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Jury hears tapes of Malcolm Smith plotting to regain power at bribery trial

Queens Sen. Malcolm Smith arrives at U.S. District

Queens Sen. Malcolm Smith arrives at U.S. District Court in White Plains for jury selection for his fraud and bribery trial on June 2, 2014. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Jurors at the federal bribery trial of Queens state Sen. Malcolm Smith got an intimate look at the gritty side of Albany politics on Friday, listening for four hours to the former majority leader plot to regain his power and offer favors to a government informant who he thought was a wealthy donor.

At one secretly recorded 2012 meeting, informant Mark Stern -- a Rockland County Orthodox fundraiser who began cooperating when he faced fraud charges -- promised Smith $50,000 to donate to Senate Democratic colleagues to kick-start a bid for a leadership post and ultimately a run for mayor of New York City.

In blunt language, he asked Smith, "What do I get out of it?"

Smith responded, "What do you need?"

When the donor said he wanted to choose an aide from the Jewish community to serve on Smith's payroll as his second in command if he got a Senate leadership post, Smith quickly agreed.

Then the two men, meeting for just the second time, in a Rockland County deli after being introduced by a mutual friend, toasted their deal.

"Absolutely mazel-tov!" said an enthusiastic Smith. "That's great for both of us!"

Smith and former Queens city Councilman Dan Halloran are charged in White Plains federal court with being part of a bribery conspiracy to have the informant and an undercover FBI agent pay off Republican county officials to win Smith a spot on the GOP primary ballot for mayor in 2013.

Former Queens Republican leader Vincent Tabone is also charged in the case with receiving a $25,000 bribe, and former Bronx GOP chairman Joseph Savino pleaded guilty. Smith, in his eighth term, is running for re-election from southeast Queens this year.

The government has not charged Smith with any campaign finance violations based on the tapes played yesterday, and his defense lawyers say his actions were legal.

Although the defense argued that they were prejudicial, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas said prosecutors could use them to show the background of Smith's dealings with the informant that eventually led to the alleged bribery plan.

The tapes were played during the testimony of the FBI undercover agent, who posed as an associate of Stern. A prosecutor indicated that tapes may continue for two more days when testimony resumes next week.

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