Dean Skelos, the former state Senate majority leader who was sentenced to five years in prison for corruption last year, had his conviction overturned by a federal appeals court who found his conduct didn't rise to the level of corruption under a current Supreme Court definition.
Like Sheldon Silver before him, Skelos had his conviction for bribery, fraud and extortion overturned this morning, because the judges on the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found that the jury instructions defining Skelos's corruption didn't include the new standard for the crime. Skelos's son Adam Skelos also had his corruption conviction overturned.
Under the Supreme Court decision in McDonnell v. United States, a politician must undertake "a formal exercise of governmental power" in exchange for a bribe, instead of the previous definition of "any action taken or to be taken under color of official authority."
"We identify charging error in light of McDonnell v. United States, which was decided after this case was tried," the panel wrote in their decision. "Because we cannot conclude that the charging error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, we are obliged to vacate the convictions."
Skelos and son were convicted in 2015 of funneling about $300,000 to the younger Skelos through schemes that involved pushing companies with government business to pay Adam Skelos for no-show jobs. A jury found that those jobs, including positions at real estate developer Glenwood Managament and environmental company AbTech Industries, were rewarded with favorable legislation from the elder Skelos.
While the convictions were overturned based on jury instructions, the appeals court did not find that the evidence presented against the Skeloses was insufficient to prove corruption. As a result, the US Attorney's office is already planning another trial of the two men.
"[W]e look forward to a prompt retrial where we will have another opportunity to present the overwhelming evidence of Dean Skelos and Adam Skelos’s guilt and again give the public the justice it deserves," acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Joon H. Kim said in a statement. "Cleaning up corruption is never easy, and that is certainly true for corruption in New York State government.