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Skelos calls WNBC report that he's under federal investigation 'irresponsible'

State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) speaks at

State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) speaks at the Republican Party Convention in Rye Brook on Thursday, May 15, 2014. Credit: Craig Ruttle

ALBANY -- As federal officials continue a probe into possible corruption in Albany, State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos Friday criticized as "irresponsible" a WNBC-TV report that he is under investigation by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

WNBC, citing sources, reported Thursday night that Bharara is looking at Skelos' ties to the real estate industry regarding his outside sources of income. Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) is the state's highest-ranking Republican.

"Last night's thinly sourced report by WNBC is irresponsible and does not meet the standards of serious journalism," said a statement issued by a Skelos spokeswoman. "As such, we won't be commenting further."

The spokeswoman, Kelly Cummings, said Skelos has not been contacted by federal prosecutors. An aide said Skelos has not hired a criminal defense lawyer.

Newsday and other media outlets previously reported that a state investigative panel issued subpoenas months ago to some law firms that employ state legislators. Among them was Ruskin Moscou Faltischek, the Uniondale firm that employs Skelos. Legislators fought to quash the subpoenas. Bharara's office took possession of the subpoenas after the state panel, known as the Moreland Commission, was shut down by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Skelos reported earning between $150,000 and $250,000 in outside income from the law firm in 2013. State legislators are considered part-time and can earn outside incomes.

Sources said that as part of the overall probe in Albany, federal officials are looking into whether there was anything illegal in the income Skelos received from Ruskin.

A Bharara spokesman declined to comment.

Just a week earlier, Bharara rocked the New York political world by charging Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) with pocketing $4 million in illegal kickbacks in exchange for steering legislation and state grants. Silver has vowed he will be "vindicated," but he is resigning his post as speaker effective Monday. His Assembly colleagues had called on him to resign or face removal.

In his latest ethics disclosure form, Skelos stated he is an attorney in general practice based in his home in Rockville Centre. In a separate line below that, he states he is "of counsel" for Ruskin Moscou Faltischek.

Skelos spokesman Scott Reif, however, said the senator never practices independently and all his outside income from the practice of law comes from the Ruskin firm, where he's worked for more than a decade. Reif said the reference to his own law practice was an inadvertent mistake made by a staffer.

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