USA Preet Bharara takes aim at his second target among NYS's legendary "Three Men in a Room"
Might as well be mugshots: Reuters photog Eduardo Munoz snapped this shot of Dean and Mini-Dean, aka NYS Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his boy Adam, approaching FBI HQ this morning, before they were indicted on assorted federal corruption charges.
"It's like [expletive] Preet Bharara is listening to every [expletive] phone call."
-- Adam Skelos, in a phone call with his father
(recorded by the feds, of course)
(recorded by the feds, of course)
Here I was, thinking of doing a follow-up to my Friday post "New Jersey USA kicks up the heat on Bridgegate Krispykronies, and we learn some nasty new stuff," based on Matthew Katz's report this morning for WNYC's "Christie Tracker" that "Yes, Chris Christie Is Still Planning To Run For President. Here's Why." (Some of the reasons: Bridgegate still hasn't been pinned on the governor, his billionaires still love him, and the Bridgegate story has been virtually shunned by certain key segments of the media, meaning Fox Noise.)
Meanwhile, however, over on this side of the Hudson one of our U.S. attorneys, Preet Bharara (USA for the Southern District of NY), took prosecutorial aim at bigger game than NJ's USA, Paul Fishman, bagged Friday, with the indictment of NYS Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his boy Adam on federal corruption charges. This makes two of the famous "three men in a room," the men who run NYS government, USA Bharara has brought down -- first then-Assembly Speaker "Smelly Shelly" Silver and now th Senate's presiding officer. This leaves only Gov. Andrew Cuomo standing, and makes you wonder if he's looking over his shoulder.
(Let me stress that I haven't heard any reports to this effect. I'm just free-associating. Still, if no one has started the rumor yet, somebody has to. You remember how gung-ho for ethics Boy Andrew was back when it was state legislators' ethics that were at issue?)
After all, it was Boy Andrew who slammed shut the state ethics investigating commission which he himself had created as soon as it started doing, you know, actual investigating, meaning it started lapping up against friends of his. And who knows? Maybe eventually that lapping might have lapped up against his very best friend, his own self. And in a way, Boy Andrew also set the stage for the Silver and Skelos indictments, because it seems generally agreed that USA Bharara, who had been cooperating (and closely watching) the state ethics panel, felt obliged to take over at least some of its work when it was so unceremoniously shut down.
The Skelos indictments are an ugly blow for NYS Republicans, who haven't had an awful lot to cheer about in recent year and so were practically peeing in their pants with the excitement of the indictment of Smelly Shelly, who'd pretty much run the NYS Assembly for 21 years until he stepped down under pressure on February 2 following his indictment. Now, rather awkwardly, they're likely to be on the receiving end of advice from legislative Democrats similar to what they were offering back then -- like how dare Majority Leader Skelos not resign immediately? (It should be noted, for the record, that while Smelly Shelly resigned the speakership, he did not give up his Assembly seat. Even as we speak, he remains a member.)
Here's the report by the AP's Larry Neumeister and Tom Hays:
NEW YORK -- The leader of the New York Senate surrendered Monday to face charges including extortion and soliciting bribes after investigators looking into the awarding of a $12 million contract to a company that hired his son said they captured him on wiretaps boasting of his power.
Dean Skelos, 67, of Long Island and his 32-year-old son, Adam, surrendered at the FBI's offices in lower Manhattan as a criminal complaint was unsealed against them in federal court, where they were expected to appear later in the day.
At a news conference announcing the charges, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara alleged that Skelos's "support for certain infrastructure projects and legislation was often based, not on what was good for his constituents or good for New York, but rather on what was good for his son's bank account."
In a statement, Dean Skelos said he expected to be exonerated at trial.
"I am innocent of the charges leveled against me. I am not saying I am just not guilty, I am saying that I am innocent," he said. A lawyer for his son did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Authorities said Dean Skelos - New York state's most powerful Republican official -has used his position as a carrot since at least 2010, taking official actions in return for payments to his son.
According to court papers, some evidence was obtained through court-authorized wiretaps on cellphones used by the father and son.
The complaint said Dean Skelos bragged to his son recently in one conversation after he was re-elected majority leader in January, a post he shared with another senator from 2011 to 2013: "I'm going to be president of the Senate. I'm going to be majority leader. I'm going to control everything."
The charges were unveiled four months after former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, was charged with accepting nearly $4 million in payoffs. Silver, maintaining his innocence, gave up his leadership post but is keeping his legislative seat as he fights the charges. Earlier this month, Silver's son-in-law was charged in a $7 million Ponzi scheme.
Bharara, who has called Albany a "cauldron of corruption," told a news conference that the case was further proof that "public corruption is a deep-seated problem in New York State. It is a problem in both chambers. It is a problem on both sides of the aisle."
But the prosecutor also appeared more cautious with his remarks in the wake of a ruling by a federal judge recently that criticized him for overdoing the publicity surrounding Silver's January arrest.
"Let me emphasize at the outset that these are only charges," he said. "The complaint contains allegations only, and both defendants are absolutely presumed innocent unless and until those allegations are proven beyond a reasonable doubt, which is what we intend to do."
The complaint said Dean Skelos used his position to extort money from others, including hundreds of thousands of dollars from a senior executive of a major real estate development firm who was cooperating with the government.
Dean Skelos promoted and voted for real estate legislation sought by the developer, including some pertaining to rent regulation and property tax abatements, the complaint said.
Skelos said last month he was cooperating fully and would not resign his leadership post. He's hired an attorney in response to the investigation, which focuses on whether Skelos influenced Nassau County's decision to award a 2013 contract to Arizona-based AbTech.
Adam Skelos worked for the company as a consultant. The complaint said AbTech, which was only identified as an "Environmental Technology Company," more than doubled its monthly payment to Adam Skelos after the $12 million contract was approved.
AbTech has said it is cooperating with authorities and is not considered a target in the probe.
"The process through which local authorities selected AbTech was comprehensive and diligent, involving several levels of Nassau County government," the company said. "AbTech is proud ... to have earned this contract after a thorough and fair review process conducted by Nassau County."
Dean Skelos has represented a portion of Nassau County on Long Island in the state Senate since he was elected in 1984. He was elected to the Assembly in 1980.
An attorney, Skelos is known as a shrewd negotiator and a frequent ally to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat. He is the seventh top lawmaker to face criminal charges in the past six years. Since 2000, 29 New York lawmakers have left office because of criminal or ethical issues.
Another top Senate leader, Sen. Thomas Libous, R-Binghamton, has pleaded not guilty to a federal charge that he lied to the FBI about using his clout to arrange a job for his son, who was convicted earlier this year of filing false income tax returns.
UPDATE: Daily News Says Skelos Must Go
To prison, I hope... with Adam. "Federal criminal charges lodged against state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos," opined The News depict him as wringing hundreds of thousands of dollars out of Albany supplicants for his 32-year-old son (Adam). Skills believes, they reminded us, that "anything goes in Albany, no matter how much money changes hands or how vigorous the back-scratching."
[H]e must step down as majority leader and join the recently deposed Sheldon Silver in demonstrating that Bharara is imposing law and order on the Legislature’s standard operating procedures.
All too predictably, precious few members of Skelos’ Republican conference had the integrity to quickly call for his ouster-- with Long Island’s John Flanagan flatly declaring that Skelos “should stay on as leader, plain and simple.”
That’s how the Corruption Caucus in Silver’s Assembly behaved until the public revolted. Plainly, Skelos’ days are numbered. Flanagan’s should be, too.
Backed up by wiretaps, emails and cooperating witnesses, the facts show that Skelos put the arm on Glenwood Management, a major landlord, to hire his son during meetings in which the company lobbied him on rent regulation and tax breaks.
They show that Skelos guided $200,000 from Glenwood to Adam through a title insurance company and an engineering firm.
They show that Skelos reciprocated with legislation in Albany and by securing a $12 million contract from Nassau County. He even discussed the deal with Nassau Executive Ed Mangano at the wake for a slain NYPD officer.
As the Skeloses became worried about getting caught, Adam complained to his father: “You can’t talk normally because it’s like fucking Preet Bharara is listening to every fucking phone call.”
Revealed in a footnote was that the elder Skelos has garnered $2.6 million from a Long Island law firm without performing “any actual legal work”-- a whole scandal in itself.
Skelos is at least the 31st Albany pol accused of serious wrongdoing in the past 15 years-- including a governor, a controller, an Assembly speaker and five of the last six Senate leaders.
The place is corrupt to the core.