By Jon Campbell
Former state Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith paid cash in exchange for support from key Republican officials as he tried to get on the party's ballot for the 2013 New York City mayoral race, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday.
The FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office accused Smith, a Queens Democrat, of organizing bribes as he attempted to force his way on the Republican line last year. He was one of six people charged as part of the scheme, along with a sitting New York City councilman, two GOP borough chairmen and two local officials from Rockland County.
"Today's charges demonstrate, once again, that a show-me-the-money culture seems to pervade every level of New York government," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said. "The complaint describes an unappetizing smorgasbord of graft and greed involving six officials who together built a corridor of corruption stretching from Queens and the Bronx to Rockland County and all the way up to Albany itself."
Smith is the latest in a long list of state politicians who've found themselves in either legal or eithical trouble.
Also charged in the plot were New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, Bronx GOP Chairman Joseph Savino, Queens GOP Chairman Vincent Tabone, Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin and Deputy Mayor Joseph Desmaret.
Smith, once the first African American majority leader of the state Senate, is now a key member of the coalition of Republicans and Democrats that control the chamber. He became the fifth member of the Independent Democratic Conference shortly before the caucus joined forces with the GOP in December.
His spokesman said Smith would be cleared of wrongdoing.
"(Smith) will be vindicated when the all the facts in the case are revealed," Todd Shapiro, the spokesman, said in a statement.
All of those charged are expected to be arraigned Tuesday in White Plains federal court.
Jasmin and Desmaret are accused of participating in a scheme to transfer Spring Valley land to a private interest who was believed to be developing a real estate project that Smith had agreed to direct state funds to.
Jasmin, according to the complaint, promised her vote in favor of transferring the land in exchange for an ownership stake in the project, while Desmaret allegedly accepted about $10,000 in cash bribes.
In order for Smith to run as a Republican in the mayoral race, he would have had to receive approval from at least three of New York City's GOP leaders. The FBI, through an undercover operation with wiretaps and a cooperating witness, accused Smith of offering tens of thousands of dollars to Tabone and Savino for their support, along with $20,500 to Halloran to set up key meetings.
Smith and Halloran were both caught on wire taps with the witness, with Smith saying he wanted to "close the deal" with the borough GOP leaders.
Bharara, meanwhile, highlighted a quote from Halloran as reason for a culture change in New York.
"That's politics. That's politics. It's all about how much," Halloran said, according to the criminal complaint. "And that's our politicians in New York. They're all like that, all like that, and they get like that because of the drive that the money does for everything else. You can't do anything without (expletive) money."
Smith was charged with conspiracy to bribe, wire fraud and extortion, while Tabone, Savino and Halloran were charged with conspiracy and wire fraud. Jasmin and Desmaret were both charged with mail fraud.
Bharara, who has targeted a number of state lawmakers as part of high-profile corruption cases, said New Yorkers should "demand more" from their government.
"Any time you have a situation that happens again and again and again and it happens to people that should know better ... then something is broken in the system," Bharara said.