ALBANY – In an explosive development in the Joseph Percoco corruption trial, the prosecution’s star witness has been arrested for violating a cooperation agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Todd Howe, a former lobbyist and longtime associate of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, was remanded for violating his bail condition, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan said this afternoon. Howe today is listed as an inmate at a federal detention center in Manhattan, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website.
The spokesman declined to say if Howe – who was on the witness stand for the prosecution four days this week in the Percoco trial – will be back as scheduled on Monday in the lower Manhattan courtroom.
No additional charges have been brought by prosecutors against Howe, officials said Friday.
A spokesman for prosecutors said there would be no comment on the impact of Howe's arrest on the Percoco case.
Following a hearing Friday afternoon, Howe, for the time being at least, will remain in federal custody.
The arrest comes after Howe admitted during a cross-examination by a defense attorney on Thursday that he lied to his credit card company about a supposed stay by him at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York back in 2016.
The lawyer, Daniel Gitner, represents a former energy company executive who is on trial with Percoco and two others in an alleged bribery scheme.
Howe admitted he lied to the credit card company about a stay in New York at the time he was cooperating with federal prosecutors in the corruption case.
“As you sit here now, do you realize that you are in violation of your cooperation agreement?” Gitner asked Howe on Thursday.
“I do, looking at this, yes,” responded Howe.
Gitner then asked: “As you sit here now, do you think they’re going to rip it up?”
Howe responded: “I sure hope not.”
As part of his cooperation agreement with prosecutors, Howe in 2016 agreed not to violate any laws “whatsoever.’’
Under questioning from Gitner, Howe acknowledged that he stayed at the Waldorf in June 2016. A month after signing a cooperation agreement with prosecutors in September, Howe called his credit card company to try to get erased a $604 charge for a night at the hotel.
"You lied to them to try to get them to remove the credit card charges from staying at the Waldorf, right?'' Gitner asked Howe Thursday about his 2016 call to credit card company Capital One.
"You know,'' Howe started to respond.
"Yes or no, sir?" Gitner demanded.
"I don't recall, but I'm sure if you say I did, I did,'' Howe said.
Calls and emails to Howe's attorney, as well as lawyers representing the four defendants in the case, were not immediately returned.
Howe went before a judge Friday afternoon in Manhattan for a bail revocation hearing, according to media reports. The Wall Street Journal reported Howe appeared in court with his ankles in shackles while wearing a T-shirt with "Martha's Vineyard Beach Permit" on its back.
Howe has already pleaded guilty to eight felonies, several of which pertain to the alleged bribery scheme that he testified this week he was a part of with Percoco and executives with two companies.
Howe was arrested in his hotel room Thursday night by the U.S. Marshals Service just hours after his admission on the witness stand about lying to his credit card company.
According to an order signed Thursday evening by U.S. District Court Judge J. Paul Oetken, Howe had been released on bail following his 2016 guilty pleas. He posted a $100,000 bond as part of the bail arrangement.
Without offering any specifics, the order signed by the judge Thursday evening said that prosecutors notified the court that "revocation of the defendant's bail conditions is appropriate at this time.''
Howe took the witness stand on Monday and prosecutors said they don’t expect his testimony to end until at least next Tuesday. Howe is a longtime loyalist of Cuomo, and it was Howe, when he was working for the governor’s late father, then Gov. Mario Cuomo, who first hired Percoco in 1991.
Howe is also set to be a chief prosecution witness in the trial pertaining to the Buffalo Billion development at RiverBend. Three former executives at LPCiminelli, the general contractor on the solar manufacturing plant construction financed by the state, are among those charged in a pay-to-play case involving several upstate economic development projects. That trial is due to start in June before Judge Valerie Caproni, the same judge hearing the Percoco bribery trial. The Buffalo Billion and Percoco cases had been set for one trial, but Caproni split them into two separate cases last year.
On Friday, Buffalo lawyer Terrence Connors, who is representing former LPCiminelli executive Kevin C. Schuler in the Buffalo Billion case, asked Caproni to delay the June trial start date until July or August; Connors said he has a scheduling conflict with another trial.
Howe’s character has been a key point during the three weeks the Percoco trial has been underway. Prosecutors in their opening statements noted that he lied to everyone from the IRS to his former employer. Barry Bohrer, Percoco’s lawyer, on the trial’s first day labeled Howe a “walking breach of contract,’’ a “pathological liar” and a “repeat embezzler.’’
Prosecutors said they still have seven or eight witnesses to call after Howe’s testimony is concluded; defense lawyers have said they are still deciding who might be called.