Prosecutors argued on Tuesday that New York State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) abused his power, while defense attorneys countered he was just a normal father helping his son Adam, during opening statements in the trial against both men.
In a preview of evidence and testimony the jury will see and hear throughout the next month, the defense contended that prosecutors would be unable to prove that the senator ever changed positions on a bill to get Adam Skelos jobs, but federal authorities maintain that the former majority leader’s power was immense enough to coerce businesses into hiring his son, regardless of whether he actually voted differently on legislation.
“Senator Skelos pressured, and his son got paid,” said Tatiana Martins, one of the assistant U.S. Attorneys prosecuting the case, at Manhattan federal court Tuesday. “It wasn’t just politics as usual, it was corrupt.”
Both men deny the accusations in an eight-count federal indictment that they shook down three companies to the tune of $300,000—in payments in the form of jobs that Adam was either unqualified for or to which he didn’t show up—in exchange for illegally manipulating legislation.
“The office of Dean Skelos was not for sale,” said G. Robert Gage Jr., the senator’s defense attorney. “There was no quid pro quo.”
In stating that the senator and his son weren’t “speaking in code” to cover up their conduct in their private calls that investigators recorded, as prosecutors allege, Gage argued they were just on edge after Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York—Martins’ boss—said “stay tuned” after the arrest of Skelos’ counterpart, state Sen. Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan). Silver, former Speaker of the Assembly, is also on trial for similar, but unrelated, corruption charges in the same courthouse. Bharara was seated in the back row of the Skelos courtroom, watching the opening with a furrowed brow.
Christopher Conniff, Adam’s attorney, conceded in his opening that his client had acted unprofessionally at times and exaggerated his dealings with his dad, but he insisted that is not a crime.
“He is by no means perfect,” Conniff said. “He made some mistakes and said some things he shouldn’t have in order to keep a job.”