ALBANY – The state Capitol has gotten accustomed to unusual defenses in corruption cases over the years.
On Monday, though, a new one emerged: An individual ensnared in Albany’s latest pay-to-play scandal says he does not have to pay back $85,000 because the money wasn’t really a loan. It was a bribe.
So states lawyers for Todd Howe, the former Washington and Albany lobbyist and longtime insider to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as part of his defense against a legal claim from a Syracuse developer – whose two top executives are embroiled in the same bid-rigging scandal as Howe and others.
Prior to federal corruption charges being brought last month against eight individuals, COR Development sued Howe claiming that he had signed a promissory note in 2015 in which he said he’d repay a $85,000 loan, with interest, that COR had provided him. Howe did work for COR in its real estate dealings in Central New York with SUNY Polytechnic Institute, whose former head, Alain
Kaloyeros, was among those charged in the recent case brought by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
On the day Bharara brought his case, the prosecutor announced that Howe had pleaded guilty to eight felony counts for his role in the scheme, which involved projects across upstate, including the Buffalo Billion program. That initiative, a signature program of Cuomo's, was rocked by the arrests of three top executives with Buffalo’s LPCiminelli, including company head Louis Ciminelli.
Among the many allegations is that bribe money went to Joseph Percoco, who prior to his arrest had been Cuomo’s personal friend and perhaps closest advisor over the decades.
In a filing Friday with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, Howe’s lawyer offered a key, one-sentence explanation for why Howe does not owe COR any money.
“Plaintiffs purported loan was illegal, as it was part of an illegal conspiracy to deprive the public of its tangible right to honest services of an employee of the state of New York by soliciting and giving bribes and gratuities,’’ according to the court filing.
Moreover, Howe’s attorneys wrote: “COR’s attempt in June 2016 to negotiate a check purportedly issued by the defendant, dated December 28, 2015, was knowingly and legally a vacant, illegal and ineffective act, purporting to demand payment for a non-existent debt.’’
The legal spat between Howe and COR is a civil case brought shortly before Bharara filed criminal charges against two COR executives and the others. Indictments in the matter against the eight individuals charged last month are pending.