A federal judge on Tuesday granted state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) and former Queens County Republican Party official Vincent Tabone a mistrial on federal corruption and fraud charges.
Judge Kenneth Karas granted the defense motion after learning that a juror on the case would be unable to continue to serve if the trial were delayed a few weeks to allow lawyers for Smith and Tabone to receive and review transcripts of conversations that cooperating government witness Moses Stern had with his rabbi. The conversations, many of which transpired in Yiddish, were picked up by FBI listening devices.
Defense attorneys argued that the conversations should have been turned over to them during the pretrial discovery process, during which the government is required to disclose its evidence.
Only former Republican Councilman Dan Halloran from Whitestone will continue with the trial.
The New York Post quoted Halloran’s attorney, Vinoo Varghese, as saying that Halloran is “teetering on bankruptcy” and cannot afford the expense of a second trial.
Karas earlier this month denied a motion from Varghese to allow Halloran to employ an insanity defense based on a 2012 operation the former councilman underwent to remove a benign brain tumor.
In the pretrial stage, Karas rejected a filing from Tabone’s defense team saying that his actions did not fit within the federal definition of fraud.
Smith and Tabone will go on trial again on Jan. 5.
All three were among six arrested in an alleged scheme by Smith, a career Democrat, to bribe his way onto the Republican ballot for mayor last year.
Halloran is accused of accepting tens of thousands of dollars in cash to act as a go-between among Smith and Republican leaders in the city’s five boroughs.
Three of the five county GOP organizations would have had to grant Smith permission to run as a Republican.
Others arrested include former Bronx GOP Chairman Joseph Savino, plus Noramie Jasmin and Joseph Desmaret, the former mayor and deputy mayor, respectively, of upstate Spring Valley.
Savino and Desmaret already have pleaded guilty to lesser charges, with Savino being required to testify if called on.
The Chronicle was unable to determine by deadline how Tuesday’s ruling might affect Jasmin, whose trial was not to start until after those of Smith, Halloran and Tabone.
What is known is that Democratic politics in the 14th Senate District, where Smith is running for re-election, just became a lot more interesting.
Had Smith’s trial continued on its planned course, it would have been over long before the September Democratic primary.
A conviction would have resulted in Smith’s automatic expulsion from the Senate. But his new trial will not begin until a new Senate is seated next year.
The primary ballot is expected to include attorney Munir Avery, former Councilman and former Deputy Borough President Leroy Comrie, retired U.S. Navy officer Bernadette Semple and attorney Clyde Vanel.
Comrie is the overwhelming favorite among the four, with the county party endorsement and a growing list of labor union support.
What should be very telling are campaign finance reports that are required to be filed with the state’s Board of Elections no later than July 15.
Smith’s last filing in January listed about $21,000 cash on hand. But the state Legislature allows its members to use campaign funds for legal expenses.
Even if he has been able to keep donations flowing as a seated, incumbent senator, the key figure will be cash on hand, or money still sitting in the bank.
Much of Smith’s potential war chest is likely going to pay Gerald Shargel, a criminal defense lawyer who enjoys a national reputation.
Comrie’s party and labor support also gives him access to funds and volunteers unavailable to Semple and Avery.
Vanel, on the other hand, should be very well-funded. On his last report to the state, he listed a loan he made to his campaign of $100,000.