A New York State lawmaker suggested that he might have voted differently on a bill if he knew that the family of former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) allegedly profited from legislation Skelos helped pass.
The lawmaker, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Queens), made the remarks as one of four witnesses to take the stand Wednesday in the second day of the corruption trial against Skelos and his son, Adam, at federal court in Manhattan, where testimony was peppered with spicy recordings of wiretapped phone conversations of the senator talking to his son and others.
“It would have indicated that undue influence was given to an issue of legislation based on personal interest,” Avella testified, adding that he also would have aired such information publicly on the Senate floor and to the press as well as called for an investigation. Defense attorneys objected to this line of questioning because it required Avella to give his opinion on allegations that prosecutors are still trying to prove in court, but U.S. District Court Judge Kimba Wood allowed it.
Both the senator, 67, and his son, 33, deny the federal prosecutor’s accusations that they extorted $300,000 in bribes from three companies in payments that took the form of “no-show” jobs that Adam was unqualified for in exchange for their illegally manipulating legislation.
G. Robert Gage Jr., the senator’s defense attorney, and Christopher Conniff, who represents Adam, sought to poke holes in Avella’s credibility.
Gage noted that Avella, a public critic of the real estate industry, accepted campaign donations from realty groups and developers. Gage noted that when reporters questioned Avella about the contradiction, the Queens politician was quoted as saying that “the contributions have absolutely no impact on legislation.” In court, Avella, the former state Senate ethics committee chair, told Gage: “When it comes to me, they don’t.”
Avella was the third witness to take the stand. The first was Chris Curcio, a Floral Park resident and Adam’s former boss at Physicians Reciprocal Insurance (PRI), a medical malpractice insurance firm whose owner had been asked by Sen. Skelos to give Adam a $78,000-per-year job as a favor beginning in 2013. Curcio testified that shortly after he met Adam, he started keeping a handwritten log for the first four months of Adam’s employment to detail when Adam did and did not show up. The majority of the dates were marked “no show,” yet Adam submitted time sheets indicating that he consistently worked 35-hour weeks.
When Curcio questioned Adam about his failure to show up for work, Curcio testified that Adam told him that there was a “special arrangement” between his senator dad and Anthony Bonomo, a longtime friend of the Skeloses, which allowed him to work only two days a week. Curcio also testified that in order to sell medical malpractice insurance, Adam was required to take a 99-hour class and a state licensing exam. Curcio testified that Adam completed the class but failed the exam at least twice, and never got his license.
“Adam and I had a blow-out on the phone one day,” Curcio testified, referring to his repeated attempts to force him to show up to work. Curcio said that after he told Adam it wasn’t working out, Adam told him: “If you talk to me like that again, I’ll smash your fucking head in.”
After Curcio told Carl Bonomo, his boss and uncle, about the situation with Adam, the senator’s son was made a telemarketing “consultant” at a reduced salary of $36,000. He was required to call 100 doctors a week in order to try and drum up business for PRI. Prosecutors presented emails in court indicating that Adam only called three doctors per week, and none of his efforts ever led to a solid sales lead.
On cross examination, Gage asked if Curcio knew if the senator was supposed to help PRI get legislation passed that would benefit the company in exchange for hiring Adam. Curcio said that he did not and didn’t ask his bosses why they hired him.
Conniff questioned Curcio on the accuracy of his log and how Curcio himself got his job at PRI. He testified that Curcio’s mother had asked his uncle to land him a job supervising the sales staff despite his own lack of experience in the field.
Tatiana Martins, one of the prosecutors trying the case, followed up and asked Curcio: “Is your mother an elected official?”
Curcio replied: “No.”
Martins asked: “Is she the senate majority leader?”
Curcio replied: “No.”
Martins asked: “Does she control legislation that effects PRI?”
Curcio replied: “No.”
The second witness to take the stand was Vanessa Tibbits, one of the FBI agents who monitored the Skelos wiretaps. She explained the process of getting approvals to “go up on a wire” as well as the strict protocols that include the listening room being locked and only accessible to the public corruption squad due to the sensitivity of investigations like this. She testified before the first Skelos wiretaps were played in open federal court.
In one conversation, the elder Skelos was heard speaking with state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) about making a joint statement announcing their intention to focus on water issues on Long Island. They discussed how they didn’t want to fund water-quality improvement projects supported by Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, but instead they wanted to do their own water projects. Skelos liked the idea of appeasing “the environmental nuts.”
In another call, Adam whined to his father about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s banning fracking. That’s because AbTech, the storm-water filtration firm the men are accused of coercing fees from, also makes fracking waste-water filters.
“Arghhhh, this day sucks!” Adam is heard telling his dad in the wiretap.
“It does,” his dad replies, “but we’re totally gonna focus on the other thing now.”
Adam then urged his father to run for governor and unseat Cuomo.
“I would be so proud if you would just kick his ass,” Adam said.
The Republican state senator had choice words for the Democratic governor.
“No more buddy-buddy,” Skelos said. “He’s full of shit.”