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Reporter’s Notebook, Views of Halloran’s trial

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With an American flag pin worn religiously on his breast, his father’s police badge memento in hand and a rarely wavering smile, former City Councilman Dan Halloran cut a colorful figure on the witness stand.

The Republican’s testimony in his federal corruption trial rambled on for days in White Plains, eliciting vacant stares from jurors and stern warnings from Judge Kenneth Karas.

The jury found Halloran guilty of brokering bribes to county GOP leaders on behalf of state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis), who allegedly sought to buy his way onto the Republican line in the 2013 mayoral elections. He was also found guilty of agreeing to steer discretionary funding to men he believed were wealthy developers in exchange for contributions to his sputtering congressional campaign.

From the beginning, Halloran was verbose, telling jurors he was fiercely loyal to the Boy Scouts — so much so that his “political patron,” former state Sen. Frank Padavan, attended the ceremony that made him an Eagle Scout.

Halloran and former Bronx GOP boss Joseph “Jay” Savino, who has pleaded guilty to accepting a bribe in connection with the scheme, meticulously delved into the GOP’s strategy.

Savino told jurors that city Republican leaders’ meetings with Smith started on the right side of the law. He said the GOP believed President Barack Obama would not get elected to a second term and former city Comptroller Bill Thompson would lose the Democratic mayoral primary, leaving black voters feeling disenfranchised.

Republicans wanted to run a black politician for mayor, such as Smith, because Savino said they thought it would compel black voters to migrate to the GOP en masse.

Obama won. And Savino said Republicans retooled their strategy based on national polls showing the party was struggling to attract Latino support. It dumped Smith and explored backing former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion as a ploy to woo Latinos, Savino said.

The judge was lenient when Halloran detailed everything from Smith’s potential as a minority candidate to the financial duress brought on by his divorce.

But Karas cut off the ex-councilman and his attorney Vinoo Varghese when they hinted at Halloran’s May 2012 surgery to remove a malignant brain tumor.

Karas nixed Varghese’s plan to use the surgery in an insanity argument early on.

As explicit text messages, grainy video of ornate dinners and hours of secretly taped phone conversations were presented to jurors, proceedings sometimes derailed into debates over syntax.

Halloran argued with prosecutors during cross examination about whether a sum of money he accepted qualified as a gift or loan.

They also bickered over whether Halloran’s requests for payments and positions from Smith, assuming he wound up in Gracie Mansion, could fairly be described as “demands.”

“I think it would be wise for Malcolm to a) make sure his first deputy mayor — the one who’s in charge of operations — is a Republican member of the City Council currently,” Halloran told an undercover FBI agent, according to a recording played in court. “We’re not asking for the whole vote .... We’re only asking for 50 percent of judicial appointmen­ts.”

“I would not use the word ‘demanding,’” Halloran said amid a back-and-forth with prosecutors.

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at strangle@cnglocal.com.

Updated 9:09 am, July 31, 2014
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