Two more Queens politicians this week found themselves on the wrong side of the law.
State Senator Malcolm Smith and Councilman Dan Halloran were arrested by federal agents at their respective homes just after 6 a.m. Tuesday morning on charges they plotted through fraud and bribes to get Smith on the GOP mayoral ballot.
Smith, a top state Democrat, was allegedly trying to buy off city Republican leaders because he needed at least three of the five borough party leaders to support him as a GOP candidate without switching his Democratic Party affiliation.
The county leaders would have to sign what is known as a Wilson Pakula certificate to allow Smith to run on the Republican line.
To win their support, he allegedly enlisted the help of Halloran, who represents northeast Queens, to set up meetings with the county leaders, as well as negotiate tens of thousands of dollars worth of bribes masked as consulting and legal fees.
In a meeting on November 16, 2012, with a cooperating witness and an undercover FBI agent posing as a wealthy real estate developer, Halloran agreed to set up meeting with GOP leaders in Queens and the Bronx. Halloran also negotiated $20,500 in cash for himself, as well as a promise to be appointed deputy police commissioner in a future Smith administration.
“Senator Malcolm Smith tried to bribe his way to a shot at Gracie Mansion. Smith drew up the game plan and Councilman Halloran essentially quarterbacked that drive by finding party chairmen who were wide open to receiving bribes,” said U.S. District Attorney Preet Bharara. “After the string of public corruption scandals that we have brought to light, many may rightly resign themselves to the sad truth that perhaps the most powerful special interest in politics is self-interest.”
Also arrested in the sweep was Vince Tabone, vice chairman of the Queens County Republican Party. Tabone worked on both the campaign of John Catsimatidis and for the billionaire's company.
While the Queens GOP eventually backed Catsimatidis for mayor, Tabone allegedly took bribes in exchange for efforts to try and get Smith on the ballot.
According to the indictment, Tabone met with the witness and agent on February 14 at a restaurant in Manhattan and accepted $25,000 in cash.
When reached by phone, Queens County Republican chairman Phil Ragusa declined to comment on the arrests.
On March 21, the agent and witness met with Smith in his Albany office, where he ordered them not to give either Tabone or Bronx Republican Party chairman Joseph Savino, who was also paid $25,000 and arrested Tuesday morning, any more money until they signed the certificates. Tabone may have received up to $40,000 total, and was promised $40,000 more once he signed the certificate.
In exchange for the payments, Smith agreed to use his role in the legislature to secure state funds for a road project in Spring Valley that would ultimately benefit a real estate project Smith believed the undercover agent was developing.
Both Smith and Halloran maintained their innocence and said they will be vindicated once the case plays out.
All the defendants face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
In a separate investigation, Halloran is accused of taking bribes from a consultant in exchange for approximately $80,000 in City Council discretionary funding.