Sen. Dean Skelos changed no legislative positions and did no official favors to get jobs and payments for his son Adam, defense lawyers told jurors Wednesday during closing arguments at the Rockville Centre duo’s extortion and bribery trial in Manhattan federal court.
“There was no quid pro quo, no this for that,” said lawyer Robert Gage, representing Sen. Skelos. “There was no crime.”
He said prosecutors had created an “elaborate case” based on interpreting time lines and Skelos’ tone of voice during conversations, but had no hard evidence of a crime. “At core nothing was traded, nothing exchanged, … and critically Sen. Skelos did not intend for anything to be exchanged,” Gage argued.
Christopher Conniff, Adam Skelos’ lawyer, said the companies that hired his client did so to curry “good will” with the senator – not a crime – and for their own business reasons, and used “distractions” like Adam’s temper tantrums and wiretapped father-son calls to fit a preconceived prosecution theory.
“It’s snippets, it’s innuendo that makes up the core of this case,” he said, using a chart with the boldface words “NOTHING HAPPENED” to emphasize his argument that there was no evidence Sen. Skelos helped or hurt anyone based on what they did or didn’t do for Adam.
“They are trying to make a case that this man has thrown away a 30-year career for two job opportunities and a $20,000 check,” Conniff argued.
The defense got its chance to talk to the jury after prosecutor Rahul Mukhi finished a 3-1/2 hour summation that began Tuesday, arguing that Dean Skelos violated his oath of office by using his power as the one-time Senate GOP leader to funnel money to his son.
Dean Skelos, 67, and Adam Skelos, 33, are accused of conspiring to use threats and favors to influence three companies – developer Glenwood Management of New Hyde Park, Physicians Reciprocal Insurers of Roslyn, and environmental technology firm AbTech Industries of Arizona – to pay $300,000 to Adam Skelos.
The two also allegedly pressured Nassau County to fund a stormwater antipollution contract with AbTech, a technology company that hired Adam Skelos, and pushed for approval of fracking in New York to open a new market for the company and Adam.
During the trial, which began Nov. 16, the defense elicited admissions that the Skeloses never linked aid to Adam to any explicit threats or favors, and that some of the senator’s alleged favors were consistent with his long-held positions in Albany. The Skeloses contend that a father trying to help his son isn’t criminal.
The defense closings elaborated on those themes in their closings. Prosecutors, for example, that Skelos pressured Glenwood to hire Adam through his hold on critical real estate tax breaks and rent regulation, and eventually rewarded them for giving Adam a $20,000 title insurance fee.
But Gage said Glenwood did nothing to help for two years without being punished, and Skelos’ position on the real estate legislation was the same as it had always been. “There was no turn. There was no rogue act,” Gage said. “Totally consistent. Nothing bought and sold.”
Prosecutors say that immunized government witness Charles Dorego, a Glenwood executive, also set up a consulting job with AbTech for Adam Skelos because of pressure from his father. But the defense lawyers said Dorego had a stake in AbTech and hired Adam to “exploit” the Skelos name in New York, changing his tune and blaming pressure after he was threatened by prosecutors.
“They hired Adam for their own personal reasons, not because of a political deal with Dean,” Conniff said.
Both lawyers said Physicians Reciprocal boss Anthony Bonomo hired Adam Skelos to curry favor with the senator but not as part of any quid pro quo, and didn’t fire him after Adam was a no-show at work because Bonomo didn’t want to drive a “wedge” with the Senate majority leader.
They complained that testimony about Adam Skelos refusing to work and threatening to “smash” a supervisor’s head in was irrelevant evidence designed to vilify the senator’s son.
“Don’t let that distract you,” Conniff said. “… Being an ungrateful person and being a bad employee -- that’s not a crime.”
Gage, in his closing, also targeted a statement by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, telling the press to “stay tuned” after former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver was indicted in January, five months before Skelos. It showed a preconceived notion and a plan to set the Skeloses up on wiretaps, he argued.
“When the boss … says stay tuned … the government knew exactly what it was doing,” Gage said.
Closing arguments continue Wednesday afternoon, followed by jury instructions.