April 2, 2013 -- A top New York Democrat was busted today for trying to buy his way to the Republican nomination for the upcoming New York City mayoral election, according to an indictment that also named a slew of co-conspirators.
State Sen. Malcolm Smith and City Councilman Dan Halloran were both arrested by federal officials this morning after they were indicted on corruption and conspiracy charges.
Four other officials, including the heads of the Republican Party in the Bronx and Queens, were also charged.
Smith, a Democrat with more than a decade of experience in the state Senate, allegedly tried to bribe Republican officials with $75,000 to allow him to run as a Republican for mayor of New York City this fall.
Smith, 52, wanted to avoid the crowded field of Democratic candidates looking to replace Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and instead run on the Republican ticket. To do so, he would need consent from three of the city's five GOP county chairmen, so Smith arranged to bribe some of the chairmen with cash, according to the indictment.
"As alleged, Senator Malcolm Smith tried to bribe his way to a shot at (mayoral residence) Gracie Mansion. Smith drew up the game plan and Councilman Halloran essentially quarterbacked that drive by finding party chairmen who were wide open to receiving bribes," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said today.
According to the indicment, Smith used an intermediary, referred to only as the "cooperating witness," to enlist the help of Halloran, a Republican.
Halloran then helped to set up meetings at New York hotels and restaurants with the head of the Queens GOP, Joseph Savino, and the vice chairman of the Bronx Republican Party, Vincent Tabone, to work out the details of the bribe, according to the documents.
During these meetings, Smith told the cooperating witness that he would be willing to pay bribes in return for Savino's and Tabone's support, the court papers state.
"It's a pretty penny," the cooperating witness, who has not been named publicly, allegedly told Smith at one meeting. "It's worth any price?"
"Look," Smith replied according to the indictment, "talk to me before you close it. But it's worth it. Because you know how big a deal it is."
The party bosses initially demanded $75,000 in exchange for their support, but Savino eventually accepted $15,000 cash and Tabone accepted $25,000 cash for the bribe, the indictment states.
Smith suggested covering up the payments by describing them as retainers for legal and accounting services.
Halloran, meanwhile, allegedly offered to give the cooperating witness $20,000 in City Council discretionary funds. In exchange, the witness allegedly offered to give Halloran cash for his reelection bid.
"That's politics, that's politics, it's all about how much," Halloran is quoted in court papers telling the cooperating witness. "Not about whether or will, it's about how much, and that's our politicians in New York. They're all like that."
"Money is what greases the wheels," he continued, "good, bad, or indifferent."
The corruption scheme spread as far as suburban Rockland County, where Smith allegedly offered to use his Senate power to help secure funds for a real estate project the cooperating witness was trying to develop.
There, the cooperating witness was able to convince Mayor Noramie Jasmina to greenlight his project in exchange for a secret stake in his company, and convince Deputy Mayor Joseph Desmaret to help smooth the way for the project in exchange for $20,000, the indictment states.
Jasmina and Desmaret were both charged in today's indictment.
"Today's charges demonstrate, once again, that a show-me-the money culture seems to pervade every level of New York government," Bharara said.
"After the string of public corruption scandals that we have brought to light, many may rightly resign themselves to the sad truth that perhaps the most powerful special interest in politics is self-interest," he said.