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Malcolm Smith Arrest Latest in Political Crime Wave
Mothers, don’t let your children grow up to be New York State lawmakers.
The un-shocking news Tuesday that State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) was arrested on bribery, wire fraud and conspiracy charges makes him the 14th state lawmaker and the third State Senate leader facing the wrong side of the law in the past five years.
“Elected officials are called public servants because they are supposed to serve the people,” FBI Assistant Director George Venizelos said after the arrest. “Public service is not supposed to be a shortcut to self-enrichment… At the very least, public officials should obey the law.”
Federal prosecutors accused Smith, a key Democratic member of the State Senate’s new bipartisan leadership, of using intermediaries—a cooperating witness and an FBI investigator posing as a political operative—to bribe Republican Party leaders into letting him run for New York City mayor on the GOP line. Also rounded up were Republican chairmen in Queens and the Bronx, as well as a city councilman, plus the Spring Valley mayor and his deputy—a scandal that rocked both the city and Albany.
“You pull this off,” Smith allegedly told the undercover agent last year, “you can have the house … I’ll be the tenant.” He is now denying the accusations.
Smith, the State Senate president during the Democrats’ 2008-2010 majority, was stripped Tuesday of his chairmanship of the Independent Democratic Conference—five Democratic senators that split from the rest—that joined with Republicans this winter to form a rare leadership coalition.
“The allegations outlined today involving Malcolm Smith are extremely troubling,” Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), the chamber’s co-leader, said in a statement. “I concur with the swift decision made by Independent Democratic Leader Jeff Klein to strip him of his committee assignments and his conference leadership position.”
Skelos, who was the majority leader until the Republicans lost control of the State Senate in the November elections, succeeded Pedro Espada Jr., a former Democratic senate majority leader from the Bronx and ex-GOP senate majority leader Joe Bruno from upstate—both of whom were also charged federally.
Espada is awaiting sentencing after pleaded guilty to tax fraud in October and being convicted last May of stealing from a Bronx nonprofit he ran. Bruno is facing retrial after appealing his wire fraud conviction.
Shirley Huntley, a former Democratic state senator from Queens, pleaded guilty in Nassau County court two months ago to charges related to covering up her theft of taxpayer money from a nonprofit. She faces up to two years in prison when she’s sentenced Thursday in a related case.
Hiram Monserrate, a disgraced Democratic state senator from Queens, was sentenced in December to two years in prison for misusing $100,000 in taxpayer funds for his campaign. He had joined with Espada in a 2009 Senate coup and was expelled from the senate in 2010 after being convicted of assaulting his girlfriend.
Carl Kruger, an ex-Democratic state senator from Brooklyn, was also sentenced last year to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to taking $1 million in bribes from health care officials and a lobbyist.
Last summer saw retired Republican state senator Nicholas Spano of Yonkers, who was unseated seven years ago, be sentenced to more than a year in prison for tax evasion.
A year prior, State Sen. Kevin Parker (D-Brooklyn) was convicted of misdemeanor criminal mischief for attacking a New York Post photographer. He was re-elected in November, but was stripped of his then-title of majority whip.
Disgraced Democratic State Comptroller Alan Hevesi was also sentenced to 1-4 years in prison in 2011 for a pay-to-play scheme involving the state pension fund. He had resigned in 2006 after being caught using state employees to care for his sick wife. He was released from prison in December after serving 20 months.
In 2010, Efrain Gonzalez, another former Democratic state senator from the Bronx, was sentenced to seven years in prison for stealing more than $700,000 from two charities.
And in 2009 in the lower chamber, Assemb. Brian McLaughlin, another Democrat from Queens, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after the former labor leader had pleaded guilty to racketeering charges.
Perhaps the biggest corruption scandal in recent memory came five years ago when then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer abruptly resigned after investigators found he was paying prostitutes for sex. He was never charged.
More recently, Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) has refused calls to resign last year after former female staffers made sexual harassment accusations that resulted in Lopez being stripped of his title of Brooklyn Democratic chairman.
Although the Smith case doesn’t directly affect Long Island, it does hit close to home—his senate district abuts the Nassau-Queens line, as does the city council district of his alleged accomplice, Daniel Halloran. The councilman’s quotes allegedly caught on tape epitomized New York’s crime wave of political corruption.
“That’s politics, it’s all about how much,” Halloran told the undercover agent while discussing his need to raise money for his congressional campaign, according to the FBI. “Not whether or will, it’s about how much, and that’s our politicians in New York, they’re all like that….And they get like that because of the drive that the money does for everything else. You can’t do anything without the fucking money.”