Dean Skelos, the former Rockville Centre politico who rose to become speaker of the State Senate, and his son, Adam, returned to federal court in Manhattan on June 19 to face charges that Dean Skelos abused his power to secure work for his son.
Jury selection took place Tuesday into Wednesday.
The Skeloses were convicted on corruption, extortion and conspiracy charges in 2015, but had their convictions overturned in 2017. Their retrial is likely to be an uphill battle for prosecutors, experts say.
Last September, an appeals panel cited a 2016 Supreme Court decision involving former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, which narrowed the definition of an “official act” in corruption cases.
“We [identified a] charging error in light of McDonnell v. United States, which was decided after this case was tried,” the panel stated, as reported by The New York Times. “Because we cannot conclude that the charging error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, we are obliged to vacate the convictions.”
Now the prosecution must demonstrate that Skelos, once considered among New York's most powerful elected leaders, exercised formal powers in seeking favors for his son. The court will consider, for example, whether his voting record was swayed in any way.
At the center of the Skelos case was Nassau County storm-water mitigation contract with an Arizona-based company called AbTech. According to Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney in Manhattan who tried the case, Dean Skelos used his influence with county officials to have the agreement approved.
Skelos also allegedly helped secure more than $200,000 in payments for his son, who worked for AbTech at the time. The elder Skelos was also charged with helping secure $100,000 in health benefits and payments for his son from a medical malpractice insurer for which Adam did no work.
Dean Skelos was sentenced to five years in prison, and Adam Skelos to 6½ years. They have been out of prison on bail since Aug. 4 last year, when a court order from U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood indicated that their appeal raised “a substantial question whether jurors received the correct instructions to make an accurate ruling.”
In reaction to the appeals panel ruling last year, Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said, “The Second Circuit, while finding that the evidence was more than sufficient to convict Dean and Adam Skelos, held that a part of the jury instruction is no longer good law under the Supreme Court decision in McDonnell. While we are disappointed in the decision and will weigh our appellate options, we look forward to a prompt retrial....
“Cleaning up corruption is never easy,” Kim continued, “and that is certainly true for corruption in New York state government. But we are as committed as ever to doing everything we can to keep our government honest. That is what we will do in this prosecution as well.”
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach and a former federal prosecutor, won Skelos’s seat after the former majority leader’s conviction. “The lurid details underlying the case — where county contracts and legislation were traded for personal favors — were laid out for all to see, leaving the public now to wonder whether even the most brazen acts are beyond the grasp of the law," Kaminsky said last year.
“Today’s ruling is proof that we cannot rely solely on federal prosecutors to clean up our state’s corruption,” Kaminsky added. “We need stronger anti-corruption laws and greater powers [for] local district attorneys to enforce them now. The time for complacency and waiting for others to take on corruption must end.”
Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas also called for change in response to the ruling. “The Second Circuit’s order should not detract from the continuing need to embrace comprehensive and meaningful reforms to fortify our government contracting processes from manipulation, self-dealing and pay-to-play corruption,” she said in a statement.