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Charges against Dean Skelos illustrate workings of Albany

New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, center,

New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, center, and his son Adam, right, arrive at FBI offices in Manhattan on Monday, May 4, 2015. Credit: AP

Even in the den of self-interest that motivates governing in New York, it seems particularly ironic that Dean Skelos' resistance to tightening ethics laws took up so much of his attention and clout during budget negotiations in March that the Senate majority leader couldn't slip in a side deal to stream some public funds to the pockets of his son.

Both Skelos and son Adam Skelos said Monday they were innocent of any wrongdoing after their arraignment on six felony counts filed by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan. Skelos, a Republican from Rockville Centre, may yet be vindicated -- like predecessor Joseph Bruno, who was also indicted on the same theory of extortion and defrauding the public of honest services, and eventually cleared of charges. But there is no denying that the criminal complaint, enriched with the colorful colloquy captured by wiretaps, is yet another peephole into the dismaying state of Albany.

The specifics involve an Arizona environmental company that developed an untested storm-water filter but couldn't persuade any municipality to buy it. Prosecutors said that for close to $180,000, the company bought Skelos and his connections to Nassau County.

Sure enough, Adam Skelos had no problem getting Nassau to write a bid that closely matched the technology. The county then awarded a contract to the company. But County Executive Edward Mangano balked at actually paying for the system, worth up to $12 million. Instead he expected Dean Skelos to find the funding in Albany.

But the majority leader couldn't pull it off. In a tapped conversation between Adam Skelos and a cooperating witness, the son reported that the focus on ethics reform "is kind of getting in the way." But he said, "We'll get to the Promised Land eventually."

The ease with which Nassau County seems to have rolled over for Skelos, father and son, is disturbing but familiar. It's how the game has been played here for decades. And without an insider going undercover with a wire in return for not getting indicted, we wouldn't have this textbook example of how it works.

Even when the funding delay hurt Adam Skelos' cash flow, his father allegedly asked a favor from a Long Island real estate company that benefits greatly from tax breaks that Skelos' majority fights to keep intact. It is alleged that the firm sent a bit of its title insurance business, $20,000, to Adam Skelos for no work in return.

The wiretaps grew out of the investigation of Sheldon Silver, a Democrat who resigned as Assembly speaker in January after being indicted by Bharara.

The prosecutor said there are more corruption cases on the way, but he has already proved there is still a need for ethics reform to guarantee that public servants are interested in public service, not private gain.