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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Corruption goes beyond politicians

In this May 19, 2014 file photo, Preet

In this May 19, 2014 file photo, Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, speaks at a news conference in New York. Credit: AP / Richard Drew

Marcello Trebitsch, 37, of Brooklyn, stood before a judge in federal court in Manhattan on Monday and admitted to running a $6.5 million Ponzi scheme. The case drew prominent notice mostly for the fact that Trebitsch is married to indicted Assemb. Sheldon Silver's daughter.

On Tuesday, federal authorities charged three Long Islanders with a $2.5 million fraud scheme related to so-called microcap stocks.

On Wednesday, Allen Reichman, 54, of Irvington, was sentenced to serve 21 months and pay $10 million restitution for defrauding an investment bank for which he was an executive, the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office announced.

Consider the fact that none of these cases involved the public sector or taxpayer funds. Private scams come and go, causing scant surprise. Faith in private-sector motives, culture and efficiencies seems more misplaced than ever. In the Trebitsch case, it becomes a moot issue whether he was probed as part of the federal squeeze on Democrat Silver of Manhattan, the former Assembly speaker who retains his district seat.

"Mr. Trebitsch has accepted responsibility for the poor judgment he used," his lawyer Ben Brafman said in a statement, describing his client as "in over his head when dealing with a very sophisticated investor, who while defrauded, was nevertheless also trying to 'use' Mr. Trebitsch to further his own personal agenda."

By U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's account, Trebitsch returned investors' faith "with deceit and self-dealing, lying about his trading losses and using investor money on himself." Silver's name never comes up in the exchange.

Bharara's unheard-of simultaneous prosecutions of Albany's two top lawmakers -- Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) -- has fed the image of a corrupt public sphere in need of reform.

Both lawmakers were essentially accused of monetizing their public positions for private gain. Veteran Sen. Skelos pleaded not guilty, along with his son Adam, in connection with alleged schemes to illegally benefit the younger Skelos.

Now the Skelos camp, like Silver's before him, has begun lashing out at Bharara.

A new website, seeking contributions for the senator's legal defense, asserts: "To the detriment of all New Yorkers, he and his family are being victimized by a federal prosecutor with a documented history of abusing both his power and the law."

"Dean was targeted because he was majority leader of the New York State Senate, not because of any actions he took," goes the pitch from the Skelos Family Legal Defense Fund.

Claiming this is one thing; persuading people, another.

But before you write off electoral office as the peculiar province of grifters and alleged grifters, note that members of the white-collar crime community (everything these days is called a community) abound in society as a whole.

Bharara, for one, told a group of business reporters in 2011: "There are bad apples everywhere, but an apple is more likely to rot in certain climates than in others.

"But all of us -- and particularly financial writers like you -- have an interest in understanding how serious a problem the creep of corporate corruption has become."

Maybe our elected class reflects the esteemed private sector more closely than we'd like to believe.


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