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Former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos released from prison, officials say

Dean Skelos leaves federal court in Manhattan during

Dean Skelos leaves federal court in Manhattan during his political corruption retrial in June 2018. Credit: Charles Eckert

Dean Skelos, the former New York State Senate majority leader, has been released from federal prison after a legal battle to serve the more than two years remaining on his political corruption sentence in home confinement because of the coronavirus epidemic, according to officials.

The release Tuesday marks the culmination of the once powerful 72-year-old Skelos’  fight to serve out the remainder of his 51-month sentence, which expires in August 2022, outside the federal prison in Otisville in Orange County.

While the terms of home confinement have not been released, they usually require the prisoner to wear an electronic monitor, have no visitors, and stay in the residence except in emergencies. They are also subject to spot checks by federal probation officers.

The Nassau Republican requested that he be released to his Rockville Centre home, but officials did not say where he would serve his home confinement.

Manhattan federal prosecutors said Tuesday that the federal Bureau of Prisons had told them that “Dean Skelos was released from [federal prison in] Otisville earlier today on furlough, and that he will begin his term of home confinement on April 30,” in a letter filed with the federal judge supervising the Skelos case.

While furlough usually means a prisoner is being released only temporarily, sources familiar with the operation of the federal system said it now also can mean the initial release of an inmate to home confinement.

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Skelos’ attorneys later Tuesday sent a letter to U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood, withdrawing their client’s request for compassionate release, an alternative method to get a prisoner released to home confinement. Compassionate release is usually granted for extraordinary reasons such as a terminal illness.

Skelos and his son Adam were convicted in 2018 on charges involving the then majority leader pressuring businesses to giving his son $300,000 in bribes and extortion payments.

Skelos had at first asked to be sent to home confinement because of his fear of contracting the coronavirus. Shortly, thereafter, he tested positive for the disease. Skelos, while asymptomatic, said his overall poor health including pre-diabetes had to be considered.

Southern District prosecutors have opposed Skelos' release and sent a letter to the judge as recently as Thursday stating: “The defendants crimes were exceptionally serious — he not only abused his position for personal benefit repeatedly, but was part of a culture of corruption that infested state government and eroded public trust in its leaders.”  

Two weeks ago federal prosecutors said they were informed by BOP officials that Skelos would be released after he tested positive. Skelos was one of a number of prisoners around the country who had been told they would be released in an attempt to stem the virus within the federal prison system.

However, last week, prosecutors said they had been informed that Skelos would not be released because the BOP was enforcing its long-standing policy of requiring a prison to serve at least 50% of his sentence before being released. Skelos has served only 30%.

But in a further turnabout, later in the week, BOP officials said they were considering releasing prisoners on a case-by-case basis that did not require the 50% threshold to be met.

Skelos' attorneys, in asking he be confined to his Rockville Centre home, have said when he is released, his wife, Gail, would drive him from the prison to their Rockville Centre home and he would be confined to a bedroom for 14 days.

"Gail would perform all essential functions outside the home, including grocery shopping, while exercising the utmost care to maintain social distancing," the proposal continued.

A woman who answered the phone at Skelos’ home in Rockville Centre Wednesday morning said she had nothing to say.

At Otisville, Skelos lived in a dorm, with beds 1½ feet apart, and shared in communal facilities.

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