An unlikely pair of Queens politicians were taken away from their homes in handcuffs before dawn Tuesday morning in what U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara called “an unappetizing smorgasbord of graft and greed.”
State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) and Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) were both arrested in an alleged plot to bribe GOP officials in an attempt to gain support for a potential Republican primary candidacy by Smith for mayor this year.
The arrests come only seven months after another Queens politician, former state Sen. Shirley Huntley, was also nabbed, for steering state money to a fake nonprofit.
"After the string of public corruption scandals that we have brought to light, many may rightly resign themselves to the sad truth that perhaps the most powerful special interest in politics is self-interest,” Bharara said Tuesday.
Smith, a former majority leader of the state Senate, who acted as lieutenant governor of New York for a short time in 2008, was until Tuesday chairman of the Independent Democratic Caucus, which governs the state Senate in a coalition with Republicans. Halloran was elected to the City Council in 2009, replacing now-state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), and is up for re-election this year.
The bipartisan duo is accused, along with four others including Deputy Queens GOP Chairman Vince Tabone, Chairman of the Bronx Republican Party Joseph Savino and two upstate Democratic politicians, of trying to bribe officials into allowing Smith to gain a Wilson Pakula — an agreement that he can run on the Republican line for mayor even though he is a registered Democrat. The ensuing scandal allegedly led to a web of corruption that stretched to Rockland County and took down a half dozen politicians there, the Bronx and in Queens.
At the heart of the alleged conspiracy was Smith’s attempt to run for mayor this year on the Republican line. State law requires Smith, a Democrat, to obtain a Wilson-Pakula — basically a permit from county party organizations — in order to run in the GOP primary. In order to do that, Smith and Halloran, one of only two elected Republicans in Queens, allegedly bribed Tabone and Savino to obtain both county organizations support for Smith.
The FBI investigated the scheme through an undercover agent who posed as a developer and a cooperating witness. In exchange for access to Queens and Bronx Republicans, Smith allegedly promised to allocate state money toward a development project in Spring Valley in Rockland County. The mayor and deputy mayor of that town were the two other suspects arrested.
According to Bharara’s office, Tabone was allegedly given $25,000 in bribes from Smith in order to gain the Queens GOP’s support for mayor. In helping Smith gain access, Halloran allegedly received more than $20,000 in bribes.
The entire scheme occurred over a five-month period beginning in November, with the last deal in the indictment allegedly occurring on March 21.
At one point, the indictment alleges, Tabone was concerned about the possibility of law enforcement uncovering the plot. He allegedly frisked the undercover agent looking for a recording device, but didn’t find one.
The agent was, however, wearing one at the time.
Smith is charged with a count of conspiracy to bribe elected officials, wire fraud and extortion. Halloran is charged with a count of conspiracy to bribe elected officials and two counts of wire fraud, while Tabone is charged with one count of conspiracy to bribe elected officials and one count of wire fraud.
They were released Tuesday afternoon on $250,000 bail each and will return to federal court in White Plains on April 23.
The full text of the federal complaint is attached.