A judge sentenced former state Senate majority leader Dean Skelos to five years in prison and $500,000 in fines this morning following his conviction on bribery, extortion, and fraud conspiracy charges. His son Adam, also convicted, was sentenced to 6 1/2 years. Jointly, they are being fined $334,000.
— Andrew Ehinger (@News12Andrew) May 12, 2016
"You have done incalculable damage to New Yorkers' trust in their government," Judge Kimba Wood told Dean Skelos. "To the extent you wish to do community service, you may teach others in prison."
Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of as many as 15 1/2 years in federal prison and a fine of more than $350,000 from Dean Skelos, and as many as 12 years imprisonment for his son Adam. Federal sentencing guidelines called for 12 1/2-15 1/2 years and $35,000-$350,000 in fines for Dean Skelos and 10-12 1/2 years for Adam.
"As an adult, you appeared to have no moral compass," Wood told Adam. "I think you did everything you could to monetize your father's position."
The illicit moneymaking, U.S. attorneys wrote to the judge, was "an egregious and long-running abuse of power for financial gain by one of the highest-ranking and most powerful public officials in New York State."
The Skelos' lawyers argued that the process of being arrested, tried, and convicted was punishment enough, and that both should get probation and community service. Lawyers for Dean Skelos wrote in a court filing that leniency was justified in part because the powerful dad was committing crimes to help out his son, and because it was supposedly a "complete aberration" from the rest of his career.
"What makes this case both extraordinary—and far outside the heartland of public corruption cases—is that it arises from a father’s love for his son," they wrote.
In court today, lawyer G. Robert Gage said that Dean Skelos was an "extraordinarily decent, compassionate, good man," and, "I truly believe New York is a better place for the leadership Dean Skelos provided."
The lawyers made clear that Adam's personal life is a disaster, which they seemed to suggest means he has already suffered more than most.
"Adam is a person who has acted at times as his own worst enemy. He has done things that were self-destructive and harmful to those around him, including those closest to him," they wrote, explaining that Adam had spent a month in getting mental health treatment, and 90 days in rehab.
Also, they said, Dean Skelos couldn't break the law this way again if he wanted to, not that he wants to.
"Mr. Skelos’s political career is over," they wrote. "Mr. Skelos will never again be in a position to commit the sort of crimes for which he is convicted, nor would he if given the opportunity."
In court, Dean Skelos apologized to his former constituents and his family.
"I am deeply remorseful for what has happened here and I fully understand the seriousness of the charges," he said, adding, "I let things go off the rails, and for that I apologize to Adam. I love Adam and pray that we have better days forever."
Adam's lawyer Christopher Conniff wrote that Adam has two autistic sons to take care of and a sentence of probation and community service would "give Adam the opportunity he needs to support his children and continue to transform his life."
"I created my share of problems growing up, and he was always there to bail me out," Adam Skelos told the court.
Indeed, the younger Skelos seems to have never fully grown up, and bailing him out was a major part of the motivation for his and his father's schemes.
The elder Skelos funneled about $300,000 in illicit money to his son through various arrangements. They included: pressuring developer Glenwood Managament to cut Adam a check for $20,000 and disguise it as fictitious title insurance work; having Glenwood hook Adam up with a consulting job at the environmental company AbTech Industries; and getting Adam a no-show job at a medical malpractice firm. In each instance, a jury found, Dean Skelos exchanged the favors for influence over policies affecting the companies' bottom lines, or threatened that failure to comply would cost them in Albany.
The fatherly love argument didn't sit well with prosecutors.
"You can't rob a bank and, as an excuse, say, 'I did it for my family,'" U.S. attorney Jason Masimore said.
What emerged over the course of a four-week trial late last year was a picture of a bratty man-child of a son, and an influential father who lacked the good sense to tell him no.
At the insurance firm PRI, which paid Adam Skelos $1,500 a week for what it thought was a real job after Dean asked his friend, the CEO, to hire him, Adam bristled when his boss suggested he should come to work. He said:
"Guys like you couldn’t shine my shoes. You’ll never amount to anything. If you talk to me like that again, I’ll smash your f—-g head in." He was subsequently promoted. Dean Skelos later told a lobbyist for the firm that his son "really needed the job."
At AbTech, the younger Skelos got the job even though, as he put it, he "literally knew nothing about water or, you know, any of that stuff."
But while the details of the job were still being worked out, Dean Skelos pushed Glenwood, a major donor, to funnel $20,000 to Adam in a payment disguised as a commission for title work he didn't do. During negotiations over that payment, Adam emailed his would-be benefactor: "I could really use the work if you have anything for me, it’s been a real slow year in the title world." In a move that would benefit Glenwood, Dean Skelos pushed legislation to loosen rent regulation and extend the 421-a tax abatement for developers promising some below-market-rate housing.
The premise of the AbTech job was for Adam to secure lucrative government contracts using his dad's contacts. The elder Skelos was trying to shape Health Department regulations on fracking in such a way as to create business for AbTech at the time that the state banned it. News of the ban prompted Adam to yell in a recorded phone call, "Ahhhh! This day sucks!" Dean Skelos assured him he was going to run for governor and dethrone Governor Andrew Cuomo, ending their problems.
Adam Skelos told his bosses at AbTech that there would be "no competition" for an unsolicited stormwater system proposal, and he and his dad obtained a rushed "advisory opinion" from the state-controlled Nassau Interim Finance Authority for the company to show its investors. In the final stages of the $12 million contract's approval, the Skeloses threatened to block it if Adam didn't get a raise from $4,000 a month to $10,000 a month, even though he hadn't met agreed-upon job performance benchmarks.
"We probably spent more, at that point, on paying Adam than what we brought in from the New York market," AbTech founder and CEO Glenn Rink testified.
He collected $198,000 from the company altogether.
Dean Skelos, a Republican, represented part of Nassau County in the Senate for 30 years, and "served" as Senate majority leader for seven. Prior to his Senate tenure, he spent two years as an Assemblyman. Skelos's co-leader in the Senate, Queens Democrat Malcolm Smith, was sentenced to seven years in prison last year for trying to bribe his way onto the 2013 mayoral ballot on the Republican line. Before Smith, the Democratic leader was Bronx Democrat Pedro Espada, who is now in the middle of a five-year federal prison sentence for stealing from a nonprofit. Skelos's Republican predecessor, Joseph Bruno, was convicted of federal fraud charges, then acquitted in a retrial, and found not guilty at trial of separate bribery charges.
Skelos's former Assembly counterpart, Sheldon Silver got 12 years earlier this month for his millions-making extortion and bribery schemes. With his expected arrival in federal prison, as well as that of former Canarsie state Senator John Sampson, facing 20 years for lying to federal agents, there will be at least nine former state legislators in federal custody.
As they did in Silver's case, federal prosecutors sought Skelos's pension as part of the fine, not to return to the state, but to put into federal coffers for unspecified law enforcement purposes.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called the back-to-back convictions of Silver and Skelos unprecedented and said, "the people of New York deserve better." He also alluded to Cuomo's torpedoing of the corruption-investigating Moreland Commission when it sniffed too close to home, saying that the feds are the best investigators around right now.
"These cases show—and history teaches—that the most effective corruption investigations are those that are truly independent and not in danger of either interference or premature shutdown," he said.
Democrat Todd Kaminsky won Skelos' Senate seat in a close special election race that was not officially decided until early this month. His victory makes Republicans a minority in the Senate by one seat, but because six Democrats have allied themselves with their conservative peers, Republicans are expected to remain in control.