Wednesday, April 03, 2013
Democratic state Sen. Malcolm Smith and GOP City Councilman Dan Halloran were caught on damning FBI wiretaps bribing GOP bosses in order to “grease the wheels” for Smith’s mayoral run on the Republican ticket, authorities revealed yesterday.
Smith, Halloran and four others were arrested in predawn raids on a slew of federal conspiracy and bribery charges that could send them to prison for up to 45 years.
The FBI used a confidential informant and an undercover agent — both posing as real-estate developers — to secretly record the pols hatching their plot.
“That’s politics, that’s politics. It’s all about how much, not about whether or will. It’s about how much, and that’s our politicians in New York, they’re all like that, all like that,” Halloran said in one conversation.
“You can’t get anything without the f--king money. Money is what greases the wheels — good, bad or indifferent,” he added before allegedly pocketing a $7,500 cash bribe from Morris Stern, who sources said was the cooperating witness.
A number of new details emerged in the sweeping scandal — which The Post exclusively broke yesterday:
* Smith planned to “bribe his way into Gracie Mansion,” US Attorney Preet Bharara charged, by paying off co-defendants Bronx Republican Chairman Joseph Savino and Queens Vice Chairman Vincent Tabone to lock up two of the three boroughs the Democrat needed to run on the GOP ticket.
“Business is business,” Smith said.
* Halloran allegedly took $20,500 in cash to buy support for Smith’s dream of replacing Mayor Bloomberg. The councilman hoped Smith would appoint him an NYPD deputy commissioner — even though he couldn’t even cut it as a cadet and was deceptive about his police career.
* Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin and Deputy Mayor Joseph Desmaret conspired with Smith to steer $500,000 in state transportation money to a real-estate deal proposed by the undercover posing as a wealthy developer, the feds say. In exchange, the agent made $80,000 in payments to the GOP bosses on Smith’s behalf.
* Savino and Tabone allegedly accepted the bribes from the confidential informant with the promise they’d issue special certificates that would allow Smith to run as a Republican.
* GOP mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis fired Tabone from his campaign, where he served as adviser, and from his lawyer job at the billionaire grocer’s company. Catsimatidis called the affair “very sad.”
Savino was canned from his job in the town attorney’s office in Clarkstown, which includes Spring Valley.
* State Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), one of the Senate’s two chiefs, stripped Smith of his lucrative leadership position and committee assignments yesterday.
Bharara said the latest round of corruption to scar the New York political landscape felt like “a scene from “Groundhog Day” — the Bill Murray flick in which history keeps repeating itself.
“Today is another sad and disappointing day for every New Yorker who hasn’t yet given up on the dream of honest government. The charges we unseal today demonstrate, once again, that a show-me-the-money culture seems to pervade every level of New York government,” he said.
The feds said the co-conspirators cooked up the plan during secret meetings in hotels, restaurants, cars — and even Smith’s Albany office.
The pols believed that informant Stern, who pleaded guilty in federal court on March 11 as part of his cooperation deal, and the undercover agent were deep-pocketed investors who would bribe Smith’s way to City Hall in exchange for political favors for their upstate development projects.
FBI Assistant Director George Venizelos said the defendants would pay dearly if convicted.
“Elected officials are called public servants because they are supposed to serve the people, “ he said. “As alleged, these defendants did not obey the law; they broke the law and the public trust. There is a price to pay for that kind of betrayal.”
Gov. Cuomo said, “I hope [Smith] fully cooperates with the investigation and I hope the investigation is thorough and speedy and gets to the facts.
“We have zero tolerance for any violation of the public integrity and the public trust.”
FBI agents busted Smith, 56, and Halloran, 42, shortly before 6 a.m.
At Smith’s St. Albans, Queens home, two agents led the grim-faced senator — in a navy-blue business suit — from a back door to an unmarked car.
Smith refused to answer questions from a Post reporter as he was hauled off.
At Halloran’s home in Flushing, his dog barked ceaselessly as agents fanned out around the house.
Halloran was led out wearing blue jeans, a blue sweat shirt and handcuffs.
“I have no idea,” he told a Post reporter when asked if he knew why he was being busted. “I’m sure the truth will come out once I have an opportunity to find out what’s going on.”
At the same time, Savino and Tabone were arrested in their homes.
All six defendants were arraigned in federal court in White Plains, where they were ordered to surrender their passports and post $250,000 bond each within 10 days.
Smith left the courthouse in a black SUV without comment.
His lawyer, Gerald Shargel, said his client would plead not guilty.
“The allegations in this complaint do not tell the full story. I think there is much more to this story. I ask anyone reading about this to withhold judgment. We intend to enter a plea of not guilty if and when an indictment is returned,” Shargel said.
Halloran’s lawyer, Dennis Ring, said, “The councilman denies all allegations and looks forward to clearing his name and coming back to court.”
Ring told US Magistrate Judge Lisa Smith that his client owns two shotguns, and one of them was confiscated by feds during the raid.
“I want that [second shotgun] surrendered in 24 hours,” the judge said.
Vito Palmieri, a lawyer for Tabone, complained the feds were “trying to make the business of politics into a crime.”
Someone sent Savino a suit for his court appearance to replace the jeans and sweat shirt he was wearing when busted.
Everyone but Smith was ordered to stay within the five boroughs or Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Orange, Dutchess, Sullivan, Nassau and Suffolk counties.
As a sitting state senator, Smith was allowed to travel anywhere in New York state.
In announcing the criminal charges, Bharara showed off a chart that he said linked Smith to his GOP co-conspirators.
“And you have Malcolm in the middle,” he said, referring to the old Fox sitcom.
Smith and Halloran are facing a prosecution that will rely heavily on wiretaps and recorded conversations, typically the most damning kind of evidence in federal corruption cases.
Smith tried last summer to launch a run for mayor, meeting with state GOP chief Ed Cox and other officials from across the state. But the effort went nowhere.
Cox said in a statement yesterday, “The arrest of elected and party officials this morning is deeply concerning. I urge federal and state law-enforcement officials to do their jobs as thoroughly and expeditiously as possible to determine the guilt or innocence of those accused.”
Smith remains under scrutiny for his ties to a Queens nonprofit, the New Direction Local Development Corp., which allegedly misused charitable funds meant for victims of Hurricane Katrina.
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