“Lawmakers Charged in Plot to Buy Spot on Mayoral Ballot”

The New York Times on April 2, 2013 released the following:


A top New York State lawmaker was arrested early Tuesday morning for what federal prosecutors said was his central role in a brazen series of bribery and corruption schemes, including an attempt to buy a spot on the ballot in this year’s race for New York City mayor.

In outlining the charges against the lawmaker, State Senator Malcolm A. Smith, as well as five other politicians and Republican Party leaders, United States Attorney Preet Bharara said the case was but the latest evidence that corruption in New York was “pervasive.”

“Every New Yorker should be disheartened and dismayed by the sad state of affairs in this great state,” Mr. Bharara said.

Mr. Smith, a Queens Democrat who rose to become the first black president of the State Senate, was accused of conspiring with City Councilman Daniel J. Halloran III, a Queens Republican, to get his name on the ballot for mayor as a Republican, which would require approval of a majority of the party’s leadership in the city.

The others arrested were Joseph J. Savino, the Bronx G.O.P. chairman; Vincent Tabone, vice chairman of the Queens Republican Party; and Noramie F. Jasmin, the mayor of the Rockland County village of Spring Valley, and her deputy, Joseph A. Desmaret, according to a criminal complaint.

The complaint details a scheme hatched in a series of clandestine meetings in hotels, with cash passing hands in parked cars and hushed conversations in a restaurant on Valentine’s Day and even in Mr. Smith’s office in Albany. The meetings, recorded by an undercover agent or a cooperating witness, were primarily among Mr. Smith, the undercover agent and the witness, and Mr. Halloran and the agent and the witness. The scheme involving the race was one of three bribery schemes charged in the case.

Mr. Bharara, at a news conference, pointed to Mr. Halloran’s own words in a recorded conversation with the confidential witness as evidence of how “money greases the wheel.”

“That’s politics, that’s politics,” Mr. Halloran is quoted in the complaint as saying. “Not about whether or will, it’s about how much, and that’s our politicians in New York, they’re all like that. And they get like that because of the drive that the money does for everything else.”

The charges immediately reverberated at City Hall and in Albany, threatening to upset the Republican primary for mayor of New York and the leadership coalition that governs the State Senate.

“It is very, very troubling,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said of the charges. “We have zero tolerance for any violation of the public integrity and the public trust, so they’re very serious.”

At the Capitol, Mr. Smith is a key member of an independent faction of Democrats who joined forces with Republicans to seize control of the Senate this year. Although that coalition has enough members to retain control without him, the charges against him are sure to taint the coalition as well as the rest of the Senate Democrats, who have been struggling to distance themselves from years of corruption.

Jeffrey D. Klein, a Democrat and a one of the two leaders of the State Senate, said Mr. Smith would be stripped of his committee assignments and his conference leadership position.

“These are very serious allegations that, if true, constitute a clear betrayal of the public trust,” Mr. Klein said in a statement.

And in New York City, the case suggests an unseemly connection between money and the Republican Party’s nominating process, and raises questions for a leading Republican candidate, John Catsimatidis. Mr. Tabone is an influential campaign adviser to Mr. Catsimatidis and in-house counsel to the candidate’s privately held company, which owns the Gristedes supermarket chain. The charges are also likely to be a distraction for Joseph J. Lhota, another leading Republican candidate, who just days ago celebrated the endorsement of Mr. Halloran.

In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Catsimatidis said he had suspended Mr. Tabone pending the outcome of the charges, and he dismissed the idea that the indictment would affect his mayoral bid.

“Why would it affect the election? Why would it affect me?” Mr. Catsimatidis said. “It affects my campaign zero. We are going 100 percent ahead.”

Mr. Catsimatidis played down Mr. Tabone’s role in his business, describing him as one of several lawyers under his employ, but acknowledged that Mr. Tabone had been closely involved in his campaign for several months.

Asked if Mr. Tabone’s discussions with a rival Republican candidate could be viewed as a form of betrayal, Mr. Catsimatidis replied, “I think it can be considered a little bit of treason.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. Lhota declined to comment.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who said he was familiar with only the broad outlines of the charges, said that they illustrated the need to hold nonpartisan elections in the city, a cause that he has championed over the years but that has failed to gain widespread support.

Mr. Smith, 56, was taken from his home in St. Albans in handcuffs by F.B.I. agents before sunrise and Mr. Halloran, a lawyer, was arrested about the same time, law enforcement authorities said.

Mr. Smith, a contractor and real estate developer, has said he was considering running for mayor as a Republican, and the charges contend that he made payments to Mr. Halloran in exchange for the councilman’s assistance in setting up meetings with Republican leaders as part of an effort to get on the ballot, the complaint said

The criminal complaint was filed by federal prosecutors in Manhattan and unsealed Tuesday morning. Mr. Smith, Mr. Halloran and the others were to appear later Tuesday before a United States magistrate judge in United States District Court in White Plains.

Mr. Smith, according to the complaint, agreed with the cooperating witness and the undercover F.B.I. agent, who was masquerading as a wealthy real estate developer, to pay off leaders of Republican county committees in New York’s five boroughs. The bribes were to be paid to obtain specific certificates authorizing him to run for mayor as a Republican even though he was a registered Democrat.

The undercover agent and the cooperating witness served as intermediaries between the senator and Mr. Halloran, the complaint said.

Mr. Smith’s lawyer, Gerald L. Shargel, said his client denied wrongdoing. “Malcolm Smith is a dedicated and highly respected public servant and he steadfastly denies these charges,” Mr. Shargel said, adding that he would have more to say after he had an opportunity to study the charges.

Lawyers for Mr. Savino and Mr. Tabone, Kevin B. Faga and Vito A. Palimieri, could not immediately be reached for comment. The lawyers representing the other defendants could not immediately be identified.

Most of the defendants, according to the complaint, were looking for something: Mr. Smith was seeking authorization to get his name on the ballot. Mr. Halloran, in addition to cash payments, also mentioned the possibility of being named deputy police commissioner if Mr. Smith found his way into Gracie Mansion.

Ms. Jasmin wanted an ownership interest in a company she believed was involved in a real estate deal, the complaint says, and Mr. Smith promised to steer $500,000 in state transportation funds to that project.

And at least one of the defendants was also looking for a way to avoid jail.

George Venizelos, the assistant director of the F.B.I.’s New York office, said in a statement that Mr. Tabone, clearly aware that the bribery scheme was illegal, patted down the undercover F.B.I. agent at one point to see if he was wearing a recording device. “He was,” Mr. Venizelos said, “but Tabone was less skilled at conducting a pat-down than he was at conducting a shakedown.”

At the same time, Mr. Tabone, according to the complaint, boasted to the undercover agent when he was asked if he could deliver the certification to appear on the Republican ballot. “Nobody else runs the party,” he said. “I run the party.”

But Mr. Smith became impatient, asking the agent and the cooperating witness during a meeting in his office whether the Republican committee leaders were delaying getting his certificates because they wanted more money.

Mr. Smith, according to the complaint, instructed the two men not to pay the committee leaders any more money until they had “close[d] … the deal.” He also said that before the leaders received “even a nickel more, [he’d] have to stand on the Empire State Building and drop every person [he] endorsed and hold Malcolm up and say he’s the best thing since sliced bread. Matter of fact, he’s better than sliced bread.”

According to the complaint, Mr. Halloran set up a meeting at which the undercover agent and the witness met Mr. Savino and Mr. Tabone, and negotiated the amounts of the bribes for the documents. In exchange, Mr. Halloran sought and received more than $20,000 in cash for himself, prosecutors said.

Though at one point, according to the complaint, Mr. Halloran said he could probably get the leaders of all five Republican county parties to sign certificates on behalf of Mr. Smith, no other county leader has been accused of wrongdoing.

Mr. Tabone and Mr. Savino were paid bribes of more than $40,000 and were promised $40,000 more, and they in turn agreed to use their official capacities with Republican county committees to obtain the documents Mr. Smith would need to run for mayor as a Republican

Mr. Smith, in exchange for help from Mr. Savino and Mr. Tabone, agreed to use his Senate office to help win state funds for a road project in Spring Valley that would benefit a real estate development that Senator Smith believed was being built by a company belonging to the undercover agent.

The development involved building a community center in Spring Valley. On Tuesday, a sign near the site with the words “Coming Soon!” showed a rendering of the center.

The complaint said that on Nov. 16, Mr. Smith met the undercover agent and the cooperating witness at a hotel in White Plains and asked the witness to contact a Republican Party county chairman identified in the charges only as “County Chairman #1” to try to “change him” by persuading him to support Mr. Smith rather than another mayoral candidate whom the chairman had publicly supported.

Later that day, the complaint said, Mr. Halloran met the undercover agent at a Queens restaurant in order to receive a bribe in exchange for taking what the charges refer to as unspecified “unrelated official action.” During that meeting, the agent asked Mr. Halloran if he knew “County Chairman #1” and Mr. Halloran said that he did, and that he knew Mr. Savino. Mr. Halloran agreed to ask the county chairman and Mr. Savino what they would want in exchange for their support for a mayoral candidate, the complaint said.

And on that same day, the undercover agent met Mr. Smith at a hotel in Manhattan and told him that the agent could arrange a meeting with “County Chairman #1” and Mr. Savino during which the agent would try to negotiate their support for the senator, the complaint said. Mr. Smith, the complaint said, told the undercover agent: “You pull this off, you can have the house. I’ll be a tenant.”

Several months later, Mr. Smith met the cooperating witness in Rockland County, the complaint said. As they sat in a parked car, the witness told Mr. Smith that getting the certificates from the county leaders would cost “a pretty penny,” the complaint said.

“It’s worth any price?” the witness asked.

The senator responded, according to the complaint: “Look, talk to me before you close it. But it’s worth it. Because you know how big a deal it is.”

Two weeks later, Mr. Halloran met the undercover agent and the witness at a Manhattan hotel and told them that Mr. Savino wanted $25,000 “in an envelope” in exchange for signing the certificate, the complaint said. Mr. Tabone, the person said, wanted $50,000 — half of the money before he signed and the balance afterward.

Mr. Smith has been a subject of several criminal inquiries in recent years and his constituents have steadfastly stood by him in the past. After his arrest, some of those who live in his district were hesitant to cast judgment.

Francois Pierrelouis, 80, said he voted for Mr. Smith in the last election and he called the allegations “just an accusation.”

While he said it was too soon to call Mr. Smith guilty, he said, in general, he was tired of politicians “that are not connected to the needs of the people.””


Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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