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 would lie to avoid prison.
Attorney Barry Bohrer was defending longtime Cuomo confidante Joseph Percoco when he repeatedly highlighted for several hours lies and crimes committed by government witness Todd Howe before Howe responded angrily.
Howe, a longtime close friend of Percoco before Howe pleaded guilty to multiple charges, said he found it "a bit insulting" that Bohrer was suggesting 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" when he agreed to tell the truth and cooperate, the witness said.
The government has used Howe's testimony to try to prove Percoco accepted over $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.
Repeatedly, Howe conceded, he forced them to sue and garnish his wages. Only one entity or person at a time could get a share of 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 questions about the truth.
"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 over a million dollars Howe had embezzled from the consulting company that employed him. The lawyer noted that even now, Howe's cooperation agreement calls for him to pay back over $1 million by paying $1,000 each month.
Bohrer also forced Howe to acknowledge that he lost a $985,000 home he purchased in 2002 and a $1.6 million home he bought in 2006 because he failed to make payments on mortgages and equity loans or to pay others, including companies that helped him remodel the homes and even a tutor for his son.
The lawyer noted that Howe reneged on the debts even as he vacations at popular resorts in the Virgin Islands, Saint Lucia, Martha's Vineyard and Palm Beach, Florida.
After pleading guilty to a felony bank fraud count in 2010 and avoiding serving 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.
Howe said he met with his lawyer and "we had a come-to-Jesus discussion."