Corruption case further sullies Albany's reputation

Allegations involving legislator reinforce New York's low grade from State Integrity Investigation

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A New York state senator and five other political officials have been named in a sweeping federal corruption case — the latest in a series of scandals that helped earn the Empire State a D grade from the State Integrity Investigation.

At the heart of the complaint unsealed Tuesday: federal prosecutors say Sen. Malcolm Smith, a Democrat from Queens, used a series of contacts in an attempt to bribe New York City Republican Party officials to approve his bid for mayor on the GOP ticket.

The case, which allegedly involved tens of thousands of dollars in bribes and agreements to secure state and city funds for development projects, highlights some of the endemic  corruption problems that have plagued New York’s legislature in Albany, where politicians are frequently accused of exchanging cash for securing state funds and candidates exchange donations for political support. The image was reinforced by the State Integrity Investigation, a state-by-state ranking of accountability and transparency carried out last year by the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International.

According to the complaint, Smith had ambitions to run for mayor of New York City, but wanted to run as a Republican. As a Democratic state senator, he needed support from the party to get on the ticket. The solution presented itself in the form of a New York real estate developer, who was cooperating with an undercover FBI agent in exchange for leniency on unspecified charges.

Over a series of meetings the developer and the FBI agent agreed to bribe two New York City GOP officials, Joseph Savino and Vincent Tabone, to garner their for support for Smith. In exchange, Smith would help secure state funds for a project of the developer’s. At one meeting, the developer told Smith it would cost, “a pretty penny,” to which Smith replied, “It’s worth it.” Savino allegedly asked for $25,000, Tabone for $50,000. On February 14, the agent met separately with Savino and Tabone in his car, handing Savino $15,000 in cash and Tabone $25,000.

The case also extends to several other local officials. Daniel Halloran, a New York City councilman, allegedly facilitated the meetings between the undercover agent and the GOP officials. Unrelated to the Smith dealings, however, he had also allegedly accepted tens of thousands of dollars in cash from the developer and the undercover agent in exchange for securing city funds to the developer. In one of their meetings where the developer handed over $7,500 in cash, Halloran said, “That’s politics, it’s all about how much,” adding, “that's our politicians in New York.”

The suit also includes charges of mail fraud against the mayor, Noramie Jasmine, and deputy mayor, Joseph Desmaret of Spring Valley, where the development was to be located, for their involvement.

The State Integrity Investigation, released in March 2012, detailed a long history of scandal in New York, including pay-to-play deals and political cronyism. The report gave New York a D- specifically in the category of political financing, with particularly weak grades for the financing of political parties.