One way to describe Albany is to paraphrase a quotation attributed to Mark Twain about weather. Everyone talks about corruption, but no one does anything about it.
If state lawmakers and other officials aren’t going to police themselves, at least federal prosecutors from Manhattan are on the case.
A jury in New York City this week found Dean Skelos and his son, Adam, guilty of bribery, extortion and conspiracy in what was their second trial on the same charges.
It’s good to see justice done, two years after Skelos’ first conviction was overturned on appeal after the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the definition of public corruption.
Skelos, 70, was among the three most powerful people in Albany as leader of the Senate’s Republican majority. He and Adam Skelos, 36, will be sentenced in late October.
Prosecutors in Manhattan are on a winning streak when it comes to high-profile cases. Sheldon Silver, the former Democratic Assembly speaker, was found guilty on corruption charges in May, also in a retrial. His initial conviction 2015 was also thrown out the following year after the Supreme Court ruling.
In March, Joseph Percoco was convicted on three corruption charges. Percoco is a former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. And this month, former SUNY official and economic development czar Alain Kaloyeros was convicted in the bid-rigging case in connection with the Buffalo Billion. Buffalo developer Louis Ciminelli was also found guilty.
Prosecutors in Skelos’ trial this month said that Skelos, after winning his Senate leadership role in 2010, began approaching executives at several companies to send money to his son, paying him for what amounted to no-show jobs. The companies were at the same time seeking favorable legislation in Albany.
Pay-to-play schemes seem like they have been part of New York politics since Tammany Hall politicians were clashing with Dewitt Clinton in the 19th century. As we have noted in this space before – several times – it is past time for Albany lawmakers to get serious about ethics reform. Cuomo created a Moreland Commission in 2013 to investigate public corruption, but later disbanded it. Marc Molinaro, the Republican challenger this year for Cuomo’s job, wants the commission restored, and limits put on outside income that lawmakers can earn, among other reforms. Anything to get Albany’s attention concerning ethics would be a step forward.
The high-profile convictions by federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York are sure to resonate in the Capitol.
“Yet again, a New York jury heard a sordid tale of bribery, extortion and the abuse of power by a powerful public official of this State,” Robert Khuzami, Manhattan’s deputy U.S. attorney, said after the Skelos retrial. “And yet again, a jury responded with a unanimous verdict of guilt, in this case of Dean Skelos and his son Adam – sending the resounding message that political corruption will not be tolerated.”
Unlike his first trial, Dean Skelos took the stand this time, testifying that he was trying to help his adopted son as any father would. He said his going to bat for him had nothing to do with his elected office, and he described their sometimes troubled relationship.
“Adam had a lot of issues,” Skelos testified, including substance abuse, “educational challenges” and a volatile temper. “I think the adoption affected him.”
The jury weighed the evidence and returned the guilty verdict, convicting father and son on eight counts each.
White-collar crime is not victimless; when government officials are involved it is taxpayers who pick up the tab. And all of us deserve better than to have our elected representatives try to help family members by selling out the public.