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Dean Skelos didn't want son lobbying state government, witness testifies

Dean Skelos exits the federal courthouse in Manhattan

Dean Skelos exits the federal courthouse in Manhattan during his retrial on Monday. Credit: Charles Eckert

Dean Skelos, while State Senate majority leader, did not want his son lobbying state government or even traveling to the state capital, a lobbyist testified Thursday.

“He [Dean Skelos] said under no circumstances is Adam to go to Albany or to lobby” on behalf of businesses because that would present a conflict of interest for the senior Skelos, said lobbyist Nicholas Barrella, recalling a 2014 conversation he had with Dean Skelos.

Barrella, a managing partner at the Albany lobbying firm Capitol Group LLC, which did work for two companies that employed Adam Skelos, was the last critical witness for the prosecution during the Skeloses’ retrial on federal corruption charges.

Later Thursday, prosecutors wrapped up their case against the Skeloses after 11 days of testimony in federal court in Manhattan.

Attorneys for the father and son will begin presenting the defense case on Friday. They said they plan to put at least one witness on the stand and submit a transcript of another’s testimony in the Skeloses’ 2015 trial.

The Skeloses are accused of using Dean Skelos’ position as one of state government’s three most powerful individuals to secure jobs and payments for Adam Skelos. In return, Dean promised to back legislation needed by those employing or paying his son, according to the indictment.

The retrial comes after the Skeloses’ 2015 convictions were reversed because of a later U.S. Supreme Court decision, which more narrowly defined the kind of quid pro quo bribery scheme a public official must engage in to be convicted of bribery. The high court said a public official must do more than make a telephone call or arrange a meeting.

Dean Skelos, 70, and Adam Skelos, 36, both have denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty.

The Rockville Centre pair are accused of multiple quid pro quo schemes with three businesses that paid Adam Skelos hundreds of thousands of dollars. Each company needed Dean Skelos’ vote for key bills before the Senate.

Earlier Thursday, Barrella, the Albany lobbyist, testified that he called Dean Skelos in September 2014 after Adam Skelos referred an engineering company to Barrella as a potential lobbying client. The engineering company was a subsidiary of AbTech Industries Inc., an Arizona manufacturer where Adam worked as a consultant.

“I said to him, ‘What would you like me to do?’ ” Barrella said, referring to Dean Skelos. The Republican senator then said he didn’t want his son to be involved in lobbying activities, according to Barrella.

However, three months later, Adam Skelos called Barrella about a legislative issue in the presence of Dean Skelos.

The issue was whether the state moratorium on hydrofracking would be lifted by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The younger Skelos’ employer, AbTech, wanted the ban lifted and had hired Barrella, through a subsidiary company, to lobby on the issue.

Asked about Dean Skelos being near Adam Skelos when he spoke on the telephone in December 2014, Barrella said, “I wish he hadn’t called me with his father standing there. I didn’t think it was right.”

Barrella, under cross examination from the Skeloses’ attorneys on Thursday, acknowledged that Adam lobbied state officials on issues critical to his employer, AbTech, only because the company’s point man “didn’t give us his undivided attention on a very serious matter…He [Adam Skelos] was the go-between,” Barrella testified.

Barrella also said he signed a letter to the state ethics commission in 2015 that falsely stated a sister lobbying firm had done no work for AbTech — when it had. The letter ended a lobbying contract and was written days after then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested on federal corruption charges.

“That statement is false, correct?” asked Robert Gage Jr., a lawyer for Dean Skelos, referring to the Jan. 30, 2015 letter.

Barrella responded, “In my opinion, yes it was.”

Also Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Kimba M. Wood, over the objections of the Skeloses’ attorneys, permitted the jury to hear a wiretapped telephone call between Adam Skelos and the leader of a diners’ association.

In the 2014 call, on Christmas Day, Adam Skelos, who was seeking energy business from the restaurants, told their representative, Demetrios Raptis, that he wasn’t responding quickly enough to a Skelos proposal.

“Now, if you want to utilize my [expletive] reach and business opportunity, then you call me,” said Adam Skelos, according to a transcript of the call. “Otherwise, don’t tell me you’re going to set up a meeting and not set it up … like every other Greek business person. …You don’t do a [expletive] thing, okay? That’s why you are where you are and I’m where I am, okay?”

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