2 political corruption trials unfold in same NYC courthouse
NEW YORK (AP) — Two criminal trials over allegations of high-level corruption in New York state were both drawing to a close Wednesday on the same floor atop a federal courthouse with dramatic views of the Manhattan skyline.
In a courtroom on one end of a marble-floored hallway on the 26th floor, a jury heard closing arguments in the bribery and extortion case against former state Senate leader and once-influential Republican Dean Skelos. At the opposite end in a second courtroom, jurors were already deliberating in the case against a former state university president and four developers charged with bid-rigging in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “Buffalo Billion” revitalization program.
It’s the same courthouse that saw a fall from power for former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was found guilty on corruption charges in May that he took kickbacks in exchange for legislative favors. Silver, a Democrat who’s still awaiting sentencing, and Skelos were among a trio dubbed the “three men in a room” in Albany, a nod to the longstanding practice of legislative leaders and the governor negotiating key bills behind closed doors.
There too in March, Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Cuomo, was convicted on corruption charges that he received more than $300,000 in bribes. He’s also awaiting sentencing.
At the Skelos trial, the ex-senator from Long Island and his son, Adam, are accused of strong-arming three businesses into funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to Adam through no-show jobs in exchange for his father’s support for measures that helped the companies’ bottom lines.
The jury has heard the CEO for an insurance company, Anthony Bonomo, testify that when Adam Skelos stopped turning up for a $78,000-a-year sales position, he didn’t consider firing him because he feared the father’s wrath. Another witness described how he was the bag man for a real estate developer who gave Adam Skelos a $20,000 cash bribe disguised as a referral fee for title insurance.
The companies “were the targets of the Skelos family shakedown,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas McKay said Tuesday in the government’s closing arguments.
On Wednesday, attorneys for the father and son argued that prosecutors had failed to show the politician took any cash or other bribes, or that the alleged victims received anything meaningful either. Robert Gage, who represents Dean Skelos, said Bonomo wasn’t credible because he was trying to avoid being prosecuted himself.
Bonomo, who’s known Skelos for several years, “was a friend looking out for a friend’s son,” he said. “There’s no extortion or bribery going on.”
Gage also asked the jury to credit 70-year-old Skelos with taking the witness stand in his own defense.
“Dean Skelos looked you in the eye and said, ‘I did not corrupt my office,’” he said.
In the other courtroom the focus has been on alleged back-room dealing behind Cuomo’s ambitious plan to invest more than $1 billion in waterfront parks, modern factories and in medical and technology facilities in Buffalo, the state’s second-largest city.
The man who spearheaded the Buffalo effort, Alain Kaloyeros, is on trial along with three developers, including two who were top donors to Cuomo’s past election campaigns. The governor hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing, and prosecutors have said the donations were legal.
Prosecutors say Kaloyeros, the former president of the State University Polytechnic Institute, and the other defendants conspired to cheat on bids for several upstate development projects, including a Buffalo Billion solar-panel plant worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Citing evidence that there was an effort to delete potentially incriminating emails, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Podolsky told jurors in closing arguments, “The cover-up in this case proves the crime.”
Defense attorney Michael Miller argued that Kaloyeros made a good faith effort to attract the best developer.
“It was a fair and competitive process,” he said.