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Skelos sentenced to 5 years in corruption; son gets 6 1/2

Newsday takes a look back at what led to the downfall of former Sen. Dean Skelos and his son Adam after their conviction on Dec. 11, 2015. (Credit: Newsday Staff)

Disgraced ex-Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, one of Long Island’s and New York’s most powerful politicians until his sudden fall in a family-affair corruption scandal last year, was sentenced Thursday to a shorter-than-expected 5-year prison term.

“Through your crimes you have caused immeasurable damage to New Yorkers’ confidence in the integrity of their government,” Manhattan U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood told the grim-faced former senator, convicted last year of shaking down three companies to give his son Adam work worth $330,000.

The sentence, way below the 12 years former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver got for corruption last week and the term prosecutors sought, climaxed one phase of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s crusade against political graft and came after Skelos apologized for failing his constituents, his family and the son who got him into trouble.

“I am deeply remorseful,” he told the judge as his wife, Gail, sobbed and wiped her tears with a tissue in the front row. “It’s destroyed my reputation . . . Somewhere along the way my judgment became clouded . . . Somehow I let things go off the rails.”

Wood also fined Skelos $500,000, and imposed a 6 1⁄2-year prison term on Adam later in the joint sentencing hearing, saying he had exploited his father’s power to bully and threaten co-workers at some of his jobs and needed more deterrence than his parent.

“You appear to have no moral compass,” she chastised Adam, who had taken the blame of ruining his dad’s career and urged the judge to be more lenient toward Dean. “I think you did everything you could to monetize your father’s power for your own benefit.”

Wood did not order a surrender date, and said she was considering giving the two bail pending appeal because the Supreme Court had raised questions about the anti-corruption law used to convict them in a pending case involving the former governor of Virginia. She said she would decide that issue next week.

Bharara, as with Silver, attended the sentencing in person. In a statement afterward, he didn’t quibble with the length of the sentences — his office had sought 10 years for Adam, and 12 1⁄2 for Dean — but he also didn’t praise them.

“In the span of just 16 months we have seen the arrest, prosecution, conviction and sentencing of both leaders of the New York State legislature,” Bharara said. “ . . . While Silver and Skelos deserve their prison sentences, the people of New York deserve better.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, whose upstate economic development projects have become Bharara’s latest target, said “justice prevailed” in a statement. “These sentences show there is zero tolerance for those who use public service for private gain,” Cuomo said.

Dean Skelos, 68, and Adam Skelos, 33, both of Rockville Centre, were charged last May with using the legislative needs of New Hyde Park developer Glenwood Management, Arizona technology firm AbTech Industries, and Physicians Reciprocal Insurers of Roslyn as leverage to pressure them to hire Adam.

On wiretaps played at trial, the two plotted to reward AbTech, which hired Adam, with help winning a $12 million contract for antipollution contract with Nassau County and profitable fracking legislation, and discussed their paranoia about Bharara’s probes.

In damaging testimony, witnesses said Adam was a no-show at Physicians’ Reciprocal, a malpractice insurer, and Dean refused to step in even after Adam abused his supervisor, saying the man couldn’t “shine my shoes” and threatening to “smash your [expletive] head in.”

At Thursday’s sentencing, the Skeloses and their lawyers repeatedly stressed that the scheme arose out of the deep obligation Dean felt toward Adam — an adopted son in a famous father’s shadow struggling with mental health and substance abuse problems, and himself the recently divorced father of two autistic sons.

“For Adam, I ask you to show mercy,” Dean said. “I ask you to give him the opportunity to be the father those boys need.”

“What hurts me most is the harm I have caused to the man I love the most,” Adam said moments later. “I ask you to show leniency to my dad and not me. He’s a 68-year-old man.”

As he spoke, Dean covered his face and his emotions with his hands. When Adam returned to the defense table, father and son embraced, and Dean leaned into to kiss his son on the cheek.

Wood told Skelos she had been impressed by his legislative record, and an unusual number of good works and acts of kindness described in 200 letters from supporters. She mentioned an occasion when he gave his town house in Albany to a family whose child was hospitalized while out of town and out of money — and even made the beds for them.

But she said his crimes were more “egregious” than most others aside from Silver, who was convicted of making nearly $4 million, and, like Silver, he had abused his leadership post and eroded faith in government. She brusquely dismissed a defense request for community service instead of jail.

“To the extent you wish to do community service,” Wood said, “you can teach others in prison.”

The judge said her hefty $500,000 fine was designed to deprive Skelos of half the present value of his $95,000 annual state pension. His lawyer complained, but Wood said Skelos years ago backed a reform to strip pensions from future legislators if convicted.

The Skeloses and their lawyers declined to comment as they were mobbed by the media outside the court, but family members displayed some emotions.

A nephew of Dean, Basil Skelos, 27, of Lynbrook was arrested for third degree assault and led away in handcuffs after twisting a reporter’s wrist to grab her camera-phone and hurling it into the street. And Gail Skelos predicted vindication for her husband and Adam.

“I’m pretty angry and it’s all going to work out when we go to the Supreme Court — and we’ll go that far, cause they’re innocent,” she said, before adding a word for Bharara, the prosecutor who wants them behind bars.

“He’s an evil man,” she said, “and he’s abusing his power.”

Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre was elected New York state senator from Nassau County in 1985.

By 2015 Skelos was leader of the Republican majority and one of the three most powerful politicians in New York with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

On May 4, 2015, he was arrested on corruption charges with his son, Adam. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Dean pressured companies that needed legislative favors to give work to Adam. Altogether, Adam allegedly got pay and benefits worth $300,000.

On May 11, Skelos stepped down as majority leader.

On Nov. 17, the trial of Adam and Dean began. The defense said it wasn’t a crime for a father to try to help his son. Prosecutors had wiretaps of them discussing help Dean could give companies that helped Adam.

On Dec. 11, both Skeloses were convicted and found guilty of extortion, bribery and conspiracy.

Dean Skelos immediately lost his Senate seat, but remained eligible for a $95,000 annual state pension.

May 12, 2016, Dean Skelos sentenced to 5 years in prison and Adam Skelos receives a 6 1/2 year prison term.

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