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Queens Chronicle

Smith lawyer: Move trial to after primary

Shargel says it helps fair election; second co-defendant pleads guilty

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Posted: Thursday, February 6, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 1:47 am, Thu Feb 13, 2014.

The lawyer for state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) will ask a federal judge to postpone the senator’s federal corruption trial until after this year’s Democratic primary.

In a hearing in federal court in White Plans on Friday morning, Attorney Gerald Shargel told federal Judge Kenneth Karas that he will submit his request to the court in writing on Feb. 7.

“We want voters to have the opportunity to make a decision by casting their vote in a calm, dispassionate way,” Shargel said in a telephone interview on Friday afternoon. “That is in the obvious interest of the public. Malcolm Smith has a long history in that district, and we just want a fair election unfettered by a criminal case.”

Smith, former Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) and four others were arrested last April in connection with allegations that Smith tried to bribe New York City Republican officials to approve him for last year’s Republican ballot for mayor.

The trial is tentatively scheduled to begin in June, with the Democratic primary in September. Attorneys Clyde Vanel and Munir Avery already have launched campaigns to unseat him.

Shargel said prosecutors raised questions about the remaining defendants’ right to a speedy trial, but that the other attorneys appeared to have no objection.

In related news this week, former Deputy Mayor Joseph Desmaret of the upstate Village of Spring Valley became the second of the original six defendants to plead guilty and avoid a trial.

Desmaret admitted to accepting $10,500 to support the sale of village land to an undercover FBI agent who he believed was a developer. He signed the six-page agreement last Tuesday.

Desmaret also was accused of agreeing to steer state transportation funding — allegedly to have been secured by Smith — for the agent’s company.

While he technically faces up to 40 years, the plea agreement states that nonbinding guidelines taking into account his guilty plea and lack of a criminal record could reduce his sentence to just over seven.

His arrest and that of former Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin are claimed by prosecutors to be an offshoot of the alleged plot involving Smith and Halloran.

Former Queens Republican Party Vice Chairman Vince Tabone, along with Smith, Halloran and Jasmin, still face federal charges.

Former Bronx GOP Chairman Joseph Savino pleaded guilty in November to bribery, conspiracy and wire fraud.

In a statement issued by his office following Desmaret’s plea, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said public service is a privilege and should be treated that way.

“Every politician needs to understand that they hold office to serve the public, not themselves, and that those who violate the trust placed in them by the people do so at the risk of ending their careers behind bars,” he said.

Desmaret’s deal does not appear to specifically state that he must or will cooperate in the government’s case against the remaining defendants. Savino’s does, and includes the threat of criminal prosecution should he not cooperate completely and truthfully when required to do so.

A spokesman for Bharara’s White Plains office said it was almost certainly a coincidence that Desmaret’s agreement was signed three days before a scheduled conference in White Plains between prosecutors and attorneys for Halloran and Smith, as their Jan. 31 court date was scheduled several weeks ago.

All were arrested on charges stemming from allegations that Smith attempted to secure so-called “Wilson-Pakula” certificates from at least three of the city’s five county Republican committees.

The documents would have allowed him to switch parties and run for mayor as a Republican.

Smith, who already has formed his re-election committee for the fall, allegedly was offering both cash and state funding for pet transportation projects in return for support.

Halloran, who did not seek re-election last November, is accused of pocketing bribes — up to $45,000 according to some published sources — to act as a go-between with Smith and GOP leaders, as well as other activities not linked to Smith.

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