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Last updated: April 2, 2013 9:36 pm
US prosecutors have charged a New York state senator and other officials with bribery, fraud and extortion over an alleged scheme to get on the Republican ticket for New York City mayor.
Malcolm Smith, a Queens Democrat, was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday along with Daniel Halloran, a Republican New York City councilman, and four others accused of three distinct bribery schemes.
Prosecutors accused Mr Smith of trying to bribe his way on to the ballot in this year’s mayoral election, aided by Mr Halloran and Republican party leaders in Queens and the Bronx.
The criminal complaint unsealed on Tuesday laid out a complicated web of secret meetings in cars and hotel rooms, cash bribes and a phoney real estate development in a small town north of the city.
Preet Bharara, US attorney for the southern district of New York, described the charges as “an unappetising smorgasbord of graft and greed involving six officials who together built a corridor of corruption stretching from Queens and the Bronx to Rockland County and all the way up to Albany itself.”
At a news conference on Tuesday, Mr Bharara lamented the “downright pervasive” nature of corruption in the state’s politics. “Every New Yorker should be disheartened and dismayed by the sad state of affairs in this great state,” he said.
He quoted Mr Halloran, caught on tape telling a person who had allegedly given him a bribe, “money is what greases the wheels”.
In the main conspiracy laid out in the complaint, Mr Smith – a former real estate developer who was briefly the state senate’s first black president – allegedly sought to pay local Republican party officials for the authorisation he needed, as a registered Democrat, to run for mayor as a Republican.
Mr Smith allegedly agreed with a co-operating witness and an undercover FBI agent posing as a property developer to bribe Republican party officials in various parts of the city.
According to the complaint, when the co-operating witness told Mr Smith that getting the necessary documents would cost “a pretty penny” and asked “it’s worth any price?”, Mr Smith replied: “Look, talk to me before you close it. But it’s worth it. Because you know how big a deal it is.”
Mr Halloran is said to have arranged meetings with Joseph Savino, chairman of the Bronx Republican party, and Vincent Tabone, vice-chairman of the Queens Republicans, who allegedly took cash bribes of $40,000 and were promised $40,000 more. Mr Halloran received about $20,500 in cash for himself, the complaint said.
The complaint said that at one point in March, after payments had been made to Mr Savino and Mr Tabone but before the authorisation had been acquired, Mr Smith told the co-operating witness and the undercover FBI agent not to pay them any more money until they “close[d] the . . . deal”.
Mr Smith was quoted saying that before any county official received “even a nickel more, [he’d] have to stand on the Empire State Building and drop every person [he] endorsed and hold Malcolm up and say he’s the best thing since sliced bread. Matter of fact, he’s better than sliced bread”.
In exchange for the Republican officials’ help, Mr Smith allegedly agreed to use his office as senator to funnel half a million dollars in state funds for a road project in the village of Spring Valley that he believed would benefit a nearby real estate venture backed by the undercover agent.
The complaint also described two other bribery schemes, one involving Mr Halloran’s position on the city council and the other related to the Spring Valley real estate project.
Mr Halloran was accused of taking bribes from a consultant in exchange for up to $80,000 in discretionary funding from the city council.
Spring Valley’s mayor, Noramie Jasmin, and her deputy, Joseph Desmaret, were arrested on Tuesday and charged with taking bribes for approving the sale of public land for the real estate project. Ms Jasmin also allegedly wanted an ownership stake in the company.
Mr Smith, Mr Halloran, Mr Tabone and Mr Savino were charged with conspiracy to bribe political party officials and wire fraud. Mr Smith was also charged with extortion. Ms Jasmin and Mr Desmaret were charged with mail fraud.
Mr Smith’s attorney, Gerald Shargel, told the Associated Press that his client “steadfastly denies the allegations” and that “Malcolm Smith is a dedicated public servant who has served both the state of New York and his constituents in an exemplary fashion.”
Lawyers for Mr Halloran, Mr Tabone, Ms Jasmin and Mr Desmaret could not be reached for comment. Mr Savino’s law office, Faga Savino, said it had no comment.
Mr Smith was stripped on Tuesday of his conference leadership position and his committee assignments, Jeffrey Klein, co-leader of the state senate, said in a statement.
Andrew Cuomo, New York governor, called the allegations against Mr Smith “very serious” and “very troubling”.
The six defendants were scheduled to appear in federal court in White Plains later on Tuesday.
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