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Prosecutor seeks to control damage over arrested witness in bribery trial

NEW YORK — A prosecutor sought Monday to control the damage over the arrest of the government’s star witness in the bribery trial of a former top aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Jurors deserve a one-sentence explanation of why Todd Howe was arrested after his testimony Thursday that he tried to commit credit card fraud following his signing a cooperation deal with prosecutors that required him not to commit any more crimes, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Janis Echenberg. Howe’s lawyer has declined to comment.

Judge Valerie Caproni said she did not plan to instruct the jury, but left options open to limit what jurors learn about why Howe is now incarcerated as he testifies against his former friend, Joseph Percoco.

“We’ll see what happens,” Caproni said.

Percoco, a multi-decade confidante of the Democratic governor, is on trial in Manhattan on charges that he accepted over $300,000 in bribes from three businessmen who had business with the state and could benefit from his influence. He has pleaded not guilty, and his lawyer said he did not accept bribes.

Echenberg told Caproni that the government wanted to ensure the jury did not misunderstand facts surrounding Howe’s bail revocation.

The longtime Washington lobbyist was taken into custody hours after testifying that he knew the government might punish him for trying to improperly recover the cost of a $600 room at a Manhattan luxury hotel from a credit card company after he signed a plea deal promising not to commit any new crimes.

Howe has pleaded guilty to eight crimes that carry a potential of up to 130 years in prison. He has testified that he hopes his cooperation wins him leniency.

Echenberg said she wants the jury to be told only that Howe was incarcerated for a potential violation of his bail conditions.

She said Howe’s bail was revoked after prosecutors told another courthouse judge that it appeared Howe had violated the terms of his bail “based on the testimony.”

The prosecutor said the government did not want jurors thinking he was arrested because of credit card fraud.

The judge, though, said there was a “very fine line” between possible credit card fraud and the reason prosecutors wanted to give jurors for his incarceration.

A lawyer’s illness caused postponement of the trial Monday. It was scheduled to resume Tuesday.

Armando Franca, Associated Press 

A family waves to the camera on Monday while walking on the beach along the waterfront in Sesimbra, south of Lisbon, after taking part in the Carnival Clowns' Parade. Every year on Carnival Monday, thousands dress as clowns to take part in the fishing town's parade.

Advocates pushing Cuomo to boost homelessness initiatives

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo hasn’t followed through on pledges to stem the growing number of New Yorkers who are homeless, despite the billions the Democrat claims is being invested in affordable and supportive housing across the state, advocates said Monday.

About two dozen homeless New Yorkers and advocates joined state lawmakers Monday at the Capitol to bring attention to the issue and discuss legislative initiatives aimed at alleviating homelessness.

Members of Brooklyn-based VOCAL-NY said the governor isn’t doing enough to back up pledges made in recent years to spend billions of dollars for affordable housing, shelters and rental subsidies. The critics of Cuomo’s efforts say it’s not clear where the funding is going and how many homeless people are being housed under his plan.

Nearly 90,000 people are living in homeless shelters across the state, about 60,000 in New York City and the rest in upstate New York, the advocates said.

“It’s a moral cause,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat who’s among the legislators supporting a measure that would create a new statewide rent supplement for low-income families and individuals facing homelessness because of domestic violence and hazardous conditions.

“We’re here to look after the folks who need help,” he said.

In 2016, Cuomo announced a five-year, $20 billion initiative to create affordable housing and support services for the homeless. The homeless problem continued to grow throughout 2017, with about 88,000 people living in shelters, according to the state’s own estimates.

Among them is Nathylin Flowers Adesegun, a 71-year-old retired Wall Street accounting firm office manager. She said she was evicted two years ago from her Brooklyn apartment when her landlord tripled the rent and has been living in a Queens homeless shelter ever since.

“We kept that neighborhood alive for 40 years,” she said of her former home in Brooklyn’s Flatbush section. She and other advocates are pushing Cuomo and lawmakers to expand taxes on millionaires and billionaires to help fund affordable housing programs in the city and elsewhere.

Gov. Cuomo's favorability, re-election ratings tumble

Cuomo’s favorability rating falls

ALBANY — A new poll finds Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s favorability and re-election ratings falling just a month after a survey of registered New York state voters gave the Democrat some of the highest ratings during his two terms.

The Siena College poll released Monday found 53 percent of voters view Cuomo favorably, while 40 percent said they don’t. That compares to 62-30 percent in last month’s Siena poll.

The latest poll found 50 percent said they’d re-elect Cuomo, compared to 55 percent last month.

The poll was conducted Feb. 5-8, amid the ongoing bribery trial of Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Cuomo, and after Cuomo proposed $1 billion in additional taxes and fees.

The telephone poll of 823 New York registered voters has a plus or minus 3.9-percentage-point margin of error.

Rules eyed for social media ads

ALBANY — Two New York state lawmakers are urging their fellow legislators not to pass a state budget without including new rules for political ads on social media.

Sen. Todd Kaminsky of Long Island and Assemblyman James Skoufis of Woodbury detailed their proposal Monday at the state Capitol in Albany.

The two Democrats want to require Facebook and other social media platforms to identity the individual or groups behind political ads on their sites.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports the idea of requiring more information about online political ads, which are the subject of investigations into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Kaminsky says disclosing who paid for ads would discourage false and misleading statements while informing citizens about those trying to influence their vote.

Pot is legal in Vt., but not on lake

BURLINGTON, Vt. — While possessing small amounts of marijuana will be legal in Vermont later this year, it will remain off-limits on the waters of Lake Champlain.

The lake is considered federal water because it borders Canada. The Burlington Free Press reported that means those who have marijuana on board their boats could face federal charges.

U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan said her office has not charged a case related to possessing marijuana on Lake Champlain or boating under the influence in the past five years.

Starting July 1, adults can possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, two mature and four immature plants. Gov. Phil Scott signed the bill last month, making the state the first in the country to authorize the recreational use of marijuana by an act of a state legislature.

Associated Press