Ex-New York Senate leader gets five years in prison for corruption

Reuters News
Posted: May 12, 2016 6:21 AM

By Nate Raymond and Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos was sentenced on Thursday to five years in prison, the second time in 10 days that a powerful legislative leader faced incarceration after a crackdown on state capital corruption.

U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood in Manhattan imposed the penalty on Skelos, 68, and also sentenced Adam Skelos, his 33-year-old son, to 6-1/2 years in prison following their convictions in December on charges of extortion, fraud and bribe solicitation.

Prosecutors had sought a prison term approaching 12-1/2 to 15-2/3 years for Dean Skelos, who was also ordered to pay a $500,000 fine. He and his son were also ordered to forfeit an additional $334,120.

The former senator received less than half the 12 years in prison that his counterpart in the state Assembly, former Speaker Sheldon Silver, received earlier this month for collecting millions of dollars in illegal kickbacks.

The convictions of Skelos, a Republican from Long Island, and Silver, a Democrat, represented major wins for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has criticized Albany for having "one of the most corrupt governments in the nation."

The two trials took place at the same time last year, painting a damning portrait of systemic official misconduct in Albany.

"The people of New York deserve better," Bharara said in a statement.

At least 14 New York state legislators have been convicted of federal corruption-related crimes in the last 10 years, including John Sampson, a former leader of the Senate Democrats who is scheduled to be sentenced next week.

Prosecutors accused Dean Skelos of forcing companies with business before the state to pay his son, with the threat of losing his political support as a cudgel.

The companies, which have not been charged, included real estate developer Glenwood Management, environmental technology company AbTech Holdings Inc and malpractice insurer PRI.

Through those schemes, prosecutors said, the Skeloses sought more than $760,000 in extortion payments, bribes, and gratuities and ultimately obtained more than $334,000.

Both Dean and Adam Skelos plan to appeal their convictions. Before he was sentenced, Dean Skelos told the judge he was "deeply remorseful," and both men urged leniency for the other.

Wood, the judge, said Skelos' crimes had consequences beyond the illicit profits he and his son had obtained.

"You have caused immeasurable damage to New Yorkers' confidence in their government," she said.

Bharara's office accelerated its Albany investigations after Governor Andrew Cuomo abruptly shut down an anti-corruption panel in March 2014 as part of a deal with state legislators for a package of ethics reforms.

Federal investigators took over the panel's work and began looking into Cuomo's disbanding of it. In January, Bharara's office said it had "insufficient" evidence to prove any crime occurred.

In his statement on Thursday, Bharara seemed to repeat his criticism of Cuomo's decision to shut down the panel.

"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," he said.

Cuomo in a statement said the sentences of Skelos and his son "show there is zero tolerance for those who use public service for private gain."

Amid a crush of journalists outside the courthouse following the sentencing, a nephew of Dean Skelos grabbed the wrist of a Daily News reporter, Victoria Bekiempis, and threw her cell phone to the ground, according to Bekiempis' Twitter posts.

Police identified the man as Basil Skelos, 27, and said he was arrested and charged with third-degree assault.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond and Joseph Ax in New York; Editing by Brian Thevenot and Tom Brown)