Another Top New York Politician (and His Son) Arrested for Corruption
By Yancey Roy and Robert E. Kessler
State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son were arrested Monday by federal authorities, who alleged the state's top Republican extorted bribes and campaign contributions from companies in exchange for steering key real estate legislation and rigging a lucrative Nassau County environmental contract to his son's benefit.
Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), 67, and his son, Adam Skelos, 32, each faces six counts in a criminal complaint that was unsealed Monday: three for extortion, two for soliciting bribes and one for conspiracy.
Skelos said he and his son are innocent, while his Republican colleagues began discussing at the State Capitol whether he should stay on as leader, a post he has held since 2011.
Late last night after a three-hour, closed-door session, Senate Republicans decided to keep Skelos in his leadership position at least through the legislative session ending June 17.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and FBI officials, in the 43-page complaint, alleged the powerful senator "monetized his office . . . to take care of Adam's needs."
The arrest of Adam and Dean Skelos is just the latest in a series of investigations that have rocked the New York political world in a matter of months. In January, Bharara charged then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) with collecting $4 million in kickbacks disguised as legal fees. After initially supporting him, Democrats who control the Assembly forced Silver to resign as speaker, though he retained his Assembly seat. He has pleaded not guilty.
According to the latest complaint, Skelos pressured a real estate company to make campaign contributions to Republicans and finance the hiring of his son through an Arizona-based environmental company, AbTech Industries. AbTech is not accused of wrongdoing.
In a conversation recorded by investigators in February, Adam Skelos told an AbTech official he "literally knew nothing about water or, you know, any of that stuff."
Skelos then allegedly "used his official position" to ensure AbTech won a $12 million storm-water treatment contract from Nassau County -- although at one point he threatened to block the contract if payments to Adam Skelos didn't increase and at another called County Executive Edward Mangano to complain he was "getting jerked around" by the county's delay in paying AbTech.
The day after that phone call, a deputy Nassau County executive "informed Dean Skelos that the payments would be made and took steps to expedite the payments due to Dean Skelos' official position," the complaint said.
Newsday has reported that Mangano had testified before a grand jury in the case.
Mangano did not return requests for comment. Spokesman Brian Nevin said in an email, "The complaint speaks for itself."
Son payouts alleged
Dean Skelos also successfully shepherded tax-credit and rent-control legislation that benefitted the developer Glenwood Management, according to the complaint, and also compelled the developer to send its lucrative title insurance work to his son, who worked for a title company.
Skelos further tried to insert legislation into the state budget to position AbTech to win future contracts and held sway over the developer by controlling rent control and other legislation important to the industry, investigators said. A real estate official who cooperated with investigators allegedly told them that Skelos, "using explicit language, stated he would punish" the industry if it didn't support him through campaign contributions.
All told, Dean Skelos "caused" more than $200,000 to be paid to his son, federal officials charged. They said Skelos personally had given his son $100,000 since 2011, that Adam Skelos complained about his finances and that he even had obtained a list of donors to the senator to try to form business relationships.
"Dean Skelos unlawfully used his power and influence as Senate Majority Leader, repeatedly, to illegally enrich his son, Adam, and, indirectly, himself," Bharara said at a news conference.
'I will be found innocent'
Father and son surrendered to FBI officials in Manhattan Monday morning, were presented to a federal magistrate in the afternoon and released without bond. Neither was required to enter a plea; they had to surrender their passports. Skelos made a brief statement declaring their innocence but took no questions afterward.
"At the conclusion of this process I know that I will be found not only not guilty but innocent," Skelos said outside court. "I have utmost respect for our judicial system here in the United States of America and utmost respect for our judge and jury system. And that's why I will be found innocent and my son will."
Adam Skelos' lawyer, Christopher Conniff, issued a statement saying his client "is not guilty of these charges and looks forward to fighting them in the courtroom."
Bharara alleged that the scheme began right after the 2010 elections, in which Republicans regained Senate control, with Skelos pressuring a "major real estate" developer about campaign contributions and the pending expiration of key legislation for the industry. In an email, the senator directed a "cooperating witness" about how to funnel campaign contributions through various real estate subsidiaries.
The criminal complaint effectively identifies the firm as Glenwood Management, based in New Hyde Park and headed by Leonard Litwin. Though it does not name Glenwood, the complaint details the developer's extensive political contributions and notes that in September 2012, it, through subsidiaries, issued five $20,000 checks to the Erie County Republican Committee -- a fact that, state records show, matches only one company, Glenwood. Glenwood is not accused of wrongdoing.
Witnesses and wiretaps
Bharara noted the Skelos investigation relied on two cooperating witnesses, one from the real estate company and one from the environmental firm, as well as extensive wiretaps of Adam and Dean Skelos' phone calls.
In one wiretapped phone call, Skelos allegedly told his son about his powerful post as Senate leader: "I'm going to control everything," according to the complaint.
Prosecutors said father and son even changed their communication, using "burner" phones and resorting to FaceTime chats and coded language to try to hide their actions. In one recorded call with his father, Adam Skelos allegedly said: "You can't talk normally because it's like [expletive] Preet Bharara is listening to every [expletive] phone call."
In another, Adam Skelos expressed frustration that Nassau County hadn't yet paid AbTech and threatened retaliation through his father. "I tell you this, the state is not going to do a [expletive] thing for the county," he said.
And in a conversation recorded Feb. 25, authorities said, the senator warned his son about saying too much over the phone: "Right now we are in dangerous times, Adam."