Prosecutors Look to Drive Home Corruption Charges as Skelos Trial Nears End

"This is not politics as usual," Preet Bharara's office argued in its closing statements against Dean and Adam Skelos.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (Photo: Matthew Cavanaugh for Getty Images)
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (Photo: Matthew Cavanaugh for Getty Images)

“Damning.” “Devastating.” “Dead-to-rights.”

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Those were just a few of the ways U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office described its case against former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam in its closing statements today.

The prosecution’s arguments played like a greatest hits of the case it has laid out over the past month, as well as a pre-emptive rebuttal of the defense’s counter-arguments. The Justice Department offered its records of dozens of tapped phone calls, seized emails and first-person testimony, which it maintained proved the elder Mr. Skelos pressured three companies to make payments to the younger in exchange for his continued favor in Albany and Nassau County.

All along, the prosecution mocked the idea that all the measures the Rockville Centre Republican official had supported to benefit the companies that had employed his son were in tune with his “core positions,” and that his vote was never for sale.

“Defense counsel has argued one of Senator Skelos’s core positions was job creation. You bet it was: job creation for Adam Skelos,” prosecutor Rahul Mukhi said, emphasizing that the law does not require the government to prove Mr. Skelos changed his vote in a bribery scheme. “From a corrupt politician’s perspective, there is no better than scenario than taking bribes for things they would have done anyway.”

The prosecution stressed again and again that father and son were always “in lockstep,” contrary to defense claims that the Skelos scion threw the powerful patriarch’s name around without the pol’s knowledge. The Long Island legislator requested “help” for his son while at official meetings with executives with one of the companies, luxury developer Glenwood Management—meetings that were always closely followed up with emails from the younger Mr. Skelos.

Following those emails in turn were phone conversations between the Skeloses, phone conversations between the father and other elected officials, emails between the state senator’s office and the companies, emails between the younger Mr. Skelos and the companies in which he CCed the elder. And all occurred while Glenwood and one of the other companies, medical liability coverage provider Physicians Reciprocal Insurers, had crucial business before the state that needed the majority leaders’ shepherding.

“That is not a coincidence. That is a conspiracy,” Mr. Mukhi said. “This shows you that the defendant’s actions were planned. They were plotted. And they were executed to a T.”

Mr. Mukhi called the defense’s arguments in opening statements and cross-examination an “insulting” “series of distractions.” He particularly attacked the Skelos attorneys’ assertions that the politician never made an explicit threat to obstruct the vital legislation, which he argued the law did not require him to prove—and compared it to a man who demands money while holding a hammer.

“The office of the majority leader is the ultimate hammer,” he said.

Glenwood helped set the younger Mr. Skelos up with a position at Abtech, an Arizona-based wastewater treatment start-up it owned a large stake in. Mr. Mukhi reproduced records showing that Glenwood executive Charles Dorego negotiated the 33-year-old’s contract with the company, which included provisions stating the younger man would lobby state and local government.

The then-majority leader arranged for steady payments from Nassau County for a storm system project—and the son threatened to call it all off when he found others were more heavily compensated than himself, wringing more money out of the “SmartSponge” manufacturer.

Finally, Mr. Mukhi highlighted how the Skeloses deliberately spoke in what he called “code”: vague, pronoun-heavy conversations about payment arrangements. And after former Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested in January, the son obtained a disposable “burner phone” he thought couldn’t be tapped.

“This is not normal father-son talk,” he said. “This is not politics as usual.”

Mr. Mukhi will wrap up his arguments tomorrow, and the defense will make its closing statements.

Prosecutors Look to Drive Home Corruption Charges as Skelos Trial Nears End