Two Queens politicians were among six officials arrested by the FBI Tuesday for conspiring to rig the mayoral election, authorities said.
State Senator Malcolm Smith allegedly bribed county GOP leaders to let him run for mayor as a Republican, according to the Southern District U.S. Attorney and FBI.
Councilmember Dan Halloran is accused of setting up meetings between Smith and county leaders and negotiating payoffs. He allegedly pocketed nearly $21,000 in cash in exchange for his help, officials said.
“Elected officials are called public servants because they are supposed to serve the people,” FBI Assistant Director George Venizelos said in a statement. “They broke the law and the public trust. There is a price to pay for that kind of betrayal.”
Smith, a registered Democrat, needed consent from three of the city’s five Republican Party county chairmen to appear on the Republican ballot for the city’s 2013 mayoral election.
Vincent Tabone, vice chair of the Queens County Republican Party, and Joseph Savino, chair of the Bronx County GOP, were allegedly part of the conspiracy scheme, officials said. The pair took at least $40,000 in cash bribes in return for their support, a 28-page federal criminal complaint detailed.
“Today’s charges demonstrate, once again, that a show-me-the-money culture seems to pervade every level of New York government,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said. “Smith drew up the game plan and Councilman Halloran essentially quarterbacked that drive by finding party chairmen who were wide open to receiving bribes.”
Halloran also agreed to give an undercover FBI agent, posing as a wealthy real estate developer, $80,000 from City Council discretionary funds in exchange for matching funds for his congressional campaign.
The councilmember received $7,500 in cash on September 7 and $6,500 in checks later that month from the agent.
“That’s politics. It’s all about how much,” Halloran allegedly said to the undercover agent. “And that’s our politicians in New York. They’re all like that.”
The agent allegedly told Smith getting support from county leaders would cost “a pretty penny.”
“But it’s worth it. Because you know how big a deal it is,” Smith said, according to the complaint. “You pull this off, you can have the house . . . I’ll be the tenant.”
Smith struck a deal with the undercover agent, authorities said, to use his Senate position to help obtain state funds for a road project in Spring Valley that would benefit the agent’s posed development company.
Mayor Noramie Jasmin of Spring Valley, and the deputy mayor, Joseph Desmaret, were also arrested in connection with the scheme.
Smith, elected to the State Senate in 2000, was the chair of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) before his power was revoked shortly after the arrest.
IDC Leader and Senate co-leader Jeffrey Klein said Smith should think about resigning.
“I believe that Senator Smith should seriously consider whether or not he can continue to effectively serve his constituents,” Klein said.
Halloran has been the Republican incumbent in Council District 19 since 2009. He is running for re-election this year.
A Council vote next week could strip him of his committee assignments, freezing his ability to make funding allocations, according to Speaker Christine Quinn. Halloran’s case was sent to the Council’s Standards and Ethics Committee.
“These allegations represent a reprehensible abuse of the public’s trust,” Quinn said. “If true, then the full weight of the legal system should be brought to bear on all parties implicated.”
Halloran allegedly wanted to use the bribe money to pay his mortgage, the complaint said. He also urged Smith to appoint him as Deputy Police Commissioner if the hopeful won his bid for mayor.
“You can’t do anything without the f—ing money,” Halloran told the undercover agent, according to the complaint. “Money is what greases the wheels.”
According to Halloran’s spokesperson Kevin Ryan, the lawmaker denies allegations.
The six defendants were arraigned Tuesday in federal court in White Plains, but no pleas were entered.
They were released on $250,000 bonds with travel restrictions and are slated to return to court on April 23.
Meanwhile, Smith’s neighbors called the senator a morally sound leader.
“I’ve known the family for years, and they’ve always been good to me,” said a friend, who did not want to be named. “He has always been good to me. As a neighbor, he’s treated me well and that’s all I know.”
Constituent India Holloway said Smith is held to a higher standard.
“He’s a senator, he knows what’s right,” she said. “He’s supposed to be an upstanding citizen. He represents all of us. What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong, and he should uphold that.”
Todd Shapiro, a spokesperson for Smith, touted the senator’s 13 years of service.
“He will be vindicated when all the facts in the case are revealed,” he said.
-Additional reporting by Maggie Hayes