New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and his son, Adam, were arrested Monday on federal charges for allegedly conspiring to take bribes in exchange for steering legislation.
Both men were charged with conspiracy, solicitation of bribes, extortion and other counts, according to a criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara.
“Dean Skelos unlawfully used his power and influence as Senate Majority Leader, repeatedly, to illegally enrich his son, Adam, and indirectly, himself,” Bharara told reporters. “Dean Skelos’s support for certain infrastructure projects and legislation was often based, not on what was good for his constituents or good for New York, but rather on what was good for his son’s bank account.”
The 67-year-old senator, the highest-ranking Republican in the state, surrendered to FBI investigators Monday, proclaiming his innocence.
“I am innocent of the charges leveled against me,” he said in a statement. “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.”
An attorney for his 32-year-old son was not immediately available for comment.
Sen. Skelos had previously issued a statement saying that he was cooperating with the investigation following a story in The New York Times reporting that a grand jury was hearing testimony regarding the allegations against the father and son.
The allegations include steering a $12 million Nassau County public works contract to AbTech Industries, an Arizona-based company that Adam worked for, and influencing legislation benefitting a Long Island-based real estate company. Authorities said the father and son drew more than $200,000 in bribes since 2010. Neither company has not been accused of wrongdoing and both cooperated with the investigation.
“AbTech is cooperating and will continue to cooperate with federal authorities,” said Lisa Linden, spokeswoman for AbTech Industries. “Today’s charges do not detract in any way from AbTech’s innovative work and the unique, environmentally-beneficial solutions it provides to protect our water resources.”
The company was contracted with the county to provide storm-water filters after it approached Dean Skelos, who asked that Adam Skelos be hired as a consultant, authorities said. Adam Skelos was heard on wiretaps saying that he “literally knew nothing about water, or, you know, any of that stuff,” according to investigators. Despite this, he allegedly demanded $4,000 in monthly “consulting” fees that he and his father pressured the company to increase to $10,000 monthly under the threat of lobbying against AbTech winning the contract before it eventually did, prosecutors said.
“Somebody feels like they’ve been getting jerked around the last two years,” Dean Skelos told Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano in another intercepted phone call in January, during which Dean pressured Mangano to start paying AbTech, according to authorities. That call came after the company grew concerned over the lack of payment from Nassau, which put Adam’s monthly payments at risk, prosecutors said.
“I’ll look back into it, but I think everything’s fine,” Mangano replied, according to court documents containing a transcript of the call. The following day, Mangano called Dean to tell him that AbTech payments were being expedited, the documents show.
“The complaint speaks for itself,” Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said when he was asked to comment on the allegations.
After the Times story broke and before the arrests were made, Nassau prosecutors announced a review of county contract procurement practices and county lawmakers have proposed dueling ethics reform bills.
The arrests come four months after Sen. Dean Skelos’ former counterpart, state Assemb. Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), who was the longtime leader of the state Assembly, pleaded not guilty to charges of similarly abusing his power. Silver was forced out of his leadership role after his arrest. If the same happens to Skelos, it is unclear who would replace him.
Skelos’ Senate predecessor, Joseph L. Bruno, had been convicted of federal corruption charges that were later voided following an appeal. Bruno was acquitted during a second trial. A call to Skelos’ office for comment was not immediately returned.
A spokesman for the New York State Republican Party said there would be no comment at this time.
Neither Gov. Andrew Cuomo or Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, both Democrats, would comment on the arrest, according to their press offices.
Cuomo’s Democratic primary opponent, Zephyr Teachout, released a statement Monday afternoon about the latest development criticizing New York’s power structure.
“Of the three men in the room who control our state, two have been arrested (Silver and Skelos), after the third, Governor Cuomo, shut down the Moreland anti-corruption commission, saying its work was done.” Bharara reportedly picked up his investigation where the Moreland commission left off.
“Andrew Cuomo defended his record as an anti-corruption reformer this spring by saying that too many lawmakers were judged by a ‘few bad apples,'” said Teachout. “When two of the three biggest apples in the state are arrested, it’s not just bad apples. It’s the crop.”
—With Spencer Rumsey