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Skelos surrenders in face of federal anti-corruption probe

ALBANY – Federal prosecutors on Monday notched another target in Albany’s ongoing corruption saga, arresting State Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos on extortion, bribery and other charges. Prosecutors said Skelos used his position to enrich his son with financial opportunities from firms with business before the state.

Skelos, a 67-year-old Long Island Republican, turned himself in to FBI agents on charges he pressured firms to hire his son at inflated retainer fees or face his powerful political wrath. His son, Adam, 32, was also charged in the matter.

Skelos and his son were charged with six counts. Prosecutors said the extortion operation had been ongoing since 2010.

In a statement Monday, Skelos said: “I am innocent of the charges leveled against me. I am not saying I am just not guilty, I am saying that I am innocent. I fully expect to be exonerated by a public jury trial.”

Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, spoke at a news conference in Manhattan to outline the case against Skelos.

“Public corruption is a deep-seated problem in New York State,” Bharara said.

He added that corruption is spread between the two legislative houses and across both major parties.

Skelos’ arrest came just four months after then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, resigned his leadership post after being accused of corruption.

Repeating what he has said before about future corruption cases involving officials in Albany, Bharara said, “You should stay tuned.”

Diego Rodriguez, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office, said the senator helped steer more than $200,000 in payments to his son as part of a “back-door’’ bribery scheme.

In February, when reports of a federal investigation already were spreading in Albany, Skelos, in one call intercepted by the FBI, warned his son to cancel a meeting with other senators regarding legislation meant to benefit his client.

“Right now, we are in dangerous times, Adam,” the senator is quoted as saying.

The 43-page criminal complaint charges that Skelos did “cause entities with business before New York State to direct payments” to his son “with the expectation that Dean Skelos would use his official position on their behalf.”

The effort, the complaint states, involved a downstate real estate developer and a Long Island environmental technology company. The complaint alleges money driven to Adam Skelos was meant for Skelos to be “influenced and rewarded.”

The complaint included alleged insights of a powerful political leader and his son. With one of Adam Skelos’ clients interested in a state contracting provision, his father, involved in closed-door budget talks with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and two other legislative leaders at the time, kept his son apprised of the negotiations.

The FBI recorded a number of conversations weeks and months after media accounts reported Skelos and his son were the subject of a federal probe. On March 28, Adam Skelos expressed frustration to his father that he could not talk openly with him on the phone about a specific budget matter. Adam Skelos said he needed the direct talks with his father because he could not “just send smoke signals or a little pigeon with [a note tied] to its foot.”

On that call, Adam Skelos complained to his father that he was not offering him “real advice” regarding one of his clients because “you can’t talk normally because it’s like (expletive deleted) Preet Bharara is listening to every (expletive deleted) phone call. It’s just (expletive deleted) frustrating.”

Dean Skelos responded, “It is.”

The complaint does not name the two companies tied to Adam Skelos, but previous media reports have identified them as Abtech, an environmental firm, and Glenwood Management, a large downstate real estate development company. Cooperating witnesses from the two firms have entered into “nonprosecution” agreements with prosecutors that require their continued cooperation in the probe of Skelos and his son. One of the witnesses said Dean Skelos used “explicit language” to make clear that “he would punish members of the real estate industry who Dean Skelos felt had not adequately supported him.”

The complaint says that, sometime in 2010, the developer gave Adam Skelos a one-time payment of $10,000 for work that he “did not perform” and payments of $4,000 per month from the environmental technology company that was trying to get government contracts in Nassau County. It states that Skelos and his son threatened to block the company’s attempt to win a multimillion-dollar county contract unless Adam Skelos’ fees were “substantially increased.”

Adam Skelos then began getting $10,000 a month from the firm, the complaint alleges. Through February, the firm paid Adam Skelos a total of $198,000.

The complaint states that Dean Skelos used his official position – by influencing legislation and pressuring county officials – to benefit his son. As recently as the March budget talks, prosecutors say Skelos attempted to get changes into the state budget talks for provisions to benefit Adam Skelos’ environmental technology client.

Prosecutors said Skelos and his son used “coded language” in their discussions and that Adam Skelos employed the use of what he called a “safe phone” and a “burner phone” in a bid to cut off surveillance operations. They say the two men “increased their acts of concealment” following the arrest of Silver in January.

In one cellphone conversation wiretapped by the FBI, according to the complaint, Dean Skelos characterized his political power in Albany to his son: “I’m going to be president of the Senate. I’m going to be majority leader. I’m going to control everything. I’m going to control who gets on what committees, what legislation goes to the floor, what legislation comes through committees, the budget, everything.”

The complaint frequently characterizes Adam Skelos as cashing in on his father’s influence, and with Dean Skelos assisting with that endeavor. There were well-timed meetings between Dean Skelos and firms that would engage the services of his son. At one point in 2011, Adam Skelos bragged in an email to one of his colleagues that he was “with my dad right now calling head of Nassau IDA,” a reference to the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency, which was considering a hospital bond proposal for which Adam Skelos was trying to win some title insurance work.

In another case, Dean Skelos met with the head of a grocery store chain at a time when the company was considering purchasing energy services through Adam Skelos. A day after meeting with Dean Skelos, the company in 2011 signed a deal with Adam Skelos.

A lawmaker since 1984, Dean Skelos has also worked at Ruskin Moscou Faltischek, a Long Island law firm. Prosecutors say Skelos has been paid $2.6 million by the firm since 1994. They say it appears he “did not perform any actual legal work” for the firm, but rather got money by referring clients to the firm.

Prosecutors say Dean Skelos was involved in a long “scheme” to steer money to his son from businesses that made political donations to the senator.

Long a political powerhouse on Long Island, Dean Skelos often directly intervened with pressure on Nassau County officials regarding contract payments sought by the environmental firm that retained his son. The complaint said county officials were “concerned” Dean Skelos might take action “adverse to the interests of Nassau County if they did not satisfy his demands” regarding the firm.

Prosecutors say Dean Skelos said contract delays were “hurting Adam Skelos financially” and could result in the loss of his job. In December, Adam Skelos was recorded telling one of the cooperating witnesses that the “state is not going to do a (expletive deleted) thing for the county.”

email: tprecious@buffnews.com