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Crime & Cases April 4, 2013  RSS feed

$$$ ‘GREASES THE WHEELS’

Political Pair Pinched For Corruption
by Robert Pozarycki


State Sen. Malcolm Smith (left) and City Council Member Daniel Halloran State Sen. Malcolm Smith (left) and City Council Member Daniel Halloran Two Queens lawmakers— State Sen. Malcolm Smith and City Council Member Daniel Halloran—and two city Republican Party bosses were arrested by federal agents on Tuesday, Apr. 2 on various charges of corruption, including a conspiracy to influence the Republican mayoral race.

Federal law enforcement sources said that Smith, 56, of Jamaica allegedly worked with two individuals— a cooperating federal witness and an undercover agent posing as a wealthy real estate developer—on a plan to bribe Republican party officials to allow the Democratic state senator to seek the GOP nomination for mayor.

Halloran, 42, of Bayside reportedly arranged for a meeting between the witness, the undercover agent and two GOP officials—Vincent Tabone, 46, of Queens, vice chairperson of the Queens County Republican Party; and Joseph Savino, 45, of Rockland County, chair of the Bronx Republican

Party—to negotiate the terms of the bribe. Federal agents added that Halloran allegedly requested, and subsequently accepted, a finder’s fee for helping to arrange the bribes.

Reportedly, Smith gave further incentive to the witness and undercover agent for participating in the scheme by offering to request and obtain state funds for a road project in the Rockland County town of Spring Valley near a project the purported real estate developer had been planning to build.

Council Member Halloran was additionally charged for allegedly receiving bribes from the purported owners of a company in exchange for requesting $80,000 in City Council discretionary funds on their behalf, federal prosecutors stated.

Also collared in the scheme were two Spring Valley elected officials— Noramie Jasmin, 49, the village’s mayor; and Joseph Desmaret, 55, the community’s deputy mayor—who allegedly accepted compensation from the purported real estate developer in exchange for their support of the project.

All six suspects were taken into custody at about 6 a.m. Tuesday morning and arraigned later that day in U.S. District Court in White Plains before Magistrate Judge Lisa Margaret Smith. If convicted, Senator Smith, Council Member Halloran, Tabone, Savino, Jasmin and Desmaret each face a maximum penalty of between five and 20 years behind bars.

Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a press release on Tuesday that the charges “demonstrate, once again, that a show-me-the-money culture seems to pervade every level of New York government.”

“The complaint describes an unappetizing smorgasbord of graft and greed involving six officials who together built a corridor of corruption stretching from Queens and the Bronx to Rockland County, and all the way up to Albany itself,” Bharara added. “After the string of public corruption scandals that we have brought to light, many may rightly resign themselves to the sad truth that perhaps the most powerful special interest in politics is self-interest. We will continue pursuing and punishing every corrupt official we find, but the public corruption crisis in New York is more than a prosecutor’s problem.”

“Elected officials are called public servants because they are supposed to serve the people. Public service is not supposed to be a shortcut to self-enrichment,” added George Venizelos, FBI assistant director in-charge. “At the very least, public officials should obey the law. As alleged, these defendants did not obey the law; they broke the law and the public trust. There is a price to pay for that kind of betrayal.”

Political fallout

Though Smith and Halloran are considered innocent until proven guilty under the law, they were swiftly reprimanded by their colleagues in government following their arrest Tuesday.

State Sen. Jeffrey Klein—leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, which shares control of the State Senate with the Republican majority—stripped Smith of his post as chairperson of the caucus and removed him from seats on various committees. Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos publicly agreed with Klein’s decision.

In a published statement, Klein also said that Smith “should seriously consider whether or not he can continue to effectively serve his constituents.”

As for Halloran, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced the City Council would vote next week to remove the lawmaker from his committee assignments and forbid Halloran from making decisions on funding for his district. Those responsibilities, if approved by the Council, would fall to City Council Member Leroy Comrie, the leader of the Queens delegation.

“These allegations represent a reprehensible abuse of the public’s trust,” Quinn said in a statement Tuesday. “If true, then the full weight of the legal system should be brought to bear on all parties implicated.”

Prior to Tuesday’s news, Halloran was considered by many pundits to win a second term in the City Council in this November’s general election.

Naming the price of a ballot spot

Smith is a former Senate majority and minority leader. The Democrat began his seventh term in the State Senate in January, representing the 14th District, which includes parts of Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, Richmond Hill and southeastern Queens.

Last year, Smith publicly expressed interest in running for mayor, but with the Democratic field packed with contenders—including Quinn, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, current City Comptroller John Liu and former Comptroller Bill Thompson— he reportedly hinted at running for the Republican Party’s nomination .

State law, however, requires that a registered member of one party may only be permitted to run for the nomination of another party upon receiving the majority consent of the executive committees of each county committee in New York City. The consent must be granted through “Wilson-Pakula certificates”— named for the two lawmakers who drafted the law in 1947: then-State Sen. Irwin Pakula and then-Assemblyman Malcolm Wilson—which must be signed by committee chairs.

According to federal law enforcement sources, Smith met with the cooperating witness and the undercover agent on or about Nov. 16, 2012 at a hotel in White Plains about the possibility of bribing Republican county committee members in exchange for granting him the Wilson- Pakula certificates to run for mayor on the GOP line.

That same day, authorities noted, Halloran met with the undercover agent at a Queens restaurant and allegedly accepted a bribe from him in exchange for taking official action unrelated to the mayoral scheme. During the meeting, the agent asked Halloran if he knew a Republican county chairman.

Reportedly, the City Council member said that he did, and allegedly agreed to ask Savino and an unnamed Republican county chair about what they would want in exchange for their support of a mayoral candidate.

Authorities said the undercover agent met with Smith at a Manhattan hotel later that day and told him that a meeting could be arranged with Savino and the unidentified GOP county chair. Smith reportedly told the agent, “You pull this off, you can have the house. ... I’ll be a tenant.”

Law enforcement sources said Smith met with the cooperating witness in Rockland County again on Jan. 25 and was told that getting the Wilson-Pakula certificates needed for his mayoral run would cost “a pretty penny.” When asked if it was worth it to him, Smith reportedly replied, “Look, talk to me before you close it. But it’s worth it. Because you know how big of a deal it is.”

Federal authorities stated Halloran met with the witness and undercover agent at a Manhattan hotel on Feb. 8. The Council member reportedly told them Savino wanted $25,000 and Tabone requested $50,000 in exchange for signing the certificates.

Halloran allegedly claimed Tabone requested half of the bribe in advance of signing the certificate, the charges noted.

Two days later, law enforcement sources stated, Smith allegedly met with the witness and agent at a Manhattan location to discuss how the payments would be made. The senator reportedly suggested structuring the payments as retainers for legal and accounting services. It is alleged he refused to allow payments of more than $10,000 initially.

During this meeting, authorities charged, Smith also agreed to help the agent—the purported developer— by requesting state funds for the roadway project leading to the Spring Valley development.

The criminal complaint noted that Tabone and Savino met with the agent and witness on Feb. 14 in Manhattan and accepted cash payments. Reportedly, Savino received $15,000 in cash, while Tabone was provided with $25,000. They would each receive additional payments, raising their totals to $40,000 a piece, and agreed to sign off on Wilson-Pakula certificates for Smith.

In arranging the meeting between the cooperating witness, the undercover agent, Tabone and Savino, authorities charged, Halloran allegedly secured a payment of $20,500.

According to the criminal complaint, Halloran hinted about potentially being in line for a deputy commissioner post in the Police Department if Smith were to be elected mayor as the Republican candidate. A former prosecutor, Halloran previously served as an NYPD cadet.

All about ‘the f---ing money’

Halloran was first elected to the City Council in 2009 to represent the 19th Councilmanic District, which includes Bayside and other neighborhoods in northeastern Queens. The Republican made an unsuccessful run for Congress last year, losing the race for the Sixth Congressional District seat to then-Assemblywoman Grace Meng.

But while he was campaigning for higher office, federal agents charged, Halloran allegedly sought to receive payments from a company purportedly controlled by an undercover agent in exchange for pursuing city funds on the group’s behalf.

Authorities said Halloran met with the cooperating witness on Sept. 7, 2012 at a Manhattan restaurant and stated he was pursuing funds for his Congressional campaign.

In the course of the conversation, law enforcement sources stated, the witness offered to provide a campaign donation to Halloran in exchange for hiring an associate to serve on Halloran’s congressional staff, or a similar position. The witness also asked if the Council member could help that associate secure a position in a special education field.

Halloran, who sits on the City Council’s Mental Health Committee, reportedly offered to help the witness with “whatever he needed.” When asked by the witness if he could secure City Council funds for his building projects, federal agents noted, Halloran replied that he could.

“That’s politics, that’s politics, it’s all about how much,” Halloran reportedly told the witness during the conversation, which was recorded through undercover surveillance. “Not about whether or will, it’s all about how much, and that’s our politicians in New York, they’re all like that, all like that. And they’ll get like that because of the drive that the money does for everything else.”

“You can’t do anything without the f---ing money,” the Council member added.

Following the conversation, the witness reportedly provided Halloran with a $7,500 cash payment. Upon accepting the money, Halloran allegedly stated, “Money is what greases the wheels—good, bad or indifferent.”

Prosecutors said Halloran allegedly accepted another cash payment on Sept. 27, 2012, when he met with the witness and the undercover agent at a Manhattan hotel.

According to the criminal complaint, the witness asked Halloran to seek $20,000 in discretionary funds on his behalf. The lawmaker allegedly replied, “That’s easy,” and added, “In fact, I might even be able to get you more.”

Reportedly, Halloran suggested he could call in favors from other City Council members in order to increase the size of the allocation.

Federal agents said that Halloran subsequently wrote two letters in October and November 2012 on City Council letterhead regarding the discretionary funding request. One of the letters was sent to the purported company, and the other was sent to civic organizations.

As noted in the complaint, the letter to the civic organizations, “Our office intends to allocate $1 million in capital money to the acquisition and improvement of the facility. I will also allocate discretionary funding as needed up to our allotment of $80,000 in fiscal year 2013 to get the project off the ground.”

In seven meetings between Sept. 7, 2012, and Feb. 15 of this year, authorities charged, Halloran allegedly accepted at least $45,300 in payments, including $6,500 in checks provided to Halloran’s congressional campaign.

Bharara thanked the FBI, the Rockland County District Attorney’s office and the Spring Valley Police Department for their investigative efforts.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Douglas B. Bloom and Alvin Bragg of the Southern District’s White Plains Division and Public Corruption Unit are prosecuting the case.

It was noted that the complaint is an accusation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.