The federal corruption case against Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and his adult son, Adam, has yet to reach trial, but a battle has already commenced in the court of public murmuring.
Last week something called the Skelos Family Legal Defense Fund popped up on the Web. Its anonymous authors say prosecutors seek to "criminalize the relationship between a father and son" through "prosecutorial overreach," "baseless allegations" and "morally egregious" official acts.
But this week, any effort to turn the direction of public scorn against U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara ran up against the vivid details of a new grand jury indictment.
The picture of Skelos & Son painted by prosecutors now looks much nastier and higher-handed than it did in May when the two were first arrested.
Two new counts of extortion and bribe solicitation focus mainly on the former majority leader's role in getting Adam Skelos on the payroll of a Roslyn-based medical insurer, identified as Physicians Reciprocal Insurers, for which he supported special legislation.
Even fans of the father are privately cringing. To fully appreciate why, take this a step at a time.
According to Bharara, Adam Skelos' terms of employment required him to work full time at an annual salary of $78,000 plus health benefits.
Big deal, you may say. Political figures are always helping family members get jobs of some sort.
"From the outset of his employment, however, Adam Skelos regularly failed to report for work," the indictment states.
Not good, you may say -- but if it's OK with the private-sector bosses . . .
Well, on Jan. 10, 2013, a supervisor called the son to discuss his work schedule since he hadn't put in more than an hour in the previous four days. Adam Skelos called back, and according to the indictment, threatened to "smash in" the boss' head.
Mmmm, you say, that looks bad.
And Adam Skelos took the position that since his father was majority leader, he did not have to show up regularly, the charges say.
Sen. Dean Skelos got involved. He called the CEO of the company and, according to the indictment, "demanded to know why Adam Skelos was being 'harassed' " by his supervisor. The CEO spoke with the supervisor, then conveyed the problem to the senator, who responded that the CEO should "resolve" the dispute so his son could stay employed there.
By Bharara's account, however, the son still "failed to work at all on the vast majority of days." By fall, Adam Skelos became a $36,000-a-year consultant, purportedly in exchange for 100 sales calls a week, but failed to complete "even a small fraction" of them, Bharara says.
Sen. Skelos, first elected in 1984, is reputed to have good manners in his dealings with others. If anything, acquaintances have been saying, he unwisely enabled his son's antics.
But the indictment also says the senator threatened "detrimental action" against real estate developers who failed to support him "by among other things making contributions to his campaign fund."
There's no transgression on the books called "arrogant grabbiness in the first degree." Still, that seems to be what the prosecutors are charging in the court of public opinion. Sooner or later, we will see how much of it sticks.