In His Second Trial, a Former Titan of Albany Is Found Guilty, Again
Posted July 17, 2018 10:58 p.m. EDT
Updated July 17, 2018 11:00 p.m. EDT
NEW YORK — Dean G. Skelos, once one of the most powerful figures in New York state politics, was found guilty of bribery, extortion and conspiracy on Tuesday, the latest in a drumbeat of corruption convictions to roil Albany in a heated election year.
The verdict itself was not necessarily a surprise, as a different jury had found Skelos, the former leader of the state Senate, and his son guilty on the same charges in 2015 before the convictions were overturned. But its timing — on the heels of three other successful Albany-focused prosecutions this year, including one last week in the courtroom next door — fed the perception that the culture of ethical neglect in the state capital had reached its nadir.
Within an hour of the conviction, political candidates and government watchdog groups were already lobbing criticism of Albany’s seemingly intractable webs of money and power — and of the power brokers, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who they said had not done enough to untangle them.
The jury in U.S. District Court in Manhattan deliberated for three days before finding Skelos and his son, Adam, guilty on all eight counts. Prosecutors said the older Skelos, the former leader of the Senate’s Republican majority, had wielded his political clout to pressure business executives to send his son about $300,000 for a patchwork of no-show or low-show jobs.
As the verdict was read in a packed courtroom, Skelos stared straight ahead; his son rested his forehead on clenched fists. After the jury was dismissed, the two men embraced briefly and whispered to each other. The former senator flashed a brief, small smile at his supporters.
Neither one spoke to reporters. G. Robert Gage Jr., a lawyer for the older Skelos, declined to comment. John J. Kenney, a lawyer for Adam Skelos, said he was “severely disappointed.”
In repudiating Dean Skelos, who made the unexpected decision to testify in his own defense, the jury also appeared to reject his description of Albany as a haven of collaboration, public service and old-fashioned hard work, where the grandson of an immigrant could ascend to the pinnacle of state government.
Instead, jurors may have been swayed by prosecutors’ descriptions of Skelos’ nearly unparalleled influence as one of Albany’s “three men in a room,” who, along with Cuomo and the former Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver — who was himself convicted in a retrial in May — controlled lucrative state contracts and hobnobbed regularly with lobbyists and millionaire donors.
Cuomo was not connected to any evidence in the trials of Skelos and Silver. Nor was the governor accused of wrongdoing in either of the two other major corruption trials this year, even though they led to the convictions of Joseph Percoco, once one of Cuomo’s top aides, and Alain Kaloyeros, Cuomo’s former economic point person.
Nonetheless, the string of convictions has fueled speculation about fallout in the Democratic primary for governor in September, especially after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset primary victory over Rep. Joseph Crowley helped illustrate the vulnerability of some career politicians.
In the wake of the verdicts in the cases of Kaloyeros and Skelos, Cuomo’s political opponents said the governor had hobbled the state’s ethics oversight and never delivered on promises of procurement reform. They pointed to glowing statements Cuomo had made about Percoco and Kaloyeros, and also tied the governor to Todd R. Howe, a former lobbyist who had facilitated many of the schemes.
“Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver have been convicted, while Andrew Cuomo continues to bend the rules, break the law and defraud taxpayers seemingly without consequence,” said Marc Molinaro, the Republican candidate for governor.
The convictions also made for ready talking points in the race for New York attorney general, with Zephyr Teachout and Letitia James, both candidates for the post, pointing to the office’s power to prosecute public corruption in Albany.
Skelos and his son had been granted a retrial after winning an appeal of their convictions last year in the wake of a 2016 Supreme Court decision involving Bob McDonnell, the former Republican governor of Virginia, that limited the definition of public corruption. The appeals panel ruled that the judge’s instructions to the jury had been too broad, possibly inviting jurors to convict the Skeloses on behavior that was not unlawful. Prosecutors had immediately vowed to bring the case again, calling their evidence “overwhelming” even in the face of the narrowed definition.
Other than Dean Skelos’ three days on the witness stand, much of the testimony in the retrial hewed closely to that of the original. Prosecutors said that Skelos, soon after ascending to the Senate leadership in 2010, began hounding executives at several different companies to send money to his son. All the companies were seeking legislation that could make or break their business prospects, and Skelos made clear that he would kill the bills unless the executives complied with his demands, prosecutors said.
By 2015, the companies had sent Adam Skelos more than $300,000, ostensibly for consulting or employment contracts, even though he did not bring in any clients, often did not show up to work and even threatened to smash in a supervisor’s head, prosecutors said.
Dean Skelos, while conceding that he had asked the officials for help, testified that those requests were never tied to his position as majority leader. He said he had asked as a friend and devoted father, downplayed his influence in Albany, and recounted his attempts to steer his son to success — despite his son’s temper, volatility and, at times, open hostility.
Prosecutors accused Skelos of repeating the repertoire he had played for decades in the state Legislature.
“He used a lot of phrases that sounded like they’d make a nice campaign slogan,” Thomas McKay, a prosecutor, said in his closing arguments of the ex-senator’s testimony. But “he was all talk.”
Robert Khuzami, the deputy U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, emphasized the by-now familiar nature of Albany convictions; the office has made cracking down on corruption in state government a priority in recent years.
“Yet again, a New York jury heard a sordid tale of bribery, extortion, and the abuse of power by a powerful public official of this state,” Khuzami said in a statement. “And yet again, a jury responded with a unanimous verdict of guilt, in this case of Dean Skelos and his son Adam — sending the resounding message that political corruption will not be tolerated.”
Judge Kimba M. Wood set sentencing for Oct. 24. In the original trial, she had sentenced the elder Dean Skelos to five years in prison, and his son to 6 1/2.
Wood made clear that she expected the senator to find himself facing incarceration once more. “I doubt that the outcome is a surprise,” she told his lawyer.
Afterward, Skelos and his son, whose lawyers had spent the previous weeks describing their close bond, exited the courthouse separately.