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Queens Chronicle

Sen. Malcolm Smith sought GOP mayoral nod in bribe scandal

28-page complaint alleges effort to bribe GOP officials for mayoral run

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Posted: Thursday, April 4, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:33 am, Thu Apr 11, 2013.

State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) and his close associates, both political and personal, appear to be keeping a low profile since Tuesday morning, when the seven-term senator was arrested on federal charges that include bribery, wire fraud and conspiracy.

Smith, 56, was arrested at his home in Queens by FBI agents as the result of a 28-page federal complaint charging him with attempting to bribe two city Republican officials in an effort to secure the Republican nomination for mayor.

The FBI complaint states that between mid-November and March 21, Smith also offered to secure state transportation funding for an undercover FBI agent posing as a wealthy real estate developer in return for the agent’s help in paying up to $200,000 to get GOP county chairmen in the city to sign off on his candidacy for mayor.

Also arrested for their roles in the alleged schemes were city Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), Queens County Republican Party official Vincent Tabone, Bronx Republican Chairman Joseph Savino, and Mayor Noramie Jasmin and Deputy Mayor Joseph Desmaret of upstate Spring Valley, NY.

A statement issued by the office of Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of new York, said Smith could face up to 20 years apiece for wire fraud and extortion in violation of the Hobbs Act, which governs official corruption; and up to five years for bribery and conspiracy under the federal Wire Fraud and Travel Act.

Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said Tuesday people should wait for the facts of the case to play out.

“I’ll continue to pray for Malcolm and his family,” Comrie said.

In Halloran’s case, Comrie, the dean of the Queens delegation on the City Council, said the Whitestone councilman can continue to serve unless he is ultimately convicted or resigns his seat, and that Halloran and his staff can continue to conduct the people’s business in their district.

Constituents calling Smith’s offices in Hollis and Albany on Tuesday would have been greeted by one ring before an automated voice mail system told them to leave a message.

Messages left by the Chronicle at both offices were not returned. Nor were messages to attorney Gerald Shargel, a high-powered Manhattan defense lawyer representing Smith, and the senator’s spokeswoman.

By comparison, the office of state Senate co-President Jeff Klein (D-Bronx, Westchester) acted swiftly to strip Smith of his committee assignments and his leadership position with the Independent Democratic Conference.

“These are very serious allegations that, if true, constitute a clear betrayal of the public trust,” Klein said in his statement. Prior to Tuesday the IDC was at the center of Smith’s most recent high-profile controversy.

In November, Democrats won a nominal majority in the new state Senate.

But in December, Smith, who had been re-elected in November as a Democrat, opted to join the IDC, a group of breakaway Democrats who helped Senate Republicans retain a controlling interest in the chamber, which they have had for more than four decades with the exception of 2009-10.

Smith spent a good deal of time as majority leader during that time, and the IDC was formed in part by Democrats looking to put a check on his power.

Smith’s joining the IDC in December helped fuel early rumors that he might seek to run for mayor as a Republican, given a crowded field of high-profile Democrats.

Messages left with the Albany office of Republican Senate Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau) seeking comment were not returned.

Several people in Jamaica and Hollis accused Smith of betraying the voters in a district that is overwhelmingly Democratic, foremost among them the Rev. Charles Norris Sr., pastor emeritus of Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church in Jamaica and a long-time community activist.

Norris, who could not be reached on Tuesday, back in December called on Smith to resign.

Klein suggested as much in his statement on Tuesday.

He said given the level of criminality alleged, “that Senator Smith should consider seriously whether or not he can continue to effectively serve his constituents.”

In a twist, Klein stated that if the charges are true Smith will have “breached the trust of the Independent Democratic Conference.”

Nor is the criminal complaint the first time Smith’s conduct has been questioned.

He was cited by the Daily News as being a “central figure” in a bid-rigging investigation surrounding an initial and quickly nullified awarding of the franchise to run the racino at Aqueduct Racetrack.

He also came under scrutiny in connection with the New Direction Local Development Corp., a nonprofit organization that he and U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Queens, Nassau) have been connected with.

The foundation was questioned about what happened to the lion’s share of about $31,000 that ostensibly had been collected to help victims of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast in 2005.

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