Howe, Cuomo insider, is spared prison in corruption case
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.
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.