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Witness: Adam Skelos told me to send coded text during corruption probe

Adam Skelos exits a federal courthouse in Manhattan

Adam Skelos exits a federal courthouse in Manhattan during his retrial, Wednesday, June 27, 2018. Less than a year after the 2015 corruption convictions of ex-state Senate Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son, Adam, were overturned the pair are being retried on charges that the once-powerful Long Island politician misused his power to get companies to hire his son. Credit: Charles Eckert

Adam Skelos, aware of a federal corruption probe of Albany politicians, suggested to an environment company executive in 2015 that he send a coded text message to indicate he wanted to talk on the phone about lobbying for legislation, according to a wiretapped conversation played Thursday.

In several recorded calls played in Manhattan federal court, Skelos discussed plans to use a prepaid mobile phone, called a burner phone, because he thought someone might be listening in on his cellphone calls.

“There’s very little I could talk about with you right now on this phone,” Skelos said on Feb. 24, 2015, referring to his cellphone. He was speaking to Bjornulf White, an executive with environment company AbTech Industries Inc., which employed Skelos to help it secure government contracts.

Two days later, Skelos, using the burner phone, told White, “This is a safe phone … text me, ‘Oh, my girlfriend is really bothering me,’ ” and Skelos would call White, according to a wiretap.

Skelos also said on the call, “I just can’t do anything directly with the senators. … I really have to stay away from phone calls.”

Skelos’ apparent new cautiousness in lobbying for bills sought by AbTech, a manufacturer of storm-water treatment products, coincided with a warning from his father, then-State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

“Right now, we are in dangerous times, Adam,” the senator said in a Feb. 24, 2015 wiretapped conversation. The call occurred after a Senate attorney canceled a lobbying meeting arranged by Adam for AbTech with then-State Sen. Michael Venditto (R-Massapequa). 

Dean Skelos’ warning to his son was delivered on the heels of fellow legislative chieftain, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), being charged with corruption by federal prosecutors.

The Skeloses are accused of using Dean Skelos’ position as one of state government’s three most powerful individuals to secure jobs and payments for Adam. In return, Dean promised to back legislation needed by those helping his son, according to the indictment.

The retrial comes after the Skeloses’ 2015 convictions were reversed because of a later U.S. Supreme Court decision, which more narrowly defined the kind of quid-pro-quo bribery scheme a public official must engage in to be convicted of bribery. The high court said a public official must do more than make a telephone call or arrange a meeting.

Dean Skelos, 70, and Adam Skelos, 35, both have denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty.

The Rockville Centre pair are accused of multiple quid pro quo schemes with three businesses that paid Adam Skelos hundreds of thousands of dollars. Each company needed Dean Skelos’ vote for key bills before the Senate.

In the case of AbTech, Adam Skelos helped the Arizona company to win a $12 million contract from Nassau County, according to testimony.

Dean Skelos, a Republican, subsequently pressured then-Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, a fellow Republican, to expedite Nassau’s payments to AbTech after it had hired Adam, prosecutors said.

Later Thursday, White, Adam Skelos’s boss at AbTech, testified that Adam didn’t give the company everything it wanted on hydrofracking — a meeting with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and an end to the state’s fracking ban.

Fracking, also called hydraulic fracturing, is a method of extracting natural gas and oil from rock formations. The process contaminates water and AbTech products remove toxins from water.

White, under cross examination by Adam Skelos’ attorney Julian Brod, said AbTech never received a penny from New York State and only $150,000 from Nassau County, though the county contract was valued at up to $12 million.

White also acknowledged that Adam began introducing him to local government officials months before Adam’s three-year consulting contract had been finalized in November 2012.

“He was trusting you not to use his contacts and run, and not pay him commissions, correct?” Brod said.

“Yes,” responded White, who is testifying for the federal government in return for not being prosecuted.

The retrial continues Friday.

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