Jurors in the corruption trial of former Senate Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam convicted the Long Island pair Friday of bribery, extortion and conspiracy in a sudden, decisive verdict that ended the career of one of New York’s and Nassau County’s most influential politicians in scandal.
The verdict on just the second day of deliberations capped an extraordinary two-week period in which two of the state’s most powerful leaders at the start of 2015 — Skelos and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver — were forced from office in disgrace at the hands of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
Bharara was sitting in the Manhattan federal courtroom as the verdict was read, and his staff sent out a victorious tweet over his new “@PreetBharara” Twitter account almost simultaneously at 2:01 p.m.
“How many prosecutions will it take,” his post said, “before Albany gives the people of New York the honest government they deserve?”
The Skeloses didn’t react as the jury forewoman read 16 guilty verdicts. Dean sat jut-jawed absorbing the blows, afterward patting Adam’s back. The two remained seated after the judge, jury, prosecutors and reporters filed out, looking straight ahead in the empty court as a row of 10 relatives behind them cried, sniffled and hugged.
When Dean turned to console his wife Gail, who shook her head at the first “Guilty” and soon began sobbing, his mouth curved into a deep frown, and he declined to comment. Wading into a mob of reporters outside the court, he and Adam stayed silent and stone-faced as they walked down Mulberry Street into Chinatown for their car.
“We’re obviously very disappointed with the verdict,” said defense lawyer G. Robert Gage Jr. “The next step is post-trial motions. We intend to pursue them vigorously.”
The two were found guilty of using the senator’s power as majority leader to pressure three companies to give jobs, fees and benefits worth $300,000 to Adam, doing favors in Albany for the companies in return, and intervening with Nassau County to help one of the companies, AbTech Industries on a contract.
Dean, 67, of Rockville Centre, automatically lost his Senate seat as a result of a felony conviction, ending his 30-year senate career. Both he and Adam, 33, also of Rockville Centre, will face a maximum of up to 130 years in prison at their scheduled March 3 sentencing, although a much shorter sentence is likely.
The Empire Center, an Albany think tank, said the senator will qualify for a $95,590 pension. A special election will be scheduled in his Nassau County Senate district, likely in April when a special election has been scheduled to fill Silver’s now-empty Manhattan Assembly seat.
Most jurors scattered after the verdict and declined to comment, but forewoman Cynthia Nehlsen spoke briefly. Although the jury’s request Thursday for transcripts of nine witnesses, 13 exhibits and six recorded calls led to speculation it would be a long deliberation, she said there wasn’t much disagreement.
“We gave him a fair trial,” said Nehlsen, 50, a Westchester County antiques dealer. “The state gave us a great timeline. They did a great job . . . . There was no split decision.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the only one left standing of the “three men in a room” who made every major decision on New York’s laws and budgets in January, praised the verdict and like Bharara and others in Albany said it should spur ethics reforms.
“There can be no tolerance for those who use and seek to use public service for private gain,” Cuomo said in a statement. “ . . . The convictions of former Speaker Silver and former Majority Leader Skelos should be a wake-up call for the Legislature and it must stop standing in the way of needed reforms.”
The falls of Skelos and Silver were both partly rooted in their roles with Cuomo in killing a state Moreland Commission created to investigate legislative ethics. Bharara had been one of the commission’s first witnesses. He seized its records shortly after its 2014 demise, and warned Cuomo to not interfere.
The two trials laid bare many of the secrets the commission might have uncovered — with testimony about the vast, almost unilateral power exercised by legislative leaders, the way powerful real estate interests dole out campaign contributions, legal referrals and jobs to line politicians’ pockets and maintain access, and how money is hidden by evading disclosure laws and funneling it through relatives, law firms and title fees.
In the Skelos trial beginning Nov. 16, prosecutors alleged that father and son squeezed payments to Adam out of Glenwood Management of New Hyde Park, Roslyn malpractice firm Physicians’ Reciprocal Insurers, and AbTech, a Glenwood-tied Arizona firm that got a $12 million stormwater treatment contract with Nassau.
Top officials from Glenwood and Physicians’ Reciprocal testified that the senator, who controlled critical real estate and insurance legislation, made nonstop, persistent pleas for them to help Adam. At Physicians’ Reciprocal, according to testimony, Adam was a no-show and threatened a boss, but couldn’t be fired — even after former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, who also testified, tried to intervene with his father.
Prosecutors also played multiple wiretapped phone calls for the jury relating to AbTech. In one, which jurors reheard Friday morning hours before their verdict, Skelos pressed Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano to expedite payments to AbTech after it hired Adam.
In another, the two Skeloses dissected the position of Nassau and Mangano, referring to him as “that guy” — one of a series of “codes” that prosecutors said showed they knew they were up to no good. In a third, Adam and Dean lamented the failure of their efforts to help AbTech by getting fracking approved in Albany, leading Adam to let out a primal scream and exclaim, “This day sucks.”
The defense did not dispute that the senator tried repeatedly to help Adam — who in fact made six-figure annual incomes throughout the alleged conspiracy — but argued that the aid was normal father-son assistance and never intersected with his Senate work.
There was no testimony that Dean Skelos ever explicitly made threats or promises, or that his positions on real estate and malpractice legislation departed from long-established positions. But prosecutors argued — and, apparently, persuaded jurors — that circumstantial evidence showed implicit threats and understandings as part of the “Skelos shake down playbook.”
It was a hard day for the Skeloses in more than one way. Hunkered down in the courthouse cafeteria with his father and several other family members an hour before the verdict, Adam Skelos described how he got a text from his wife, Ann Marie, as he left court Thursday: “Call me. Dad died.”
“I thought it was a sick joke,” he said, but it wasn’t. His father-in-law, a Queens taxi driver, had died suddenly. His wife had stayed home, Adam said, “going through it” between the death and the trial.
But he was feeling confident — optimistic that the jury had requested transcripts of testimony from nine of the trial’s key witnesses. That was “good for us,” he told a reporter.
He turned out to be wrong.