Howe, Cuomo in­sider, is spared prison in cor­rup­tion case

The Buffalo News - - NATIONAL NEWS - By Vi­vian Wang NEW YORK TIMES

For years, Todd R. Howe reaped the re­wards of being a Cuomo fam­ily loy­al­ist.

He had worked for Gov. Mario M. Cuomo in the 1980s, and then for his son, An­drew, in the 1990s. He traded on his rep­u­ta­tion as an Al­bany in­sider and earned up to $750,000 a year as a lob­by­ist and con­sul­tant. He va­ca­tioned in St. Lu­cia and drove a Porsche.

Then came a pre­cip­i­tous fall that took him from in­flu­enc­ing the pow­er­ful in Al­bany to work­ing as a groundskeeper in Idaho. In 2016, Howe pleaded guilty to eight felonies and agreed to tes­tify for the pros­e­cu­tion in a sprawl­ing pub­lic cor­rup­tion case that has loomed over Gov. An­drew M. Cuomo’s ad­min­is­tra­tion for more than two years.

Seven peo­ple were even­tu­ally con­victed or pleaded guilty in cases that hinged on tes­ti­mony from Howe. For that, he was rewarded Fri­day with a sen­tence that in­cluded no prison time.

The fall­out from the case has re­lent­lessly shad­owed Cuomo. Though pros­e­cu­tors never ac­cused the governor of any wrong­do­ing, and he has dis­tanced him­self from Howe, po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents have re­peat­edly asked what Cuomo knew. Dur­ing his re-elec­tion cam­paign last year, his ri­vals out­right ac­cused him of com­plic­ity.

One of Cuomo’s for­mer top lieu­tenants is now in prison, a con­vic­tion that Cuomo called “per­son­ally painful.” A for­mer eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment ad­viser was con­victed, too, and one of the governor’s sig­na­ture up­state projects was tainted.

The governor coasted to re-elec­tion last year, win­ning com­mand­ing vic­to­ries in both the pri­mary and gen­eral elec­tion. But the tri­als made clear he had come up short on one of his ear­li­est cam­paign prom­ises – to clean up Al­bany and re­store pub­lic trust in gov­ern­ment.

Fri­day, the series of cor­rup­tion cases seemed to have found an end­ing, at least legally, when Howe ap­peared in fed­eral court in Man­hat­tan. He was the last of the eight peo­ple felled by the cor­rup­tion scan­dal to be sen­tenced.

While the governor’s aide, Joseph Per­coco, re­ceived six years in prison af­ter being con­victed on three charges, the judge, Va­lerie E. Caproni, sen­tenced Howe to five years of pro­ba­tion.

The light sen­tence rec­og­nized his turn as the star wit­ness in the case. (Howe had faced up to 14 years in prison for his eight felonies.) Tes­ti­fy­ing dur­ing Per­coco’s trial, Howe had of­fered an in­ti­mate, un­var­nished and damn­ing view of the high­est lev­els of state gov­ern­ment.

He de­scribed set­ting up a fundrais­ing break­fast for Cuomo with de­vel­op­ers who wanted state busi­ness, ar­rang­ing a paid fish­ing trip be­tween de­vel­op­ers and Per­coco, and ul­ti­mately fa­cil­i­tat­ing more than $300,000 in bribes to Per­coco for his help in se­cur­ing state deals.

Caproni said be­fore im­pos­ing her sen­tence that Howe’s ac­tions had fed the cyn­i­cal view that state gov­ern­ment was “all about who knows who and who’s greas­ing whose palm.”

“Howe knew how to get some­one in the good graces of An­drew Cuomo,” she said.

Howe, ask­ing for le­niency, de­scribed the atmosphere in Al­bany that he said drove him to cor­rup­tion.

“I had to stay rel­e­vant, and I had to stay suc­cess­ful,” he told the judge. “It was a tough en­vi­ron­ment to be in, but I did the things I needed to do to be rel­e­vant.”

Howe earned lit­tle sym­pa­thy dur­ing the trial it­self. Pros­e­cu­tors and de­fense lawyers re­vealed un­sa­vory be­hav­ior rang­ing from em­bez­zle­ment to doc­tor­ing emails to ly­ing to his dog walker.

He was even thrown into jail in the mid­dle of Per­coco’s trial, when Howe ad­mit­ted that he had tried to de­fraud his credit card com­pany at the same time that he was co­op­er­at­ing with the gov­ern­ment.

Howe called his six months in jail in Brook­lyn “a hor­ri­ble sit­u­a­tion for me,” but also a “learning ex­pe­ri­ence.”

“It made me re­al­ize all the things I had lost,” he said.

Per­haps because of Howe’s un­sa­vory his­tory and its po­ten­tial to un­der­mine the pros­e­cu­tion’s case, the gov­ern­ment did not call him to tes­tify in a sec­ond, re­lated cor­rup­tion trial, though his name was men­tioned fre­quently there, too. That trial led to the con­vic­tion of Alain E. Kaloyeros, Cuomo’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment guru.

Since Howe’s re­lease from jail, he and his wife have been liv­ing in Ketchum, Idaho. Howe works as a groundskeeper at a ski re­sort, main­tain­ing a play­ground for the wealthy rather than pa­tron­iz­ing one him­self, as he once might have done.

As part of his guilty pleas, Howe must re­pay his old law firm $1.7 mil­lion that he em­bez­zled and for­feit an ad­di­tional $2.8 mil­lion.

“Their sim­pler life cen­ters around the beauty of the sur­round­ing moun­tains and peace­ful time spent to­gether,” Howe’s lawyers wrote in court pa­pers. They said Howe had es­caped from “the snaking vines of the lob­by­ing net­work.”

Af­ter the sen­tenc­ing, Howe, a wide grin on his face, shook hands with a few peo­ple in the court­room. His lawyer, Sa­van­nah Steven­son, said Howe was “hum­bled, grate­ful and pleased” by the de­ci­sion.

As he left the court­house, Howe was asked if he had any mes­sage to give to Cuomo. He shook his head slightly. “No,” he said.

New York Times

Todd Howe ar­rives for his sen­tenc­ing in New York on Fri­day. Howe was a star wit­ness in the pub­lic cor­rup­tion cases that have loomed over Gov. An­drew M. Cuomo’s ad­min­is­tra­tion for more than two years.

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