MANHATTAN (CN) – Former New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos pressured three businesses to pay his son more than $300,000 in an “age-old tale of the abuse of political power to satisfy personal greed,” a federal prosecutor told a jury on Tuesday.
These words kicked off the second high-profile trial that opened this month in Manhattan Federal Court simultaneously over corruption in Albany.
Like the case of New York Assemblyman Sheldon Silver, the prosecutions of Dean and Adam Skelos involve familiar allegations of no-show jobs in return for political favors from powerful companies – including development titan Glenwood Management, the top donor in New York state.
So far, both Silver and the Skeloses have offered similar defenses, disputing any quid pro quo arrangements and arguing that the politicians had different motives for the legislation they supported.
The evidence against the Skeloses, in some ways, promises to be more vivid.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tatiana Martins promised the jury would hear “dozens” of wiretap recordings of Dean and Adam Skelos bragging of the family’s power and warning of the consequences of crossing them.
“I’m going to be president of the Senate,” Skelos boasted in one of those recordings, according to the criminal complaint. “I’m going to be majority leader. I’m going to control everything. I’m going to control who gets on what committees, what legislation goes to the floor, what legislation comes through committees, the budget, everything.”
Quoting this statement, Martins said: “As Dean Skelos’ power grew, Adam Skelos’ wallet grew too.”
To avoid detection for their political favors, the Skeloses spoke in “code words” and used “burner phones,” Martins said, referring to disposable prepaid cellphones commonly used by drug dealers.
Attorneys for Dean Skelos, a Republican from Nassau County, acknowledge that he helped his son get jobs with the Scottsdale, Arizona-based environmental firm AbTech and the medical malpractice insurance company PRI, as prosecutors allege.
The senator’s attorney Robert Gage, from the firm Gage, Spencer & Fleming, LLP, cast this as the behavior of a “concerned and involved father, not a criminal conspiracy.”
Roughly five years ago, Adam Skelos had a $100,000-per-year job, but he wanted to buy a $675,000 house with a pool.
Prosecutors say that the elder Skelos used his influence at this point to pressure Glenwood’s general counsel Charles Dorego to steer the company’s sizable title insurance business to his son.
Glenwood arranged instead for AbTech, which did business with the developer, to pay Adam Skelos, Martins said.
Adam Skelos allegedly started his job with a $4,000 a month salary, which prosecutors say increased to $10,000 a month after his father used his clout as a Nassau County Republican to pressure the executive to award a $12 million contract for AbTech in return for a raise for his son.
“AbTech was now a hostage to the Skelos family,” Martins said, hammering home the government’s allegation that corruption gave way to extortion.
The Nassau County executive awarded the contract for a stormwater project related to Hurricane Sandy to the Arizona contractor at Sen. Skelos’ behest, and the senator was so heavily involved in the arrangement that he allegedly leaned on AbTech for his son’s payment at a New York City Police Department funeral, the prosecutor said.
Dean Skelos then pushed for another job for his son at PRI, a medical malpractice insurance firm.
Prosecutors note that this heavily regulated business relies upon favorable legislation from Albany to survive, and it pays lobbyists hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
Christopher Curcio, the government’s first witness and Adam Skelos’ supervisor, testified that the younger Skelos immediately had a “sense of entitlement and arrogance” and lied about working full time.
Curcio kept a secret log of the younger Skelos’ true hours, which he presented to the jury.
Adam Skelos eventually threatened to “bash [Curcio’s] head in” and told him he was “not fit enough to shine [his] shoes,” prosecutors say.
Curcio did not testify about this incident by the time proceedings closed for the day.
The younger Skelos repeatedly deflected questions about his work by invoking an arrangement between his father and PRI’s owner Anthony Bonomo, a Republican insider, Martins told the jury.
In a sarcastic aside, Martins told the jury that the senator called to complain that PRI staffers were “picking on Adam Skelos, who, by the way, was a full-grown man.”
For Adam Skelo’s attorney Christopher Coniff, from the firm Ropes & Gray LLP, his 33-year-old client was a “sometimes immature and emotional” young man “trying to live the American dream.”
Gage, the senator’s lawyer, cast these arrangements as nothing more than a doting father’s concern for his son.
“You can root for your son, care for your son, and be involved with your son, and it’s not a crime,” he said.
Gage hinted at other reasons for the senator’s support for PRI, including doctors “fleeing New York because of high insurance rates” that inspired a march on Albany.
Perhaps anticipating this defense, prosecutor Martins told the jury that the government does not need to prove that Skelos only supported the initiatives because of the alleged bribes.
“For a corrupt politician’s perspective, there’s no better scenario than getting paid for something that you would have done anyway,” Martins said.
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