Joseph Savino, Bronx GOP chairman, urged to step down after arrest

Bronx County Republican Party Chairman Joseph Savino, of

Bronx County Republican Party Chairman Joseph Savino, of Clarkstown, second from right leaves federal court in White Plains. Savino and a Democratic state lawmaker were arrested along with four other politicians Tuesday in an alleged plot to pay tens of thousands of dollars in bribes to GOP bosses to let the Democratic State lawmaker run for mayor of New York City as a Republican. (April 2, 2013) (Credit: AP)

Bronx GOP chairman Joseph J. Savino, caught up in this week's bribery scandal, hunkered down Wednesday amid calls for his resignation from party leaders.

Savino, who has extensive ties to Hudson Valley politics, was among six politicians arrested Tuesday and is accused of accepting $40,000 in cash bribes to try to help state Sen. Malcolm Smith secure the Republican nomination in the upcoming New York City mayoral race.

Savino's alleged co-conspirator, Queens GOP vice chairman Vincent Tabone, stepped down from his post Wednesday.


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"As elected officers of the Republican Party, chairman Savino and vice chairman Tabone were entrusted to act in the best interest of the people of the City and State of New York. They have violated that interest and must resign," state GOP boss Ed Cox wrote in a statement Wednesday before Tabone quit.

Savino is well-connected politically, people who know him say, with allies that include two other local politicians who have fallen from grace -- state Sens. Nick Spano and Vincent Leibell. Spano pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion last year and was sentenced to a year and a day in prison in June 2012. Leibell, known as Uncle Vinny, pleaded guilty to bribery, tax evasion and obstruction of justice in 2010. Leibell, who served 17 months in a federal prison before his release to a halfway house in November 2012, was a longtime "kingmaker" in Putnam County politics, and Spano represented a district that included Yonkers.

Among Savino's proteges is Anthony J. Ribustello, who works as deputy chief clerk for New York City's Board of Elections and mounted a failed campaign to become Bronx borough president in 2009. Ribustello is perhaps best known as the actor who portrayed Tony Soprano's driver on HBO's hit series "The Sopranos," and more recently he appeared in Showtime's serial "Magic City," which revolves around a mob-affiliated hotelier. Ribustello's mother, who answered the phone Wednesday, said he was not at home.

POLITICAL ASPIRATIONS

Savino's political aspirations included the State Senate, and in 2006 he lost a bid for the 34th Senate District -- which covers parts of the Bronx and Westchester County -- by a wide margin to incumbent Jeff Klein (D-Bronx). His website features a quote from former President Ronald Reagan: "Government always finds a need for whatever money it gets."

"Westchester deserves their own hardworking representative in the State Senate who will get results for the people of Westchester," Spano said during a campaign appearance for Savino in 2006.

As an attorney who heads a White Plains private practice, Savino has a history of receiving politically connected posts, including jobs as counsel for state Republicans and more recently as a contracted attorney for Clarkstown, where he earned an $87,000 annual retainer fee.

Clarkstown leaders moved quickly to sever ties with Savino after his arrest, passing a resolution to void his contract Wednesday.

But not everyone is pressuring Savino to step down.

Eloise Henderson, a longtime Bronx GOP member and 77th District leader for the county party, said she still has "the greatest respect for" Savino and does not believe he should step down.

"There are two sides to every story," Henderson said. "I will not judge him at this point."

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