CHARGED WITH FRAUD– New York State Sen. Malcolm Smith, second form left, arrives to federal court in Westchester, N.Y., April 23. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
by Jim Fitzgerald
Associated Press Writer
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — Amid a growing perception that corruption is a serious problem in New York, six politicians pleaded not guilty Tuesday in a federal case that alleges an audacious plot to buy a line on New York City’s mayoral ballot.
Even one of the suspects said it, according to the indictment: When it comes to politicians taking money, “They’re all like that.”
None of the defendants, including state Sen. Malcolm Smith, spoke at Tuesday’s arraignment; their not guilty pleas were entered by their lawyers.
Smith, a 56-year-old Democrat, is charged with fraud and bribery conspiracy. He is accused of scheming with New York City Councilman Daniel Halloran, a Republican, to buy his way into the New York City mayoral race as a Republican.
Because he is a Democrat, Smith would have needed three leaders’ permission
First elected to the Senate from Queens in 2000, the former Senate Democratic leader joined a breakaway group of Democrats in December to form a majority coalition with Senate Republicans. He was stripped of his committee and leadership positions April 2. He is a former aide to Floyd Flake, an influential pastor and former congressman. A Fordham graduate with an MBA from Adelphi, Smith formed a company to develop housing in Queens..
The indictment said two Republican Party leaders, Joseph Savino, of the Bronx, and Vincent Tabone, of Queens, accepted tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for their agreement.
Halloran is also accused of agreeing to steer City Council funds to a company in exchange for more bribes.
The indictment quotes him as saying, “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.”
In a separate bribery scheme, Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin and Deputy Mayor Joseph Desmaret are accused of taking money and property to approve a real estate project.
All six defendants remain free on bail.
The bribery and extortion charges produced hand-wringing in the city and in Albany, where Smith was removed from his most influential post.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced several anti-corruption proposals and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who announced the charges three weeks ago, said Monday that he has met with the FBI “to discuss expanding our corruption efforts.”
“It seems that a culture of corruption has developed and grown, just like barnacles on a boat bottom,” Bharara said. “And just as with barnacles on a boat bottom, when a growth is permitted to spread and grow unchecked, it unsurprisingly takes an unrelenting, collective effort to clean up.”
A Quinnipiac University poll released last week found that 48 percent of New Yorkers see corruption as “very serious,” the highest share since the poll began asking the question in 2003. And a Siena College poll released Monday showed 81 percent of New York voters expect more corruption arrests.
The complaint and indictment make clear that much of the evidence will come from recordings made by an undercover FBI agent and a cooperating witness.
Neither is identified by name in the indictment, but the witness has been widely reported to be Moses Stern, a Rockland County real estate developer. Prosecutors acknowledge that the witness pleaded guilty to unspecified federal charges last month, hoping to win leniency at sentencing.
Desmaret’s attorney, Kenneth Gribetz, said Monday he is eager to see the details of that plea bargain.
Associated Press writer Michael Gormley in Albany contributed to this report.