Former NY Senator Gets Prison for Nepotism

     MANHATTAN (CN) — Dean Skelos will spend five years in prison, a federal judge ruled Thursday, closing the book on a nepotistic corruption scheme in which the New York Republican traded favorable legislation for his son’s advancement.
     That son, Adam Skelos, faces a slightly lengthier sentence of 6 1/2 years.
     It was the prospect of a $600,000 apartment and pool for the younger Skelos that set the wheels of the scheme in motion.
     Though Adam Skelos had more than a hundred thousand dollars to his name in 2010, he sought the rest from his powerful father, then majority leader of the New York Senate.
     Along with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Dean Skelos had a reputation as one of Albany’s proverbial “three men in a room.”
     The third leg of that trio, recently disgraced Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, was sentenced to 12 years in prison last week for his own multimillion corruption scheme.
     Unlike the Silver trial, however, the prosecution of the Skelos family featured evidence of lurid, wiretapped conversations of the father and son speaking about their scheme.
     These chats made an impact on U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood at sentencing today.
     “Your cynicism in abusing your power has been exposed in your own words,” she said at a hearing that stretched for nearly 2 1/2 hours.
     The 68-year-old former senator delivered contrite but emotionally controlled remarks to the court about how he lost his way to benefit his son.
     “Somewhere along the way, my judgment became clouded,” he said.
     Playing to his Hellenic roots, the politician mentioned the blockbuster “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” in discussing how his family has been the “backbone of my existence.”
     For Wood, evidence showed that the senator “ignored his moral compass,” while his son “appeared to have no moral compass.”
     Evidence from the trial that demonstrated included a recording in which Adam Skelos threatened to “bash in” the head of a man who would not bend to his influence.
     An adoptive child who has struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, Adam Skelos choked up as he told the court how his “selfish and reckless” behavior led to the “destruction of the only person who showed me unconditional love.”
     “I deeply regret what I have done and commit to becoming a better person,” he said.
     In a string of prosecutions that the tabloids called “Albany on Trial,” separate juries found that Skelos and Silver sought favors from Glenwood Management, the state’s largest developer.
     Charles Dorego, the company’s general counsel, spent days on the stand regaling jurors about how Sen. Skelos and his son repeatedly “badgered” him to find a job for Adam.
     Despite considering the request “inappropriate,” Dorego testified that helped connect Adam with Glenwood’s contacts at the Arizona-based contractor AbTech to stay in the senator’s good graces.
     AbTech, a fracking contractor, also sought help pushing through a storm-water initiative in Long Island.
     Lawyers for the Skelos family failed to convince a jury that the senator’s prosecution was an attempt to criminalize the senator being a doting father.
     The senator’s lawyer Robert Gage, however, continued to make the case that this paternal instinct and legislative accomplishments deserved mercy.
     Skelos took tough stands for a Republican, the attorney noted, in support of strict gun-control laws, same-sex marriage and medical marijuana.
     “This isn’t about politics,” Gage said. “It’s about courage.”
     The senator’s record did earn high marks from the court. “Your crimes were preceded by many years in which your services were highly commendable,” Judge Wood said.
     Both of the Skeloses were sentenced far below the guideline range that prosecutors recommended in their sentencing briefings, which would be above 12 years for Dean and more than 10 for Adam.
     “It must be a sentence that not only addresses the egregiousness of the crimes, the duration of the conduct, and the lucrativeness of the schemes, but also reflects the abiding damage to the democratic process and to the public trust caused by the Senate Majority Leader and his son,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Masimore wrote in a 46-page brief.
     During his closing arguments, Masimore compared the senator to the “gorilla” that a little boy brought to school to get his way in Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”
     Masimore left humorous analogies out of his outraged remarks at today’s hearing, thundering about how the Skelos family dragged others into their “vortex of corruption.”
     “People have been clamoring for ethical and responsible leadership,” the prosecutor noted.
     Sen. Skelos was not without his supporters, either.
     As of Thursday, more than 200 letters poured into Judge Wood’s chambers urging her for a merciful sentence. Those letters guided Woods to the probation officer’s lighter recommendation.
     In addition to prison time, Woods ordered the senator to pay $834,000 in fines and forfeiture.
     Whether the senator and his son will serve any prison time depends on the outcome of their appeal, which largely hinges on the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision in the case of former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell.
     McDonnell’s challenge hinges on the trial judge’s jury instruction as to “official acts.”
     Late last month, Supreme Court justices appeared deeply skeptical of the government’s case. An appellate attorney for Sen. Skelos invoked the possibility of a high court reversal to argue that her client should be released on bail pending an appeal.
     Wood acknowledged that “there is a danger” of the Supreme Court decision would boost the Skeloses’ appeal.
     For now, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara celebrated his successful prosecutions of New York’s most powerful politicians.
     “In the span of just 16 months, we have seen the arrest, prosecution, conviction, and sentencing of both leaders of the New York State legislature,” Bharara said in a statement. “The nearly simultaneous convictions of Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, whose corruption crimes were laid bare during fair and public trials, have no precedent. And while Silver and Skelos deserve their prison sentences, the people of New York deserve better. These cases show — and history teaches — that the most effective corruption investigations are those that are truly independent and not in danger of either interference or premature shutdown.”
     The remark was one of a string of Bharara’s digs questioning why New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo prematurely disbanded an investigative agency known as the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption in March 2014.
     

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