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Judge instructs jury in Skelos case as prosecutor rebuts defense

Dean Skelos leaves federal court in Manhattan during

Dean Skelos leaves federal court in Manhattan during his retrial Wednesday. Credit: Charles Eckert

Dean Skelos asked businesses to help his son financially because he couldn’t afford to give Adam Skelos $175,000 toward the purchase of a house with a pool in Rockville Centre, a prosecutor said Thursday in the retrial of the Skeloses on federal corruption charges.

Jurors were expected to begin deliberating on Friday after receiving additional legal instructions from U.S. District Court Judge Kimba M. Wood.

She has completed reading aloud 58 of the 88 pages of instructions, which are focused in part on how to determine whether Dean Skelos used his “official position” as a state senator illegally to benefit his son. That issue is central to why the retrial is taking place.

Thursday, federal prosecutor Edward Diskant told the jury that Dean Skelos, when he was State Senate majority leader, broke the law so Adam Skelos could buy a three-bedroom house priced at $675,000, located blocks from his parents’ home.

Diskant, in a rebuttal to closing arguments by the defense, said Dean Skelos used his position as an Albany powerbroker in 2010-15 to pressure companies into employing his son, who was living beyond his means. The three companies needed the senior Skelos’ support for key legislation before the Senate, the prosecutor said.

Adam Skelos’ income climbed to $441,099 in 2013, a $168,300 increase from 2012, just as he was purchasing the 2,100-square-foot house, according to income and tax records introduced by the prosecution.

The additional income was derived from his salary from a low-show sales job at a medical malpractice insurance company, consulting fees from an environment company and a $20,000 payment from a title insurer for no work, all of which came Adam Skelos’ way at the behest of Dean Skelos, the state’s top Republican at the time, according to testimony and records.

“It’s the income he used to buy that house,” Diskant said Thursday in federal court in Manhattan, referring to Adam Skelos.

“It’s the money that takes Senator Skelos off the hook for that $175,000 gift,” that Adam told a mortgage loan officer in March 2013 he expected from Dean Skelos and his wife, Gail, the prosecutor said. “The senator testified that they weren’t in a position to give Adam that gift.”

Diskant also said the jobs and payments Adam Skelos received were “corrupt to the core” because they “were made by businesses beholden to the senator’s power.”

The Skeloses are accused of using Dean Skelos’ position as one of state government’s three most powerful individuals to win employment and cash for Adam Skelos — valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars over about five years. In return, Dean promised to vote for legislation needed by those aiding his son, according to the indictment.

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

The Rockville Centre pair were convicted in their first trial in 2015, but the convictions were overturned and a retrial was ordered following a later U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The high court, in a case involving a former Virginia governor, more narrowly defined the kind of quid-pro-quo scheme a public official must engage in to be convicted of bribery. The court said a public official must do more than make a telephone call or arrange a meeting.

Thursday, Wood told the retrial jury that Dean Skelos’ efforts to help his son must constitute “the formal exercise of governmental power” to be deemed criminal. “Voting on legislation, ordering a regulation,” the judge said, “but not setting up a meeting, talking to a lobbyist, organizing an event or expressing support for an idea.”

Prior to the judge charging the jury, Diskant spent two hours attempting to counter four hours of closing arguments on Wednesday by the Skeloses’ attorneys.

Robert Gage Jr., Dean Skelos’ lawyer, argued Wednesday that the federal government’s case is built upon the “lies” of three star witnesses who testified against the Skeloses in return for not being prosecuted themselves.

Thursday, Diskant said the prosecution witnesses— executives who gave Adam Skelos jobs and money — testified truthfully because they knew if they lied they would be charged with a crime.

Diskant also cited the “guarded and coded” language used by Dean and Adam Skelos in 2015 when discussing their alleged quid-pro-quo schemes. The conversations coincided with the arrest of then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) on federal corruption charges.

The Skeloses called a $12 million Nassau County contract won by one of Adam Skelos’ employers “the other situation” and referred to then-Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano as “that guy,” according to wiretapped conversations.

“Why are the defendants talking like this?” Diskant said Thursday. “Because they are talking about criminal conduct on the phone. . . . They knew what they were doing was wrong.”

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