ALBANY - Sen. Dean Skelos and Assemb. Sheldon Silver, formerly the two most powerful men in the state Legislature, each suffered legal setbacks Tuesday as their separate corruption trials near.
A motion by Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) to dismiss some of the corruption charges against him and his son, Adam, and block wiretap evidence was denied by a federal judge. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has accused Skelos of bribery and extortion for allegedly pressuring companies to hire his son and provide campaign contributions in exchange for favorable legislation.
Separately, a judge denied Silver’s (D-Manhattan) attempt to block prosecutors from using campaign contributions from Glenwood Management, a New Hyde Park-based developer, as evidence in his trial, slated for Nov. 2. Bharara accused Silver of pocketing bribes disguised as legal fees involving asbestos litigation and challenges of property-tax assessment.
Glenwood, its former CEO Leonard Litwin and related entities have been New York’s largest political campaign contributors over the last decade, giving to a wide array of candidates.
Lawyers for Silver -- who ruled the state Assembly as speaker for more than 20 years -- argued that “the controversial nature of political contributions will inflame the jury, encouraging them to assume that money in politics is generally ‘evil,' ” according to court documents.
U.S. Judge Valerie Caproni didn’t agree.
“In this case, Glenwood’s campaign contributions are relevant to Glenwood’s motive to enter into an alleged quid pro quo relationship with Silver, even if the contributions themselves were not part of the quid pro quo exchange,” Caproni wrote. “The fact that Glenwood’s contributions to New York State politicians and political action committees were purportedly the largest of any company or individual during the relevant time period is circumstantial evidence that Glenwood believed at the time that favorable action by New York State was critical to Glenwood’s business success. From that fact, a jury could conclude that Glenwood was motivated to curry favor with Silver.”
Lawyers for Skelos sought to dismiss two of the seven counts, claiming that the former Senate leader took no “official action” in exchange for payments to his son. The term is key because the indictment centers on Skelos’s alleged use of his office to enrich his family.
Skelos' lawyers also contended investigators lacked probable cause for tapping the phones of the senator and his son.
Judge Kimba Wood denied all of the Skelos’ motions.
She noted that courts previously have determined that “official actions” are limited to legislative actions and that prosecutors’ claims that Skelos threatened to nix a lucrative contract for a company if it didn’t continue to employ Adam met the legal standard for bringing charges.
Wood ruled that it was “reasonable” for the wiretap to be authorized because other methods of surveillance “appeared unlikely to succeed based on the nature of the alleged scheme and the existing close relationships among the parties involved.”
Skelos is slated to go to trial Nov. 16.