State Senator, City Councilman Arrested in Alleged Mayoral Ballot Bribery Scheme

A prominent Democratic state senator and a Republican city councilman from Queens were arrested Tuesday in an alleged plot to get the senator onto the New York City mayoral ballot by paying off GOP county chairmen, authorities said.

Democratic State Sen. Malcolm Smith, City Councilman Dan Halloran and four others were arrested by the FBI Tuesday morning.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Smith "tried to bribe his way to a shot at Gracie Mansion."

Bharara said Smith conceived the plot and Halloran "quarterbacked that drive by finding party chairmen who were wide open to receiving bribes." The charges include conspiracy to bribe, wire fraud and extortion.

Gerald Shargel, Smith's attorney, said after his court appearance, "The allegations in this complaint do not tell the full story.

"We intend to enter a plea of not guilty if and when the indictment is returned."

NBC 4 New York's calls and emails to offices and attorneys of the others arrested were not immediately returned. 

The Democratic field in this year's mayoral race is crowded with several candidates, and getting on the GOP ballot would be a way to sidestep that battle in heavily Democratic New York City. Smith has indicated his interest in running in the Republican primary, but because he is a registered Democrat, he would need to be approved by three of the five county chairmen to get on the primary ballot.

Two Republican county chairmen -- Joseph Savino, of the Bronx, and Vincent Tabone, of Queens -- were among those arrested Tuesday.

Court papers say Smith arranged for a wealthy real estate developer, who was actually an undercover FBI agent, to fund the bribes, and Halloran negotiated the payments to be $40,000, plus promises for $40,000 more. 

In one discussion, according to court papers, Smith is accused of saying "Look, talk to me before you close it. But it's worth it. Because you know how big a deal it is."

Prosecutors say as part of the bribery scheme, Smith also agreed to use his influence to help get state funds for a road construction project that would benefit the fake real estate developer.

FBI New York Director George Venizelos said in a statement that "public service is not supposed to be a shortcut to self-enrichment. .... As alleged, these defendants did not obey the law; they broke the law and the public trust."

Smith was elected to the State Senate in 2000 in a special election. He was elected minority leader in 2007, succeeding David Paterson. He served as leader of the Senate Democrats until 2009 when he was forced out amid an Albany coup.
Last year Smith joined with several Republicans to form a "bipartisan governing coalition."

Halloran took office in 2010 and represents the 19th district in Queens, succeeding Tony Avella.
Halloran is also accused, in the same court papers, of accepting several cash payments totaling more than $35,000, plus $6,500 in campaign contributions, in return for steering a $20,000 grant from the City Council to an FBI witness. 
"That's politics, that's politics, it's all about how much," Halloran is accused of saying in a meeting with the witness. "Not about whether or will, it's about how much, and that's our politicians in New York, they're all like that, all like that."
At a later meeting with the witness, Halloran is accused of telling the witness to get him a tax identification number, name and address of an organization and an application for funding "so that there's no questions, it raises no flags, and everybody's got it the way it's gotta be."
Halloran garnered widespread attention after the Christmas 2010 blizzard when he said five municipal employees told him that workers had engaged in a deliberate slowdown in clearing snow.
The Department of Investigation said later that an exhaustive probe found no evidence of such a slowdown.
Halloran was stripped of his committee assignments and money-allocating authority Tuesday evening. Earlier, Smith was removed from his committee assignments and leadership post in the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference.
Federal officials announced other arrests Tuesday in relation to the road project part of the scheme; those expected to be charged are Democrat Noramie Jasmin, mayor of Spring Valley in Rockland County, and her deputy mayor, Joseph Desmaret. 
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