A former Bronx Republican chairman testified Tuesday that four years before he took a bribe to give Democratic state Sen. Malcolm Smith a spot on the GOP primary ballot for mayor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's campaign hired his brother as a favor for doing the same thing.
Joseph Savino, testifying as a government witness at the federal trial of former city Councilman Dan Halloran, who is charged with conspiring with Smith to pay bribes to get onto the ballot in 2013, said that as part of his plea deal, prosecutors agreed to not charge him in the 2009 Bloomberg episode.
Bloomberg left the Republican Party in 2008, and needed the support of GOP county leaders to be able to run for a third term on the Republican line. Savino said the campaign refused a job he requested for a "friend," but agreed give work to his brother Raphael, a lawyer.
"It was a benefit for a family member," he told jurors in federal court in White Plains during cross-examination. "They were hired as an election attorney to work on petition signatures in the Bronx."
Halloran, Smith, Savino and Queens Republican leader Vincent Tabone all were charged with bribery last year, after an informant and an FBI undercover agent posing as a corrupt developer doled out cash to grease the wheels for Smith to get permission to run as a Republican.
The trial of Smith and Tabone is set for January.
Halloran defense lawyer Vinoo Varghese, echoing one of the themes of the defense since the case was brought, said the episode with Bloomberg showed that federal prosecutors were trying to criminalize normal wheeling and dealing in their anti-corruption push.
"This is politics," he said after Savino's testimony. "This has never been prosecuted before by the New York State attorney general, not by any district attorney's office. And nobody was prosecuted in 2009. But in 2013, this is being prosecuted as a crime."
Savino, 46, of Congers in Rockland County, described Halloran, a Queens Republican who ran for Congress, as the "quarterback" of the bribe scheme, lining up GOP leaders for Democrat Smith and the FBI operatives posing as corrupt moneymen.
He said that while Halloran always described payments as "retainers" for legal work, they were really bribes. On Valentine's Day last year, Savino said he got a wad of cash from an agent in a car, and excitedly texted Halloran that night, "U are my [expletive] valentine."
A prosecutor asked if he was in love with Halloran. "No, I was very happy," Savino said. "I had just gotten $15,000."
Once a political insider with a thriving law practice, Savino -- who at one point began weeping for no apparent reason -- said his fall has been hard. He will face up to 30 years in prison at his sentencing, has lost his license to practice law and is now employed as a helper at a Bronx restaurant.
"Cleaning bathrooms, filling ice trays, anything," he testified.