A key player in the alleged bribery scheme that has ensnared state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) and Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) pleaded guilty for his role in the alleged conspiracy on Tuesday.
Former Bronx Republican Chairman Joseph Savino pleaded guilty to bribery, conspiracy and wire fraud, in federal court in White Plains according to court records obtained by the Chronicle.
Savino admitted to taking $15,000 from an undercover FBI agent, and subsequently meeting with Halloran and a cooperating federal witness this past February.
A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Wednesday that prosecutors would not be issuing any statements regarding Savino’s plea.
Under his agreement with the government, Savino will, among other requirements, testify truthfully before any court proceedings at the request of the U.S. Attorney’s office, likely including the Smith-Halloran case; and file amended tax returns for the years 2005 to 2012.
He may be subject to prosecution for tax-related crimes, but no information given during any testimony can be used in any tax proceedings.
While the agreement does not protect Savino from prosecution for crimes unrelated to the current federal complaint, he also will not be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney for anything but tax violations related to: the 2013 mayoral matter; benefits he received in return for official action in 2009; misappropriation of Bronx GOP funds over an approximately eight-year period between 2005 and 2013; and registering to vote in the Bronx while living in Rockland County.
Smith is accused of trying to bribe Savino and other Republican officials in an attempt to get his name on the Republican line for the city’s mayoral race this year.
Being a registered Democrat, Smith would have required the approval of three of the city’s five county Republican committees in the form of so-called “Wilson-Pakula” letters mandated under state law in order to get on the ballot of a different party.
Smith is alleged to have offered cash bribes and state funding for transportation projects in return for support.
Halloran is charged with receiving $45,000 in bribes to act as a go-between with Smith and GOP leaders, as well as other acts not directly linked to the senator.
While Savino could face up to 30 years in prison, the agreement allows the judge to take his level of cooperation into consideration when he is sentenced.
Former Queens County Republican Vice Chairman Vincent Tabone also has been charged in connection with the alleged scheme, as have former Mayor Noramie Jasmin and former Deputy Mayor Joseph Desmaret of upstate Spring Valley.
Vinoo Varghese, Halloran’s attorney, declined to comment in a response to an email from the Chronicle. Attorney Gerald Shargel, representing Smith, likewise did not respond to a request for comment.
Attorneys Grant Lally and Deborah Misir of Mineola, LI, who are defending Tabone, have filed a 53-page motion to dismiss all charges against their client that is scheduled to be argued on Dec. 5.
In a telephone interview on Tuesday, they said that they are not concerned that Savino might possibly make statements damaging to their client.
“Apparently in his allocution [Savino] didn’t implicate our client in any wrongdoing, and I am confident that our motion to dismiss on Dec. 5 will be upheld and the case dismissed completely.”
Tabone is accused of accepting $25,000 outside of a Manhattan restaurant last Feb. 14.
The federal complaint alleges that at one point during their meeting Tabone frisked the undercover FBI agent to make sure he was not wearing a wire.
The government asserts that the agent was recording the conversation.
The crux of Tabone’s motion to dismiss, according to his legal team, is that the government has no basis for charging him under the statutes they cite in the complaint, particularly the “honest services” fraud provisions of state and federal law.
Misir said Tabone is neither an elected official nor was he paid for his position as party vice chairman. She and Lally claim, therefore, that the government cannot establish the fiduciary responsibility required under the law.
They also said that any applicable state law does not apply to Wilson-Pakula certificates.
Lally said that taking the government’s case at face value “which we don’t,” Bharara’s office theoretically could attempt to police the inner workings of any local Kiwanis clubs, Scout troops or other organizations run by volunteers.
“It’s a very flawed case,” Misir said.