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6 New York officials charged in political corruption scandal

April 02, 2013|By Michael Muskal and Tina Susman

A lawmaker was so eager to be New York City’s next mayor that he tried to buy his way into the election, prosecutors alleged on Tuesday, as they announced charges of bribery, extortion and fraud against the legislator as well as a New York City councilman and four other political figures.

The central figures in the charges are state Sen. Malcolm A. Smith, the first African American to become president of the state senate, and New York City Councilman Daniel J. Halloran III. They are charged with four others of creating a knot of corruption whose strands stretched from the outer boroughs of the city through a key suburb and into the corridors of power in the state Capitol.

Prosecutors said there were three distinct, but related, schemes involving public corruption.

“Today’s charges demonstrate, once again, that a show-me-the-money culture seems to pervade every level of New York government,” Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, whose office is prosecuting the case, said in a statement.

“The complaint describes an unappetizing 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,” the prosecutor said, alleging that Smith, a Democrat, sought to bribe his way onto the GOP ballot line to run for mayor.

“As alleged, Senator Malcolm Smith tried to bribe his way to a shot at Gracie Mansion [the mayor’s official residence] – Smith drew up the game plan and Councilman Halloran essentially quarterbacked that drive by finding party chairmen who were wide open to receiving bribes,” according to Bharara.

Smith, a Queens Democrat, and Halloran, a Republican in the same borough, were arrested Tuesday morning by the FBI. Also arrested and charged were Joseph J. Savino, the Bronx GOP chairman; and Vincent Tabone, vice chairman of the Queens Republican Party. Also charged were Spring Valley Mayor Noramie F. Jasmin, in Rockland County, and her deputy mayor, Joseph A. Desmaret, according to a criminal complaint.

All face charges that carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, if they are convicted.

Prosecutors said there were three distinct, but related, schemes involving public corruption.

In the first, Smith, a contractor and real estate developer, wanted to run for mayor on the Republican line, according to officials. Though there are several candidates seeking the GOP nomination to run for the office being vacated by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Smith sought out Halloran and gave him money to help set up meetings with other GOP leaders in the hope of getting permission to run as a Republican, according to the complaint.

The complaint charges that Smith arranged for cash bribes of $40,000 to the two GOP leaders, Tabone and Savino. Halloran received approximately $20,500 for his role in that scheme, according to the complaint.

Smith, it is charged, agreed to bribe the GOP leaders in meetings with an unnamed cooperating witness and an undercover FBI agent, who was pretending to be a developer. The pair were to serve as intermediaries between Smith and Halloran.

Smith also agreed to use his power as a senator to help obtain state funds for a real estate deal involving a road in Spring Valley, a village of about 30,000. That project was supposedly being built by the undercover agent’s company, the complaint says.

Mayor Jasmin and deputy Mayor Desmaret are accused of accepting financial benefits for their role in aiding the real estate project. Desmaret is accused of, among other things, selling his vote for $10,500 in cash while Jasmin wanted an ownership interest in the company she believed was involved in a real estate deal, the complaint alleges.

The last scheme involved Halloran, who is accused of accepting $18,300 in cash bribes and about $6,500 in “straw donor campaign contribution checks” from the cooperating witness and the undercover agent “for agreeing to steer up to $80,000 in New York City Council discretionary funding” to the undercover agent’s company.

In a statement, Smith denied any wrongdoing and said he will be vindicated.

Smith, first elected to the Senate in 2000, has served as minority and majority leader, as well as acting lieutenant governor.

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