Bail was set at $250,000 for state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) and City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) Tuesday afternoon following their early-morning arrest in connection with what federal prosecutors painted as a scheme to bribe Smith’s way onto the Republican mayoral ticket.
The two lawmakers, along with Queens County Republican Vice Chairman Vince Tabone, were in White Plains federal court in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Smith after they were taken into custody and charged with bribery, corruption and wire fraud detailed in the criminal complaint.
“The allegations in this complaint do not tell the whole story. I think there is much more to this story,” Smith’s attorney, Gerald Shargel, said outside the courtroom. “I ask anyone reading this or reading about this to withhold judgment. We intend to enter a plea of not guilty if and when an indictment is returned.”
Halloran was represented by Whitestone lawyer Dennis Ring, who said as they walked out that they look forward to “clearing his name.”
Halloran, who along with Smith faces a maximum of 45 years in prison, was in the court wearing a long-sleeved gray T-shirt while Smith was dressed in a black suit and white shirt.
Tabone, who faces a maximum of 25 years behind bars if found guilty of the charges, was represented by Vito Palmeri of the firm Palmieri, Castiglione & Associates, which retains Halloran as counsel.
During the course of the bail hearing, authorities said they recovered a pistol license and one shotgun from Halloran’s Whitestone home, but the councilman’s attorney later told the judge that FBI agents who descended on the lawmaker’s residence around 6 a.m. Tuesday missed another shotgun he had stashed in the house.
“I want that surrendered within 24 hours,” the judge said.
Smith is charged with offering up to $500,000 in state taxpayer dollars to two developers — who were actually working with the FBI — in exchange for paying bribes to several Republican county leaders in order to get Smith on the ballot for mayor. Because Smith is a Democrat, he needed three out of the five county leaders to sign off on something called a Wilson Pakula certificate.
The two real estate developers, one a cooperating witness reportedly from Rockland County, and the other an undercover agent, then went through Halloran to deliver on their promise to bribe the officials, with the councilman setting up meetings between the Republican leaders and negotiating their fees, according to the criminal complaint filed by the Manhattan U.S. attorney. Halloran also negotiated bribes for himself, the complaint alleged, securing more than $20,000 in cash and contributions to his unsuccessful congressional campaign last year in exchange for steering $80,000 in city discretionary funding to the two men.
Smith’s office said that he would be vindicated after all the evidence comes out.
Halloran’s camp said only that the district office would be open as usual.
Smith, Halloran and Tabone — along with the Bronx County Republican Chairman Joseph Savino, Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin and Deputy Mayor Joseph Desmaret — are scheduled to return to White Plains for a pretrial hearing April 23.
Queens politicians were outraged today after word spread of the arrest, as members of the county’s GOP party said the investigation was a sign to clean house at the organization.
“Unfortunately I’m not surprised anymore,” state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said at an unrelated news conference Tuesday. “Some of you know that for years I’ve said the entire system is corrupt. The arrest of Halloran and Smith is only the tip of the iceberg. Obviously, the deeds that they’ve been charged with are extraordinarily bad. But this type of pay-to-play goes on in New York City and in Albany every single day.”
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara discussed the scheme at a news conference earlier today, saying that his office constantly turns up corruption in New York government.
“Every time a politician arrested, it should not feel like a scene from ‘Groundhog Day,’” Bharara said referring to the Bill Murray film where the actor is forced to repeat the exact same day over and over again. “But yet it does.”
Just in the last five years a slew of Queens politicians have been charged with crimes.
Former Assemblyman Jimmy Meng, former state Sen. Shirley Huntley, Queens Republican operative John Haggerty, late Assemblyman Anthony Seminario, former Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin, former Queens Assemblyman and former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi and former City Councilman Hiram Monserrate have all been found or pleaded guilty to crimes ranging from fraud to bribery.
Former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner stepped down from office in summer 2011 in the wake of a sexting scandal, but he never found himself before a judge.
Queens Republicans were shocked after hearing of the allegations facing Halloran, Smith and Tabone.
“This is the height of stupidity,” said one GOPer who did not want to be named. “It’s time for the Republican Party to rebuild from the top down. It’s ridiculous what they thought they could get away with.”
Tom Ognibene, who has long been at odds with the Queens GOP leadership consisting of Tabone and Chairman Phil Ragusa, said that there are other ways to get a Wilson Pakula certificate that are not illegal.
“Some people raise money for the party or they contribute to the party’s coffers,” he said. “There is a fundamental difference.”
In addition, the party organizations would not have necessarily had to endorse Smith in order to sign a Wilson Pakula, according to Ognibene.
But the criminal complaint quoted Smith as he was seeking the blessing of one of the GOP heads:
“I want him done. I want him to say, ‘You know what, Malcolm, we did make a commitment to you early on .... We’re going back to that.’ That’s what I want him to do,” Smith said to the undercover agent.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2013 Community News Group
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