A former North Hempstead town councilman said he gave $20,000 to the son of New York State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) to fulfill an alleged bribe requested by a mutual acquaintance.
The ex-councilman, Tom Dwyer, was one of three officials to take the stand Monday as the corruption trial against the senator and his son, Adam, enters its second week at federal court in Manhattan. The other two officials included Glenn Rink, chief operating officer at AbTech Industries, an environmental technology company, and Joseph Strasburg, president of a landlord advocacy group known as the Rent Stabilization Association (RSA).
“‘This should get Dean off my back,'” Dwyer testified was the response he got from Charles Durego, general counsel and senior vice president at developer Glenwood Management Corp., after he told Durego that he’d done what Durego had asked by giving Adam a check disguised as payment for work that Adam didn’t perform at Dwyer’s title insurance company, American Land Services (ALS).
Dwyer testified that he did as Durego wanted without question because Glenwood was his biggest and most lucrative client—and he didn’t want to lose their business. Dwyer said he thought Durego meant the payment would help Glenwood stay in the state Senate majority leader’s good graces when lobbying the senator on legislation the developer backed.
New Hyde Park-based Glenwood, Arizona-based AbTech and Roslyn-based Physicians Reciprocal Insurers are the three companies that the former state Senate majority leader allegedly coerced $300,000 in bribes from in the form of no-show jobs that his son, Adam, was unqualified for, in exchange for illegally manipulating legislation. Both men deny the accusations.
Dwyer said the payment to Adam was funded by a commission for title insurance work on an real estate transaction unrelated to Glenwood.
“Charlie did not want the payment to Adam to be associated with Glenwood Management,” Dwyer testified. Durego also responded to an email about how the $20,000 was calculated with “not for emails” and later emphasized that point in a phone call, Dwyer recalled.
Dwyer met Adam on Feb. 18, 2013 for lunch at Coolfish, a restaurant in Syosset, to give Adam the check in an envelope without discussing its contents, Dywer testified.
Tatiana Martins, one of the federal prosecutors trying the case asked: “Had Adam Skelos performed any work for that $20,000?”
Dwyer replied: “No.”
Defense attorneys and prosecutors noted that Dwyer had lied to federal investigators when first questioned about the money. Dwyer said he made a “big mistake” because he was “extremely nervous,” but a week later he began cooperating and turned over his emails. The defense also questioned Dwyer if he knew about large title insurance work referral fees given to others besides Adam.
Dwyer had been a North Hempstead town councilman for more than a decade until he resigned in November 2013. He told Newsday at the time that he left office because he was too busy with his outside work and didn’t want to have any conflicts of interest with his consulting business.
During cross examination, Dwyer testified that AbTech officials offered him compensation to be a consultant for the company and find out why Nassau County, which had secured a $12 million contract through Adam, “was not moving quickly.” Dwyer said he learned that the project “wasn’t a priority” for the county.
When Strasburg, the RSA president, took the stand, he testified that Leonard Litwin, the billionaire owner of Glenwood, did not share Strasburg’s view that the 421a program—a tax break for developers—would easily be renewed at the same time RSA was lobbying for rent control laws to be renewed without any changes.
“He actually thought 421a was in jeopardy,” Strasburg testified, recalling his conversation with Litwin.
Rink, CEO and founder of AbTech, took the stand next and recounted how Litwin’s family became investors in his company, which manufactures a product called the smart sponge that removes pollutants from storm water runoff when it’s installed in drainage systems. Rink gave the jury a demonstration of his product, using water he’d contaminated with petroleum products. Martins, the prosecutor, asked that it be noted for the record that the small test tube of water came out clear after passing through the smart sponge.
Rink testified that Durego, who had set AbTech up with Adam, told him that their proposed contract was illegal on the grounds that it offered lobbying on a contingent fee basis. It can only be commission based or a flat fee, Durego said in an email read in court. AbTech and Adam signed the contract after making modifications only for how big of a contract Adam must secure before he’d get a raise from $4,000 monthly to $10,000 monthly.
Rink is scheduled to continue his direct examination Tuesday, when the jury in a separate federal corruption trial against ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) is expected to begin deliberating in the same courthouse.