Former State Senate Republican powerbroker Dean Skelos and his son Adam both unexpectedly won reduced sentences in Manhattan federal court Wednesday for their corruption convictions in a retrial of charges the senator shook down companies to get $300,000 in jobs and fees for Adam.
U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood, who sentenced the father and son to prison terms of 5 and 6-1/2 years in 2016 for their later-reversed convictions on the same extortion conspiracy charges, cut Dean Skelos’ sentence to 4 years 3 months and Adam’s to 4 years in the wake of their July retrial.
Despite the reductions, the judge said she wanted the sentences of the two Long Island men to send a message that would reverberate in Albany, where ethical missteps and indictments have become a routine occurrence in recent years.
“You did immeasurable damage to New Yorkers confidence in the integrity of their government,” she told the one-time Senate majority leader. “ . . . What is most important is for other politicians to learn that public corruption will be punished in a way that will make them very uncomfortable.”
But she said Adam Skelos’ had made “great strides” in dealing with substance abuse and other life problems, and she would have also cut Dean Skelos’ prison time to 4 years due to advanced age and emotional declines, but added 3 months because he took the stand at his retrial and testified to “falsehoods, irrelevancies and mischaracterizations.”
“Giving false testimony must be punished,” said Wood, who also ordered the ex-senator to pay a $500,000 fine.
Before his sentencing, Dean Skelos told Wood he was remorseful and filled with regret that he had embroiled his son in a crime — “I always tried to protect him but I failed,” he told Wood — and asked the judge to weigh his public service and letters praising kind acts toward others, not just his crimes.
“I don’t ask for your forgiveness,” he told Wood. “I just ask for your mercy, and that you look at my entire life.”
He showed no emotion when the sentence was announced, but his wife Gail, seated in the front row, cried intermittently during the sentencing. Leaving court, Skelos declined to comment, but she told reporters, “We’ll get through it.”
Skelos, 70, of Rockville Centre, served in the legislature for 30 years. As Senate majority leader starting in 2011, he was one of the "three men in a room" along with the governor and Assembly speaker who ran New York until he left the Senate in 2015.
His case was one in a series of corruption accusations involving top officials that have shaken Albany. His longtime Assembly counterpart Sheldon Silver, who like Skelos was convicted at a retrial after his initial conviction was reversed, was sentenced initially to 12 years, later reduced to 7. Joe Percoco, a top aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, was sentenced to 6 years.
Officials echoed Wood’s hope that the Skelos case would deter misconduct by other politicians. “The sentences imposed today are but a small down-payment to correct the damage they did to our citizens’ faith in state government,” said Deputy U.S. Attorney Rob Khuzami in a statement.
Skelos was convicted of pressuring three companies with legislative business — a developer, a Roslyn malpractice insurer and a Nassau County stormwater contractor — to give Adam, 36, also of Rockville Centre, who was struggling to settle into a career, work in return for favorable treatment.
Both trials featured wiretaps in which father and son discussed machinations to try to help one of Adam’s employers in both Albany and Nassau County, and testimony about Adam’s abusive conduct toward his bosses and others in which he flaunted his father’s power and made physical threats.
Skelos’ defense at both trials was that he behaved like any father trying to help a child, and acted out of concern for Adam, an adopted son who had problems with substance abuse, but never had a corrupt intent to trade official favors.
Prosecutors urged Wood to impose a stiff fine on Dean Skelos — who has a net worth of $2 million and a state pension of $100,000 annually — and wanted her to impose a tougher sentence than the 5 years she gave in 2016, citing his testimony at trial.
In his effort to persuade jurors to acquit, prosecutor Tom McKay said, Skelos misleadingly minimized his power in the Senate, denied it was wrong to mix official business with efforts to help Adam, and blamed his staff, son and prosecutors for his legal woes.
“We believed he deceived and misled and at times lied to the jury,” McKay said.
But on the defense side, Wednesday’s sentencing, like the trial itself, was a Skelos family affair, as both father and son talked in anguished terms about the emotional impact the case had on their lives and the wedge the it drove between them.
Skelos’ lawyer described him as a broken man, struggling with both depression and drinking in the wake of his convictions, who had taken in Adam’s wife and two autistic children after his marriage broke up — forming an emotional bond with the grandchildren that he urged Wood not to interrupt even as he exacerbated tensions with Adam.
“I love him more today than yesterday,” Skelos later told the judge. “Although our relationship is strained, I hope it will some day be restored . . . I hope you will show him mercy so he can some day be the father he wants to be.”
But neither the former senator nor the family entourage that attended his sentencing returned in the afternoon when Adam Skelos was sentenced, with his pregnant fiancee Annie watching from the front row.
Adam Skelos told the judge her lecture at his first sentencing in 2016 helped him turn his life around — he has reunited with his birth parents to grapple with abandonment issues, has addressed his substance abuse and is planning to remarry — and apologized to the businessman extorted into helping him and enduring his abuse.
He said he didn’t “remember the person he was” and was “truly remorseful,” but his voice cracked as he said one casualty had been his relationship with his father. “We don’t talk any more,” he told Wood, “and that’s a loss I thought I would only experience in death.”
Wood ordered both men to surrender to begin serving their sentences on Jan. 8. She postponed ruling on whether Dean Skelos can remain free while he pursues an appeal. Adam Skelos said he wanted to get started doing his time, and didn’t want release pending appeal.
— 1980: Elected to the NYS Assembly.
— 1982: Lost election to NYS Senate.
— 1984: Elected to the NYS Senate.
— 1995: Becomes deputy majority leader.
— 2008: Becomes majority leader in June but loses power when Democrats win majority in November elections.
— 2011: Again becomes majority leader after Republicans retake Senate.
— May 2015: Accused of extortion, bribery and other crimes in connection with government contracts and a no-show job for his son, Adam. Removed, by his colleagues, as majority leader.
— December 2015: Convicted on 8 counts of bribery, extortion and conspiracy, along with his son, Adam. Expelled from NYS Senate.
— May 2016: Sentenced to 5 years in federal prison; Adam sentenced to 6.5 years. Sentenced stayed pending legal appeal.
— September 2017: Appeals court vacated conviction, citing U.S. Supreme Court precedent regarding errors in how a trial jury is instructed to view "official acts" and an elected official's "honest services." Prosecutors vow to retry the case.
— June 19, 2018: A jury of six men and six women is selected for the retrial of former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and son Adam on federal corruption charges.
— June 20, 2018: Testimony begins in federal court in lower Manhattan.
— July 6, 2018: Dean Skelos takes the stand.
— July 13, 2018: Case goes to the jury.
— July 17, 2018: Dean and Adam Skelos are convicted of extortion, conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right, conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and solicitation of bribes and gratuities. U.S. District Judge Kimba M. Wood sets sentencing for Oct. 24.
— Oct. 24, 2018: Wood sentences Dean Skelos to 4 years and 3 months in prison. The judge also gives Adam a 4-year prison term.