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Ex-New York senator and son convicted of bribery, extortion

July 17, 2018 05:23 PM

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NEW YORK (AP) — A former New York state Senate leader and his son were convicted on Tuesday of extortion, wire fraud and bribery charges of pressuring businesses to give the son no-show jobs or else risk losing the powerful Republican's political support.

A jury in federal court in Manhattan deliberated over the course of four days before reaching the guilty verdict at the trial of Dean Skelos and his son, Adam. The son bowed his head as he heard the verdict while his father looked straight ahead. Both declined comment as they left court.

The top count against the pair, extortion, carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison but they are likely to receive far less time at sentencing on Oct. 24.

The trial was one of the most important in a spate of recent cases that have cast a harsh light on corruption in Albany. Former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, was convicted in May of corruption.

"Yet again, a New York jury heard a sordid tale of bribery, extortion, and the abuse of power by a powerful public official of this State," Deputy U.S. Attorney Robert Khuzami said in a statement. "And yet again, a jury responded with a unanimous verdict of guilt, in this case of Dean Skelos and his son Adam - sending the resounding message that political corruption will not be tolerated."

Prosecutors in the Skelos trial had told jurors that the father and son were "partners in crime" who showed such blatant disregard for conflicts of interest that they broke the law. They accused the two of extorting roughly $300,000 in payments from wealthy business executives who were dependent on the Long Island senator's backing on legislation benefiting their financial interests.

The companies felt "constant pressure from Dean Skelos — the fear he would punish them by using his official power if they didn't pay up," Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas McKay said in closing arguments. "They were the targets of the Skelos family shakedown."

The evidence included a wiretap recording of a phone call in 2014 in which Skelos boasted to his son that in his position as Senate leader he would "control everything," including which bills would come to the floor for a vote.

"Everybody's going to know who calls the shots, Adam," he said. "Believe me."

The defense had sought to portray the elder Skelos as a doting father who was merely trying to look out for a son struggling to find employment and pay for a $675,000 home. His lawyers argued there was no evidence that the ex-senator took any official action for the businessmen.

Skelos, 70, testified in his own defense, claiming there was never a quid-pro-quo expected when he reached out on behalf of Adam, 36.

"I didn't see a problem with it," he said. "I asked a lot of people to help my son."

Among the government witnesses was Anthony Bonomo, an insurance company CEO who described how Adam Skelos stopped turning up for a $78,000-a-year sales job he gave him. Even so, he didn't consider firing him because he "didn't want Adam's problem to become a wedge for our legislative pursuits in Albany. I just didn't want to have a problem with the senator."

Another witness, title company partner Tom Dwyer, testified that he was the bag man for a real estate developer who decided to give Adam Skelos a $20,000 bribe disguised as a referral fee for title insurance. He said he delivered the check over lunch on Long Island in 2013.

Robert Gage, who represented Dean Skelos, said in his closing arguments that the government witnesses weren't credible because they were testifying under non-prosecution agreements.

Bonomo, who knew Skelos socially for several years, "was a friend looking out for a friend's son," Gage said. "There's no extortion or bribery going on."

Prosecutors pointed to the wiretap recordings as further proof the defendants knew they were breaking the law and were afraid of getting caught. In one, Skelos could be heard advising his son about the need for discretion amid the state capital's ongoing corruption scandal, saying, "Right now we're in dangerous times, Adam."

It was the second trial for the father and son. They were convicted in 2015 of extortion, conspiracy and bribery, but a new trial was ordered by a federal appeals court in Manhattan after the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the law regarding public corruption as it reversed the conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.

The current case was prosecuted in the same courthouse that saw a fall from power for Silver, who was found guilty on corruption charges that he took kickbacks in exchange for legislative favors. Silver is still awaiting sentencing.

Silver and Skelos were among a trio dubbed the "three men in a room" in Albany, a nod to the longstanding practice of legislative leaders and the governor negotiating key bills behind closed doors. Skelos served in the Senate from 1985 to 2015 and became Senate leader in 2008.

Government watchdog groups followed the case closely, saying it highlighted New York state's lax ethics enforcement and pay-to-play insider culture.

The reversal of Skelos' initial conviction "gave people the sinking feeling that one could get away with anything in Albany, said the lawmaker who won Skelos' old seat, Democratic Sen. Todd Kaminsky. "Thankfully that proves not to be the case."

___

Associated Press writers Larry Neumeister in New York and David Klepper in Albany contributed to this report.

Credits

TOM HAYS

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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