One of the state's most powerful politicians badgered companies reliant upon his legislative support to funnel more than $300,000 to his son, a prosecutor told a jury at the start of a corruption trial Tuesday as defense lawyers countered that she was trying to criminalize a typical father-son relationship
"This is a case about old-fashioned political corruption," Assistant U.S. Attorney Tatiana Martins said in her opening statement in Manhattan federal court, portraying Sen. Dean Skelos and his son Adam Skelos as bullies willing to trade power for money.
The 67-year-old father was New York's Senate leader, the state's most powerful Republican, when he was arrested in May on charges he illegally pressured companies to support his 33-year-old son in return for support on legislation affecting their businesses. He quit his leadership post but retained his Senate seat.
Adam Skelos' attorney, Christopher Conniff, told jurors that prosecutors were trying to "turn a very normal father-son relationship into a crime" because of the father's political position. He called his client a "sometimes immature and emotional son" who sometimes got frustrated when things didn't go his way.
"This is a story of a son and his father, dealing with the types of issues we all deal with from time to time," Conniff said. "He is not a criminal and is innocent of the crimes."
Prosecutors say Dean Skelos arranged for his son to receive more than $300,000 through bribes, gratuities and extortion payments from a major real estate developer, an environmental technology company and a medical malpractice insurer.
Martins, the prosecutor, said evidence would include testimony from employees of the businesses and emails and recordings of telephone conversations between the father and the son.
She said there would also be evidence that former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, a Republican, told Dean Skelos that Adam Skelos' failure to show up for a job with a company relying on his father's legislative support "didn't look good for anyone."
After citing evidence that Adam Skelos threatened to "smash in" the head of a supervisor who criticized him for not showing up to work, the prosecutor glanced toward Adam Skelos, referencing him once more with the aside: "who, by the way, is a full-grown man."
Attorney G. Robert Gage Jr., representing Dean Skelos, said, "There's no crime here."
Dean Skelos "absolutely loves" his oldest son and endured his challenging teenage years and young adulthood, when the father "had to manage some difficult situations involving his son," Gage said.
Prosecutors said Dean Skelos sought ways to funnel money to his son after promising to help him raise money for a $675,000 home with a pool for his family in 2012.
Gage said "none of the legislation was bought or sold."
The trial coincides with a similar but separate corruption case against one of the state's top Democrats, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Silver has also pleaded not guilty and maintains his innocence.