Ex-New York Senate Leader Convicted of Corruption, Again
By James T. Madore
A Manhattan federal jury on Tuesday convicted former State Senate leader and Long Island power broker Dean Skelos in his retrial of charges that he used his official power to corruptly secure work for his son, Adam.
On their third day of deliberations, jurors also convicted Adam Skelos, who was accused in his retrial of conspiring with his father to shake down a real estate company, a malpractice insurer and a Nassau County contractor for more than $300,000.
The father and son -- each convicted on eight counts of conspiracy, extortion and bribery -- briefly embraced and touched cheeks after the verdict was read.
The quid-pro-quo schemes took place between late 2010 and April 2015 when Dean Skelos, a Republican from Rockville Centre, was among state government's three most powerful individuals.
Dean Skelos, 70, looked straight ahead upon hearing jury forewoman Norma Pressley read the verdict shortly before 2:30 p.m. in Manhattan federal court. Adam Skelos, 36, appeared to say a prayer before Pressley spoke.
Outside the courthouse, the Skeloses and their attorneys declined to comment. Adam Skelos wept and stopped to compose himself before leaving the building.
U.S. District Court Judge Kimba M. Wood set an Oct 24 sentencing date and signaled that she plans to impose a prison term.
Both men face up to 130 years in prison. After their first conviction in 2015, Wood sentenced Dean Skelos to 5 years in prison and Adam to 6 1/2, but neither served any time while their appeals were pending.
Pressley, a Columbia University employee from the Bronx, declined to comment as she left the courthouse in a thunderstorm on Tuesday. Six other jurors also said they had no comment when approached by reporters. Other jurors didn't respond to voicemails seeking comment.
Robert Khuzami, Deputy U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said, "Yet again, a New York jury heard a sordid tale of bribery, extortion, and the abuse of power by a powerful public official of this state. And yet again, a jury responded with a unanimous verdict of guilt, in this case of Dean Skelos and his son Adam-- sending the resounding message that political corruption will not be tolerated."
Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who indicted the pair, praised prosecutors in a tweet. "More congratulations to the fine team at SDNY, who just convicted -- again -- former NY Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam on all counts. Skelos and Silver will both be resentenced."
After he was arrested, Dean Skelos stepped down as Senate majority leader, a position he once called "a dream job." He then lost his Senate seat of 30 years upon conviction in 2015.
The Skeloses' retrial, which began June 19, was largely a repeat of their 2015 trial with the notable exception that Dean Skelos took the stand in his own defense this time.
Also, the retrial jury of six men and six women, none of them from Long Island, deliberated for three days, one day longer than the 2015 jury.
In the retrial and the first trial, the prosecution alleged the Skeloses orchestrated three quid-pro-quo schemes.
The first involved Physicians' Reciprocal Insurers, a medical malpractice insurance company in Roslyn, that gave Adam Skelos a $78,000 low-show job in 2013 in return for Dean Skelos' support for legislation critical to the company's survival. The younger Skelos also received badly needed health insurance, according to testimony.
After Adam stopped showing up for work and threatened to "smash in" his immediate supervisor's head, PRI made the younger Skelos a telemarketer with annual pay of $36,000 -- but without health insurance , multiple witnesses testified.
Former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato said he warned Dean Skelos about Adam's bad behavior at PRI to no avail.
D'Amato was on the stand for about 40 minutes but his estranged wife's attempt to bring the couple's nasty divorce case into the Skeloses' retrial drew more attention than D'Amato's testimony. Court officials eventually barred Katuria D'Amato from the courtroom.
The second and third quid-pro-quo schemes involved Glenwood Management, a mega-landlord that arranged payments and jobs for Adam Skelos because his powerful father promised to back the renewal of lucrative tax breaks on building projects for Glenwood and others, prosecutors and company executives said.
Glenwood executive Charles Dorego testified that Dean Skelos asked him on a dozen occasions to help Adam, who was allegedly in dire financial straits. Each of the senator's requests came before or after a meeting where bills pending in the Senate were discussed.
Glenwood Management, based in New Hyde Park, arranged for one of its title insurers to pay Adam $20,000 even though he did no work for the insurer, according to the indictment.
Glenwood also got AbTech Industries Inc., a manufacturer of storm-water treatment products, to hire Adam Skelos to help it win government contracts. AbTech eventually did secure a $12 million contract from Nassau County with Adam's help, according to testimony.
Dean Skelos subsequently pressured then-Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano to expedite Nassau's payments to AbTech, which is based in Arizona, prosecutors said.
AbTech's pursuit of contracts to treat water contaminated by hydrofracking, the controversial process of extracting natural gas from rock formations, produced one of the retrial's most memorable moments.
The jury listened to a wiretapped telephone conversation between Dean and Adam Skelos from December 2014 in which the younger Skelos screamed in frustration after learning Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had banned hydrofracking.
The ban ended Adam's hopes of making money from legislation that his father could influence, according to the recording.
"This day sucks!" Adam Skelos yelled into the phone.
Dean Skelos, seeking to calm his son, promised to run against Cuomo. "I'm going to run against him ... I'm going to do it," the senator said.
Last week, the senior Skelos insisted over three days on the stand that he never traded his actions as a senator for assistance for Adam, telling jurors that his only crime was being a father anxious to help a struggling son.
"Never, never!" Dean Skelos responded when asked by his attorney if he engaged in quid-pro-quo schemes.
The retrial was ordered by the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals when it granted the Skeloses' appeal request last year.
The appeals court said the judge's instructions to jurors in 2015 did not comply with a later U.S. Supreme Court decision that narrowed the acts required to convict public officials in a quid-pro-quo bribery scheme to formal exercises of government power, not just meetings or telephone calls.
Last week, the judge told the jury that Dean Skelos' efforts to help his son must constitute "the formal exercise of governmental power" to be deemed criminal. "Voting on legislation, ordering a regulation," the judge said, "but not setting up a meeting, talking to a lobbyist, organizing an event or expressing support for an idea."
Tuesday's convictions represent the fourth victory for the federal government in corruption cases involving state government this year.
Last week, the former SUNY official leading Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's Buffalo Billion economic development initiative was convicted of orchestrating a bid-rigging scheme. Developers from Buffalo and Syracuse were also found guilty.
Earlier this year, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and ex-Cuomo aide Joseph Percoco were convicted of corruption in separate trials.
Still, the trials and retrials, together with the arrests of other state lawmakers, haven't produced major changes in state ethics laws so far.
With John Riley