Albany, the New York State Legislature’s infamous seat of power, has been synonymous with corruption for as long as lawmaking has been equated with sausage-making—with the juiciest link served this week.
Monday’s arrest of New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) on federal corruption charges came three months after former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) lost his leadership post amid similar accusations. Most telling in the latest case was the profanity-laced cynicism sprinkled throughout transcripts of Skelos’ wiretapped phone conversations that the FBI and federal prosecutors partly used to make their case.
“I tell you this, the State is not going to do a fucking thing for the County,” Skelos’ son, Adam, who was also arrested, was recorded as saying, according to court documents. “Any favor that [Nassau County Executive] calls and asks for, it’s not happening. ”
Authorities said that Adam was mad that Nassau wasn’t paying AbTech Industries, an Arizona-based environmental company that he and his father allegedly extorted $10,000 monthly payments from, in exchange for helping the business secure a $12 million county contract. That lack of payment meant Adam’s alleged bribes were in doubt, prosecutors said.
Rarely does the public get a glimpse into the sausage-making machine to see how rotten the chefs and their ingredients are. But the government’s 43-page criminal complaint against 16-term senator Skelos and his 32-year-old son offers a peek, besides listing charges ranging from conspiracy and extortion to fraud and solicitation of bribes. Just like Silver before them, both men have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The documents paint Adam as a low-life, do-nothing leech whose most profitable talent is feeding off his father’s publicly financed teat. Pappa Skelos is depicted as a callous, money-crazed thug who could care less about his constituents, or his alleged misdeeds as long as it spares his son from having to earn an honest day’s pay.
After Adam learned that Nassau County was entering into a public-private partnership with another company to run its sewage facilities—including the troubled Cedar Creek and Bay Park sewage treatment plants—he immediately called his daddy to complain, the court papers state.
Dean saw the funerals of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu—both of whom were murdered earlier this year in Brooklyn—as a chance to shake down Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano in person, prosecutors alleged in the complaint.
Dean called Mangano to arrange a ride with him to Liu’s Jan. 4 wake while “using coded language to refer to AbTech’s complaints as ‘the situation,’” according to the court documents, pressuring the county exec to hurry up and pay the company.
“Somebody feels like they’re just getting jerked around the last two years,” Skelos told Mangano, according to the documents. “So we’ll talk tomorrow.”
Mangano’s office called Dean back the next day and said that the payments had been expedited, the documents show. Later, when the allegations went public, the Nassau County Executive and Democrats in the Nassau County Legislature proposed rival lobbying reform bills.
The cash-strapped county’s money continued to flow, enriching Skelos’s son even though Adam, who prosecutors alleged was only hired by AbTech because of his father, admitted to a confidential informant that he “literally knew nothing about water or, you know, any of that stuff.”
It seems ignorance pays–if you know the right people. In a telling section of the complaint, the shameless Adam and Dean shared a laugh at the plight of every day Long Islanders in the disastrous wake of a nor’easter that flooded LI in December, according to investigators. While LI saw floods, misery and destruction, the father and son saw green, because AbTech’s contract with Nassau was for stormwater filters.
“We got some major water problems here with all the flooding going on… I love it! Keep it coming Mother Nature! Keep it coming!” Adam rejoiced to his father in a wiretapped phone conversation on Dec. 10, laughing as the Island flooded, according to the documents. Dean replied: “It will.”
Equally as apparent as their greed is their disdain for Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York who filed the charges against them.
Adam unloaded on another intercepted call with his father, complaining that Dean couldn’t give him “real advice” about the ongoing scheme. “You can’t talk normally because it’s like fucking Preet Bharara is listening to every fucking phone call,” he allegedly said in the wiretaps. “It’s just fucking frustrating.”
“It is,” agreed his dad.
The wiretaps reveal that the pair became cautious, and angry, following the Jan. 22 arrest of then-Speaker Silver. This included using communications that Adam thought the feds couldn’t tap, such as iPhone’s popular “FaceTime” function—which allows users to see and talk to each other through a cellphone video link.
“That doesn’t show up on the phone bill,” the hapless Adam told a government informant in a recorded call, “just the data plan,” according to the wiretap transcripts.
The father-son team also allegedly used a disposable “burner” phone to try and skirt surveillance. Even still, they were overheard whining about the feds investigating state corruption.
In another call, Adam asked Dean to call him back using his wife’s phone, and after telling his father he’d be “very, very vague” on the phone, his dad allegedly told him: “Right now we are in dangerous times Adam.”
In March, according to investigators, Adam complained to a state Senate staff member it was “fucking frustrating” he couldn’t openly speak to his dad because he couldn’t “just send smoke signals or a little pigeon with [a] fucking note [tied] to its foot.”
With charges filed against both Skelos and Silver—two of the so-called “three men in a room” who, along with the governor, shape the Empire State’s legislative agenda—Bharara said that is was clear that corruption is “a deep-seated problem in New York State.”
New York consistently ranks high on public corruption analyses, ranging from Capital New York’s list in January to nonprofit State Integrity’s latest investigation and a Monmouth University poll last month, which ranked the Empire State No. one.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on the other hand—who controversially disbanded the Moreland commission probing public corruption last year—appears to be in denial, since he recently told New York 1 that the state capitol is no more corrupt than anywhere else.
“You’ve always had, and you probably always will have, some level of corruption,” he was quoted as saying. “Power corrupts, and government is a source of power. You have it in the City Council, you have it in the state Legislature, you have it in the Congress of the United States, so that continues.”
Hell, there’s so much corruption among New York’s army of disgraced lawmakers that there’s even plans to memorialize them all within a Museum of Political Corruption. Its proposed headquarters? You guessed it: Albany.