Prepared Remarks for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara Regarding United States v. Malcolm Smith, et al.

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BHARRARA_PREETApril
2, 2013

Good
morning. My name is Preet Bharara, and I am the United States Attorney for the
Southern District of New York
.

Today
is another sad and disappointing day for every New Yorker who hasn’t yet given
up on the dream of honest government.

The
charges we unseal today demonstrate, once again, that a show-me-the-money
culture seems to pervade every level of New York government.

The
criminal complaint describes an unappetizing smorgasbord of graft and greed
involving six officials who together built a corridor of corruption stretching
from Queens and The Bronx to Rockland County and all the way up to Albany
itself.

It
ensnares Republicans as well as Democrats, elected officials as well as party
leaders, and it details corruption in the City, the suburbs, as well as the
capital.

At
the heart of the allegations is a sitting Democratic senator from Queens –
Malcolm Smith, who believed he could and should be the Mayor of New York City
and who, in service of that ambition, tried to bribe his way to a shot at
Gracie Mansion.

As
the complaint describes, Senator Smith drew up the game plan, and Republican
Councilman Halloran essentially quarterbacked it by finding party chairmen who
were wide open to receiving bribes.

For
his efforts, Halloran – a former New York City police officer – not only
profited handsomely but also harbored dreams of becoming deputy police
commissioner in a Malcolm Smith Administration.

According
to the complaint, the bribes went to top ranking Republican party county
officials in New York City, whose approval was required to let Smith run on the
Republican ballot, which is where he believed he had the best shot to reach the
pinnacle of city government. 

All
told, $80,000 in cash was promised or paid to Bronx Republican party leader
Joseph Savino and Queens leader Vincent Tabone.

Meanwhile,
in Rockland County, both the Mayor and Deputy Mayor are charged with corruption
over a real estate deal that Senator Smith also allegedly agreed to support for
corrupt reasons.

Before
I get into some of the details, let me introduce and thank our partners in this
case. I am joined here today by our partner in this and so many other public
corruption cases, the FBI, led by George Venezilos, the Assistant
Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office, and April Brooks, the Special
Agent-in-Charge of the Criminal Division.

Also
joining me are: Tom Zugibe, the Rockland County District Attorney, and Paul
Modica, Spring Valley Police Chief.

Both
of their offices provided invaluable assistance. I want to commend and thank
the dedicated Special Agents and investigators who worked so hard on this case,
including Thomas Holmes, Julie Brown, William McGrogan, and Timothy Lauzon from
the FBI, and Martin Ancin, the Rockland Count DA’s investigator.

I
also want to commend the outstanding work of the career prosecutors from my
office who have worked so hard on this matter and have conducted a meticulous
and thorough investigation – Assistant United States Attorneys Douglas Bloom
and Alvin Bragg, supervised by Brendan McGuire, Steve Ritchin, Miriam Rocah,
and Perry Carbone.

Now,
let me spend a few minutes describing the specific conduct charged today.

The
complaint sets forth three bribery schemes involving cash payments of tens of
thousands of dollars to elected officials and party leaders. As alleged, the
charged elected officials agreed to direct State, City, and local dollars not
for the public interest, but for their own self-interest.

First,
as I mentioned, the complaint charges a bribery scheme relating to Malcolm
Smith’s efforts to run as a Republican for New York City Mayor.

As
alleged, Malcolm Smith was bent on becoming Mayor of New York City. He was a Democrat
but believed his best shot was to run as a Republican. And that was a problem, because
under a statute known as Wilson-Pakula, Senator Smith needed the green light
from at least three of the five Republican County Party chairmen in order to
qualify for the Republican ballot.

So
what did he do? As charged, he decided to bribe his way onto that ballot.

As
described, Smith broached the subject of his mayoral ambition with two men he
believed were real estate developers and sought their help in influencing the
Republican county chairmen. In fact, these two men were working with the
government – one was an undercover FBI agent and the other was a cooperating
witness.

As
alleged, Smith had repeated recorded conversations with these two men –
sometimes in a hotel room – about making payments to party leaders so that he
could run on the Republican line for Mayor. He allegedly discussed which
chairmen were susceptible to bribes, how much to pay them in total, how much to
pay up front versus after the deed was done, and how to make sure there was “no
trace back” to Smith.

In
return, as described, Senator Smith expressly agreed to direct $500,000 in New
York State funding for improvement of a road that would benefit the supposed
Real Estate Project the two claimed they were putting together in Spring
Valley.

Among
other things, the undercover agent and the cooperating witness approached
Councilman Daniel Halloran – who was a Republican – on Senator Smith’s behalf
to get to those county chairmen. The CW and UC ended up paying over $20,000 to
Councilman Halloran for setting up meetings with Bronx Republican Party
Chairman Joseph Savino and Queens Vice Chairman Vincent Tabone. 

Finally,
this past Valentine’s Day, as described in the complaint, the cash payoffs were
made to Savino and Tabone:

* Specifically, the undercover
paid Tabone $25,000 in cash, in a car, and promised another $25,000 after his
committee formally signed a certificate approving Smith to run as a Republican.

* Savino was a little cheaper –
the undercover paid Savino $15,000 in cash, also in a car, and
promised another $15,000 after he formally signed a similar certificate.

Second,
separate and apart from this bribery scheme, the complaint outlines the latest
scandal involving the corrupt diversion of City Council discretionary funds.

As
alleged, Councilman Halloran also accepted bribes in exchange for agreeing to
steer some of his so-called member item funds to the undercover agent and the
cooperating witness through a company he thought they controlled. 

When
the cooperating witness asked Halloran for $20,000 from the council
discretionary fund, the councilman responded, “Absolutely, that’s easy, that’s
not even an issue, not even an issue…

In
fact, … I might even be able to get you more.”

Ultimately,
as alleged, Councilman Halloran was true to his word and agreed to direct up to
$80,000 to a company he believed was controlled by the undercover agent and
cooperating witness – for no services in return.

In
exchange, Halloran allegedly received more than $18,000 in cash and
approximately $6,500 in campaign contribution checks from straw donors for his
unsuccessful congressional campaign.

Third,
closing out the loop, the complaint alleges that Noramie Jasmin and Joseph
Desmaret – the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Spring Valley – corruptly approved a
sale of property in Spring Valley at the request of the undercover agent and
the cooperating witness. Desmaret accepted more than $10,000 in cash bribes in
exchange for his vote in favor of the sale.

In
exchange for her vote, Jasmin allegedly demanded to be a secret, part owner in
the company that purchased the property from Spring Valley.

That’s
the real estate project that Senator Smith believed he was assisting and
directing money to.

As
recently as March 21st, Senator Smith made it crystal clear that he wanted the
deal done – he wanted the county chairmen on board and he wanted to be Mayor of
New York: “Let’s close the deal,” Smith said.

Now,
the case against these defendants will unfold in federal court, and each is
presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

But
let me make a general point – every New Yorker should be disheartened and
dismayed by the sad state of affairs in our great state.

From
time to time the question arises: how common is corruption in New York?

Based
on the cases we have brought and continue to bring, it seems downright
pervasive. But don’t take my word for it. Consider the words of City Councilman
Daniel Halloran, caught on tape in this case:

* After allegedly receiving a $7,500
cash bribe, he says to the cooperating witness: “Money is what greases the
wheels – good, bad, or indifferent. 

*
During that same meeting, Halloran says, “That’s politics, that’s politics,
it’s all about how
much…and that’s our politicians in New York, they’re all like that, all like
that. And they get like that because of the drive that the money does for
everything else. You can’t do anything without the f***ing money.” And there is
an expletive that precedes “money.”

Those
words should echo in the ears of every New Yorker who still holds on to the
dream of honest government – “that’s our politicians in New York, they’re all
like that.”

After
statements like this and after the string of public corruption scandals that we
continue to expose, many may understandably fear that there is no vote that is
not for sale, no office without a price, and no official clean of corruption.

Many
may understandably resign themselves to the sad truth that perhaps the most
powerful special interest in politics is self-interest.

As I
said once before, every time a politician is arrested in New York, it should
not feel like a scene from Groundhog Day. And yet it does.

Now,
I think that we have the best corruption-fighting team in the business. And we
will continue pursuing and punishing every corrupt official we find.

But
the public corruption crisis in New York is more than a prosecutor’s problem.
Putting dirty politicians in prison may be necessary but it is not sufficient.

And
the dream of honest government cannot come to pass unless there is real change
in the culture.

Because
what can we expect when there continues to be – even after a parade of
politicians have been hauled off to prison – a lack of transparency, a lack of
self-disclosure, a lack of self policing, a lack of will, and a failure of
leadership? What can we expect when transgressions seem to be tolerated and
nothing seems to ever change? New Yorkers should demand more.

Federal
prosecutors and federal agents are doing everything we can to proactively
attack the corruption problem. And it’s time for others to step up also.

eHeziPrepared Remarks for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara Regarding United States v. Malcolm Smith, et al.

Comments 3

  1. Unbelievable how stupid these people are. Bad enough that they think there is nothing wrong with taking cash in an envelope but how could they be arrogant enough to think they weren’t going to get caught? Especially with all the previous prosecutions.

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