NEW YORK (AP) — Called to the witness stand by prosecutors, former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato insisted he wasn't testifying against his friend on Friday at the corruption trial of former New York Senate leader Dean Skelos even though his testimony seemed to support the government's effort to portray Skelos' son and co-defendant as unscrupulous.
When given the chance, D'Amato, a Republican like Skelos, praised the longtime state senator who is on trial in Manhattan federal court along with his 33-year-old son, Adam, saying he was "always attentive to the needs of constituents" and was "a very hardworking senator."
But he distanced himself from Adam Skelos, saying he warned the elder Skelos that his son was likely to be fired from a job, told Adam Skelos he might have to register as a lobbyist and ensured that the son was not hired by his consulting firm because there would be an "appearance of impropriety."
Prosecutors say the 57-year-old Skelos arranged for his son to get $300,000 from companies that needed help with legislation.
Both have pleaded not guilty, and Skelos has retained his Senate seat while surrendering his leadership post. Defense lawyers have argued that the government is trying to criminalize politics and a father-son relationship.
After testifying for less than an hour, D'Amato left the courthouse, telling reporters: "I didn't testify against my friend. I just answered the questions."
Asked if he felt bad, D'Amato answered: "I think you have to have a certain feeling, yes."
D'Amato, 78, was called as a witness in part because a consulting firm he joined after leaving the U.S. Senate in 1999 was paid $30,000 monthly by a medical malpractice insurance company that hired Adam Skelos.
D'Amato said he was told by a partner at his firm that Adam Skelos wasn't showing up for work and was disruptive when he did.
"I wasn't happy," D'Amato testified. "I thought it was a problem that would probably result in Adam losing his job."
D'Amato said he told the elder Skelos as much at an April 12, 2013, meeting at Skelos' Rockville Centre office "so he might be able to remedy it and speak to his son."
Skelos defended the necessity of the job, noting that his son's wife was pregnant and they needed medical insurance, D'Amato recalled. He said he did not remember Skelos saying he would speak with his son.
D'Amato said Dean Skelos later asked him to give his son advice.
When he did, D'Amato said, he warned Skelos that some of his activities might require him to register as a lobbyist.
D'Amato said there was no serious consideration given to hiring Adam Skelos to do work for the firm after D'Amato's son, the firm's general counsel, "indicated forcefully there was no way we could."
"Under no circumstances could be bring him in as part of the firm," D'Amato testified. "I thought the appearance would be one that in and of itself would raise conflicts."