Former State Senate Leader Dean Skelos was stone-faced and silent as he left a federal courthouse where a jury found him and his son Adam guilty of public corruption charges today, after a four-week trial and just about eight hours of deliberations—but attorneys for both men said they would pursue legal challenges to the verdict.
“We are obviously very disappointed in this verdict,” said Robert Gage, the attorney for the elder Mr. Skelos. “The next steps are post-trial motions. We intend to pursue them vigorously.”
Christopher Coniff, the defense attorney for Adam Skelos, said he would also pursue an appeal of the verdict.
The conviction is a major victory for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, coming on the heels of a guilty verdict in the case of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Mr. Skelos, a Republican, and Mr. Silver, a Democrat, were at one time two of the state’s three most powerful leaders—and in the span of mere weeks, Mr. Bharara secured verdicts that stripped them of their elective office and are likely to send them to prison.
“The swift convictions of Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos beg an important question—how many prosecutions will it take before Albany gives the people of New York the honest government they deserve?” Mr. Bharara asked in a statement.
Mr. Bharara’s office charged the former majority leader of using the powers of his office to illegally extort three companies into setting his son up with jobs and money. The case was bolstered with a slew of wiretaps that at times were embarrassing for the Skelos family, filled with digs at the governor and references to an extramarital affair Adam Skelos was apparently carrying on.
The felony conviction means Mr. Skelos has been expelled from the Senate.
The jury had asked for copies of evidence and for a whiteboard, but still came to a decision quickly. Outside the courthouse, the jury foreperson told reporters those requests because jurors wanted to “make sure of our decisions.”
“We wanted to give them a fair trial and we did,” the foreperson said, adding that the state gave the jury a “great timeline” and “did a very good job.”
It’s unclear whether the convictions of two of the state’s top politicians will lead to any meaningful ethics reform in Albany. Mr. Skelos’s successor, Senate Leader John Flanagan, vowed to restore trust but was not specific about how.
“I am deeply saddened by today’s verdict. As Senate Majority Leader, I take this situation very seriously and am determined to work with my fellow legislators to swiftly and completely restore the public trust,” Mr. Flanagan said in a statement.
But others in the State Senate urged Albany to take on ethics reform—including State Senator Jeffrey Klein, head of the Independent Democratic Conference, who once co-led the State Senate with Mr. Skelos.
“Today’s conviction of Dean Skelos should be a call to arms for Albany and the people who serve in government. It is a privilege to hold elected office and the public deserves the highest standard of conduct,” Mr. Klein said. “Dean Skelos’ conviction is a reminder that there is no room for anything less. The Independent Democratic Conference has repeatedly put forth a comprehensive package of ethics reforms and we expect the conviction of Dean Skelos will serve as a catalyst for change.”
And Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins put the onus on Republicans to back ethics reforms.
“If this doesn’t signal to all of us that we need to fundamentally reform how Albany functions then I’m not sure what will. The time has come for the Republican Majority to finally join with the Senate Democrats and pass the ethics bills we have introduced and supported for years,” she said in a statement. “We need to implement a full-time Legislature and restrict legislators’ outside income; we need to close the LLC loophole; we need to prohibit taxpayer reimbursement of campaign and legal defense funds and strip pensions from public officials convicted of corruption.”
In New York, it is not against the law for legislators to take outside income—and it was a major factor in the case of Mr. Silver, who prosecutors said had traded state grant money and influence on tenant legislation in exchange for legal referral fees. But even after the high-profile case, it’s unlikely that there will be much appetite in Albany for banning outside income—at least according to Mr. Silver’s successor, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.
“If it gets to the point of no outside income, I don’t think we’re there yet,” he said recently. “I don’t think the Senate is there.”
An ill-timed announcement today offered a striking example of the role outside income plays in Albany, and perhaps also of how toxic outside income has become. In a lengthy press release, PR firm Hilltop Public Solutions announced it was hiring Michael Blake—offering a glowing recap of his entire biography but leaving out his biggest title: Assemblyman.