NEW YORK (AP) — A lawyer attacked the credibility of a key government witness on Wednesday at the bribery trial of a former top aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo before the witness lashed back, calling it insulting to suggest he'd lie to avoid prison.
Attorney Barry Bohrer defended longtime Cuomo confidante Joseph Percoco by repeatedly highlighting lies and crimes committed by government witness Todd Howe before Howe responded angrily.
Howe, a decadeslong close friend of Percoco before Howe pleaded guilty to multiple charges, said he found it "a bit insulting" that Bohrer suggested the only reason he would tell the truth was to earn a "get-out-of-jail-free card."
"I have done nothing but try to tell the truth since my come-to-Jesus moment," the witness said, recalling a meeting with his lawyer after his 2016 arrest.
The government has used Howe's testimony to try to prove Percoco accepted more than $300,000 in bribes to give three businessmen an advantage over others in their dealings with the state of New York.
Howe's outburst came after he calmly submitted to Bohrer's moment-by-moment recounting of how he ripped off lenders, businesses, relatives and friends over more than a decade, ranging from mortgage companies to a dog walker, while he was earning $750,000 some years.
Repeatedly, Howe conceded, he forced them to sue and garnish his wages. Only one entity or person at a time could share his paycheck though.
Percoco has pleaded not guilty to charges he accepted bribes from an energy consultant and two real estate developers.
Howe was questioned for two days by a prosecutor before Bohrer began cross examination with a confrontation.
"Are you an honest man?" the lawyer asked.
"I am today," Howe responded.
"Are you a truthful man?" Bohrer asked.
"I try to be," Howe said.
Bohrer showed it was not always so, confronting the witness with more than a million dollars Howe embezzled from his employer, a Washington consulting company. The lawyer noted that even now, Howe's cooperation agreement calls for him to pay back more than $1 million to the Internal Revenue Service though $1,000 monthly payments.
Bohrer also forced Howe to acknowledge losing a $985,000 home he bought in 2002 and a $1.6 million home he bought in 2006 because he failed to pay mortgages and equity loans and others he owed, including companies that remodeled his homes and even a tutor for his son.
The lawyer noted Howe reneged on debts even while vacationing at popular resorts in the Virgin Islands, Saint Lucia, Martha's Vineyard and Palm Beach, Florida.
After pleading guilty to fraud in 2010 and avoiding prison time, Howe knew he was in serious trouble when he was arrested in the Percoco case in 2016, the witness admitted.
"I realized I needed to take responsibility and step up and be honest," he said.
Now, Howe said, he lives in Idaho, mowing grass and digging ditches as a golf course groundskeeper.