A key witness took the stand Monday in the corruption trial against a former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Todd Howe testified against Joseph Percoco. His close ties to Percoco and the Cuomos go back decades.
Howe's testimony has been eagerly anticipated ever since federal prosecutors announced in 2016 that he had pleaded guilty and was cooperating with authorities in an investigation of Percoco.
Percoco is charged with taking more than $315,000-worth of bribes from two companies working with the state.
Prosecutors say he used his relationship with Cuomo to win those companies' favorable treatment.
During the final days of the 2010 race for governor, Andrew Cuomo needed help crisscrossing the state. So, an energy company known as Competitive Power Ventures (CPV) provided a plane.
Not long before, CPV Executive Braith Kelly had sat down for breakfast with Cuomo and wrote a $25,000 check to his campaign. But prosecutors say Kelly crossed the line into bribery when he arranged a cushy job for the wife of longtime Cuomo aide Joe Percoco, hoping the company would get a state contract in return.
The two men, now on trial in Lower Manhattan, had become friendly, even going on a fishing trip in Montauk that was paid for by Kelly, as seen in a photo in the video above. It was all arranged by Howe.
Howe has pleaded guilty to eight felonies and is cooperating with prosecutors. On the witness stand Monday, he said Percoco had pushed Howe to help find a job for his unemployed wife, Lisa, a schoolteacher.
"He was the probably the closest thing to a brother that I ever had, and he asked for help." Howe testified. "And I did whatever I could to help him."
Kelly allegedly set Lisa Percoco up with a $90,000-a-year job at the energy company that required little work. In exchange, according to Howe, Percoco promised to push for a state contract that would allow the company to build a controversial Hudson Valley power plant. In emails, Howe and Percoco refered to the alleged bribe money as "ziti," just like the characters on the "The Sopranos" did. On Monday, the judge denied the prosecution's request to show the jury a clip of the show.
On the stand, Howe admitted to a long history of financial fraud: Embezzling more than a million dollars from his firm, stiffing contractors that did work on his house, running up debt on a friend's credit card, and once defrauding a bank of $45,000 that he said he'd deposited in what was actually an empty envelope. Now in debt more than a million dollars to the IRS, he works as a groundskeeper on a golf course in Idaho, where, he said, his job duties include digging ditches.