U.S. News

Ex-N.Y. state senate leader's corruption conviction vacated, faces retrial

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday threw out the conviction of former New York state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, citing a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that narrowed the conduct that can sustain federal corruption charges.

Former New York state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos arrives at the Manhattan federal court house in New York City, U.S. May 12, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

But the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said federal prosecutors can retry Skelos and his son, Adam Skelos, for bribery and fraud because the evidence presented at trial was “sufficient” to prove their case.

The ruling came two months after the court also vacated the bribery conviction of former New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, employing similar reasoning.

Acting U.S. Attorney in Manhattan Joon Kim said in a statement that his office would pursue a “prompt retrial where we will have another opportunity to present the overwhelming evidence of Dean Skelos and Adam Skelos’ guilt.” Prosecutors previously said they would also retry Silver.

Alexandra Shapiro, a lawyer for Skelos, said in an email: “We believe that as events unfold it is going to become clear that this is a case that never should have been brought.”

The back-to-back convictions of Silver and Skelos, the state’s most powerful legislators, in November and December 2015 represented two of the most high-profile victories for former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who made public corruption a major focus during his tenure before he was fired by U.S. President Trump in March.

Skelos, 69, a Republican, was sentenced to five years in prison in May 2016, while his son Adam was sentenced to 6-1/2 years. Both were free on bail at the time of Tuesday’s decision.

Together with Governor Andrew Cuomo, Skelos and Silver were members of the “three men in a room” in the state capital of Albany that hold enormous sway over major legislation.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year overturned the corruption conviction of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, finding that routine acts such as setting up meetings or contacting other politicians did not qualify as “official acts” under federal bribery statutes.

The 2nd Circuit said on Tuesday that the jury instructions at Skelos’ trial, which occurred before the McDonnell decision, were therefore improper, through no fault of the judge or the prosecutors.

The elder Skelos was found guilty of using his position as Senate majority leader to pressure three companies seeking his political support into paying his son, including for a lucrative “no-show” job. In exchange, Skelos pushed through bills to benefit the companies, according to prosecutors.

The case is U.S. v. Skelos et al, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Nos. 16-1618 and 16-1697.

Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Susan Thomas