BY NATALIA KOZIKOWSKA
State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) and City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) were taken from their homes in handcuffs early Tuesday morning. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the prominent pair of politicians were arrested for attempting to rig this year’s mayoral election by paying Smith’s way onto the ballot.
Investigators also nabbed four others in the corruption case, including Bronx Republican Chairman Jay Savino, Queens GOP vice chairman Vincent Tabone, the mayor of the Rockland County village of Spring Valley, Noramie Jasmin, and her deputy, Joseph Desmaret.
According to the unsealed 28-page criminal complaint, Smith, who had avidly denied he was a Republican in a Jan. 30 town hall meeting, was considering running for mayor on the GOP ticket and made payments to Halloran in exchange for setting up meetings with Republican leaders to gain their support.
The charges claim that Smith agreed with a confidential cooperating witness and an FBI agent posing as a wealthy real estate developer to bribe Republicans leaders to obtain a Wilson Pakula – an authorization given by a political party to a candidate for public office which allows the candidate who is not registered with that party to run on its ticket for an election.
According to a statement released by Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan who is prosecuting the case, the Senator allegedly arranged for cash bribes totaling $40,000 to be paid to Tabone and Savino.
Halloran is accused of arranging a meeting with the FBI agent, the cooperating witness, Savino and Tabone and negotiating the amounts of the bribes for the Wilson Pakula certificates. In exchange, the councilman pocketed $20,500 for himself.
The complaint details a series of shady meetings at diners, hotels and cars between the defendants, the undercover agent and the cooperating witness.
In one incident, Smith met with the agent in a Manhattan hotel. The agent promised to arrange a meeting with an undisclosed county chairman and Savino, during which they would negotiate support for Smith as a Republican candidate for mayor.
“You pull this off, you can have the house…I’ll be the tenant,” Smith allegedly told him.
A number of other secret meetings were also documented in the complaint, detailing recorded conversations in which all six defendants implicated themselves in the corruption scheme.
In one instance, Halloran is even quoted as saying, “That’s politics, that’s politics, it’s all about how much. Not whether or will, it’s about how much, and that’s our politicians in New York, they’re 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.”
Facing the Music
Hours after being taken away by feds from their respective homes, Smith and Halloran, as well as the other four defendants, appeared in front of a judge in White Plains.
The arraignment was presided over by Judge Lisa Margaret Smith and the case is being handled by the Office’s White Plains Division and Public Corruption Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Douglas Bloom and Alvin Bragg are in charge of the prosecution.
The judge set bail for each at $250,000 and confiscated all of their passports. Halloran was also ordered to surrender all of the firearms he owned.
Smith is being brought up on charges of wire fraud and Travel Act bribery conspiracy, wire fraud and Hobbs Act. If he is found guilty of all charges, he faces up to 45 years in prison.
Gerald Shargel, Smith’s defense lawyer, gave a brief statement to the press, denouncing the charges.
“There is much more to this story. I ask anyone reading this or reading about this to withhold judgment,” Shargel said. “We plan to enter a plea of not guilty if and when an indictment is returned.”
Shargel also said the senator has “no plans on resigning.”
Halloran is being brought up on charges of wire fraud and Travel Act bribery conspiracy and two counts of wire fraud. If convicted, he also faces up to 45 years in prison.
Although the councilman did not speak at the hearing, his press office did release a statement which was also posted on his Facebook page.
“The councilman denies the allegations and looks forward to clearing his name,” the statement read. “When the full story comes out he is confident that he will be vindicated.”
By Wednesday afternoon, the Facebook post had more than 150 likes.
All defendants will have a preliminary hearing on April 23. Both Smith and Halloran have been stripped of their committee assignments and the power to allocate funds.
Multiple Republican leaders expressed shock when they heard the allegations against Halloran.
“He never struck me as a person who gets involved in outer borough politics like this,” Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said. “The Dan Halloran I know is not the Dan Halloran I’m hearing about in the newspapers.”
Although Ulrich said he was surprised by Halloran’s involvement, he did admit he was not nearly as stunned to hear that Smith and the others could be involved in the scheme. He referred to the other defendants as “knuckleheads” and expressed a need for change in New York City politics.
“This totally confirmed what I’ve known all along,” Ulrich said. “We need a house cleaning.”
Prominent Queens Republican Tom Ognibene also seemed taken aback by the news of Halloran’s arrest. He said he feared that there might be problems within the GOP as a result.
Halloran, who was running for reelection for the 19th City Council district, also drew criticism from some of his potential opponents.
“The shock to me is the arrogance. I’ve seen it happen over and over and people never learn their lesson,” said candidate Paul Graziano in a statement. “The reason I jumped into the race for the 19th Council District is because I saw a lot of things being done by Dan Halloran that I thought were inappropriate.”
“These are serious and disturbing charges from the FBI which need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said candidate Austin Shafran in a statement. “Public service is a privilege, and violations of the public’s trust cannot be tolerated. Anyone involved in this scandal should immediately come clean because the people deserve to know the truth so justice can be done.”
Rev. Floyd Flake, a former congressman and prominent leader in southeast Queens was also saddened by the news of Smith’s arrest. Flake, who is a personal friend of the senator and his pastor, said he was disappointed by the allegations.
“No one can be above the law and nothing is worth the price of selling your soul,” Flake said. “If this is actually correct, then he sold his soul.”
Reporters Luis Gronda and Joe Marvilli contributed to this report.
Reach Reporter Natalia Kozikowska at (718)357-7400 Ext. 123 or email@example.com.