The federal judge who will sentence former Senate majority leader Dean Skelos on corruption charges this month questioned Friday whether she can legally increase his fine due to the large public pension he gets from New York state.
Manhattan U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood appeared to be responding to the suggestion from prosecutors last week that she go above the maximum $350,000 fine called for by federal sentencing guidelines to reduce the benefit of his $95,000 annual state pension.
Wood asked whether the New York constitution’s provision banning impairment of public pensions “would prohibit consideration of anticipated pension benefits in setting a fine” or apply “only to actions taken by New York state.”
Skelos, 68, was convicted in December of using his Senate power to get his son Adam work from a real estate developer, an environmental firm and a malpractice insurer. They are scheduled to be sentenced by Wood on April 28.
The Skeloses, both of Rockville Centre, have asked for no jail time. Prosecutors have asked for a sentence of at least 10 years for Adam and 12-1/2 years for Dean, in addition to a fine that takes a significant chunk of his $2 million in liquid assets and his pension.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has often railed about officials getting their pensions after ripping off the public, and has tried to seize pensions to satisfy forfeitures before the explicit request in the Skelos case for a higher fine to strip pension benefits.
Wood’s order — which also asked whether Dean’s wife Gail Skelos had an independent right to half of his pension — came on the same day as the judge rejected a bid from the Skeloses for a new trial.
The judge dismissed arguments there was inadequate evidence showing a “quid pro quo” between benefits to Adam and his father’s favorable actions toward companies, noting that it was not a defense even if Dean’s actions were consistent with long-held positions.
The Skeloses’ conduct “ followed a brazen pattern of pressuring, bullying and threatening companies … all to force the companies to enrich the son,” the judge said. “…Competent, satisfactory and sufficient evidence supports the jury’s verdict.”