Defense focuses on father-son bond in ex-N.Y. Senate leader's extortion trial

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 09, 2015 7:04 AM

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former New York state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is guilty only of caring about his son, his defense lawyer told jurors on Wednesday, as Skelos' federal corruption trial drew to a close.

What prosecutors described as an extortion scheme that forced companies to pay Adam Skelos in exchange for Dean Skelos' political support was nothing more than a father trying to help his son succeed, lawyer Robert Gage said in his closing argument.

"Senator Skelos did not sell his office," Gage said in U.S. court in Manhattan. "You can be a state senator, and you can be a father."

Gage's words came one day after Assistant U.S. Attorney Rahul Mukhi accused father and son in his closing argument of working "to corrupt one of the most powerful offices in our state."

The three-week trial is ending just days after Dean Skelos' counterpart in the state Assembly, former Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, was convicted of bribery and extortion schemes that netted him millions of dollars.

The prosecutions of the state's two legislative leaders mark the highest-profile cases in an ongoing probe into corruption in the state capital of Albany by federal prosecutors in Manhattan.

Before relinquishing their leadership posts following their arrests this year, Silver and Skelos were two of the so-called "three men in a room," along with the governor, who control major legislation in Albany.

The 67-year-old Skelos, a Republican, and his son are charged with coercing three companies into paying Adam Skelos about $300,000 in exchange for the senator's support of legislation benefiting the businesses.

But Gage and Christopher Conniff, a lawyer for Adam Skelos, argued that Dean Skelos never changed his legislative position as a result of the payments. The actions that Skelos took were motivated by his longstanding political beliefs, Gage said.

"There's a give-and-take in legislation," he said. "At core, at bottom, nothing was traded here."

Representatives of the companies testified they believed Dean Skelos made his support conditional on their willingness to pay Adam Skelos.

But defense lawyers said those witnesses are not credible, pointing to nonprosecution deals they signed with prosecutors in exchange for their testimony.

Neither Skelos called any witnesses or testified.

The government will have a chance to deliver a rebuttal argument on Wednesday, after which the judge will instruct the jurors on the law. Jury deliberations will then begin.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Toni Reinhold, Bernard Orr)