Another big trial puts albany in the spotlight News

| 17 Nov 2015 | 11:06

For the second time in a month, one of New York State’s biggest political figures is going on trial in a case brought by a federal prosecutor crusading against corrupt elected officials.

Jury selection begins in Manhattan federal court in the extortion and bribery trial of former Senate leader Dean Skelos and his son, Adam.

Dean Skelos, 67, was the state’s most powerful Republican before his May arrest on charges that he abused his position to make hundreds of thousands of dollars for his 33-year-old son. He stepped down from his leadership post but retained his Senate seat.

The arrests came several months after the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, brought corruption charges against one of the state’s most powerful Democrats, state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Silver, who quit his leadership post after his arrest, is accused of earning $5 million through extortion and bribery. His trial began two weeks ago.

All three men insist they will be vindicated at trial and are presenting a vigorous defense.

“This is a prosecution that should never have been brought in the first place,” Dean Skelos told reporters after a court hearing.

The Skelos trial is expected to showcase a facet of politics that is more bare knuckles than the evidence that has surfaced in the Silver trial, where jurors are being told that the longtime politician disguised bribes as legal fees.

Prosecutors say the elder Skelos arranged for his son to receive more than $300,000 through bribes, gratuities and extortion payments from real estate developers, an environmental technology company and a medical malpractice insurer.

Among the allegations are government claims that a malpractice insurance administrator was lobbying Dean Skelos in 2012 about legislation important to his business when Skelos began repeatedly soliciting its chief executive to direct money to his son.

After the executive hired Adam Skelos, the son threatened to “smash in” the head of a supervisor who called to discuss his schedule after he failed to show up for work, prosecutors say.

Prosecutors said Dean Skelos later called the company’s chief executive, demanding to know why the supervisor had “harassed” his son.

In court papers, prosecutors also described a recorded phone call in which the younger Skelos told a Greek diner owner it was a privilege to have a Skelos’ cellphone number.

The government called it “another obvious reference to Dean Skelos’ official position.”

“The call is powerful evidence that Adam Skelos made sales calls to those he believed susceptible to Dean Skelos’s influence and then referenced that influence on those calls -- conduct going to the heart of the conspiracy,” prosecutors wrote.

In court papers, defense lawyers have asked U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood to exclude evidence of statements the son made that the father knew nothing about.

“The government should not be permitted to introduce any such evidence since it is irrelevant and highly prejudicial,” lawyers wrote.

If convicted, father and son could each face decades in prison. Prosecutors also are seeking forfeiture in excess of $300,000.

Dean Skelos was re-elected majority leader in January after sharing the post with another senator from 2011 to 2013. He stepped down from the position after his arrest and was replaced by another Long Island Republican, Sen. John Flanagan. Skelos, first elected to the Senate in 1984, has retained his legislative seat.