos.”
Punning on it, joking about it, and relishing each reference, the men found imaginative ways to constantly invoke it.
“Don’t want to tip over the Zitti wagon,” Howe wrote in one email.
“Big ziti dinner coming,” another message said, along with others urging the recipient to “Remember ziti” and warning “Don’t burn the ziti.”
Prosecutors claim that the “ziti” arrived in the form of “low-show” employment that Howe’s clients found for Percoco’s wife.
Corroborating this allegation, Howe wrote in one email to Percoco: “Ziti delivered in wife’s hands.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Janis Echenberg has been questioning Howe about such emails for two days of direct examination, which will spill into a third on Wednesday, to be followed by cross-examination.
Percoco’s defense attorneys depict Howe as a “congenital liar,” who is now an eight-time convicted felon, having pleaded guilty to embezzlement, wire fraud, and conspiracy counts related to the alleged corruption schemes.