NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former leader of the New York state Senate strong-armed three companies to pay his son over $300,000, knowing that his position to influence policy crucial to their businesses meant “they couldn’t say no,” a federal prosecutor said on Tuesday.
Dean Skelos, a Republican, sought to corruptly direct commissions and jobs to his son, Adam, to “line the pockets of the Skelos family,” prosecutor Tatiana Martins said at the start of their trial in Manhattan federal court.
“This case is about the age-old tale of the abuse of political power for personal greed,” Martins said in her opening statement.
But Robert Gage, the politician’s attorney, countered that while Dean Skelos, 67, supported his son as any father would, he never engaged in any quid pro quo to direct money to his son.
“The office of Dean Skelos was never for sale,” Gage said.
The opening statements came at the start of one of the highest-profile trials to spill out of corruption scandals involving members of the state legislature in Albany.
The trial began as jurors continued to hear evidence in the case against Sheldon Silver, the former New York State Assembly Speaker and Democrat who was one of the state’s most powerful lawmakers.
Both cases are being pursued by the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan, who has criticized Albany for being “one of the most corrupt governments in the nation.”
With Bharara from the audience, Martins told jurors how in 2012, Dean Skelos promised his son financial help in order to move into a $675,000 house.
But rather than provide most of the money himself, Dean Skelos, who remains in his Long Island Senate seat, “strong-armed” companies that relied on the state for business or legislation to pay his son, she said.
Martins said Adam Skelos, 33, received $220,000 from a real estate developer and environmental technology company for his father’s support on infrastructure and legislation, while a medical malpractice insurer provided $100,000 through a no-show job.
“Senator Skelos targeted these companies as he knew they couldn’t say no,” she said.
Christopher Conniff, Adam Skelos’s lawyer, countered that his client had been seeking employment where he could find it, not through corrupt means.
“The government is trying to turn a very normal father-son relationship into a crime just because of who his father is,” he said.
Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Ken Wills