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Dean Skelos Under Investigation?

Composite Image by Dave Lucas (WAMC)

A week after the New York State Assembly Speaker wound up in handcuffs, a report today suggests the Senate Majority Leader could be next.

The writing may have been on the wall for years, but it was largely ignored, until U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara began looking into money New York legislators make while "moonlighting." Governor Andrew Cuomo may have unintentionally let the genie out of the bottle when he shut the Moreland Commission down and Bharara picked up the ball.

Last week, Bharara's probing led to the downfall of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who faces federal corruption charges and will be ousted as speaker. A report from WNBC-New York claims Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, the state’s top Republican, is next in line.

A spokesperson for the Long Island Republican, in a statement, said “last night's thinly-sourced report by WNBC is irresponsible, and does not meet the standards of serious journalism. Senator Skelos has not been contacted by anyone from the U.S. Attorney's Office. As such, we won't be commenting further."

Barbara Bartoletti is Legislative Director for the New York State League of Women Voters.   "All of this has consequences, not only to taxpayers, but to injuring, perhaps permanently, any trust the citizens of New York have in their government."

To WAMC's Political Observer Alan Chartock, Bharara may have set into motion "prosecution by example."

"Meaning, if you go after the two top leaders, if it's tru that they're going after Dean Skelos and they're investigating him for taking money via his law practice, the, in fact, you are saying to everybody else, (remember a quarter of the Assembly are practicing lawyers, and a lot of them are so-called 'consultants') and so this IS the 'Culture of Corruption,' and up until now that has never been defined as being illegal. It's always been 'tsk tsk isn't that terrible? Shelly Sliver works for this law firm, and all of that.' In fact, now, along comes the fighting U.S. attorney, Preeet Bharara and he says at the top of his voice, 'Nope, stop, go no further, we know that if you're taking all of this money, we're gonna take a careful look at it and see if it's really a payoff.'  Once that's done , and if you do it to the two leaders of both the House and Senate, then you have basically sent a signal to everyone else."

Citizen Action of NY Executive Director Karen Scharff urges legislators to strike while the iron is hot.  "Now is the time to pass the Moreland Commission's number one recommendation, public funding of elections. A small donor matching system is the only way to change the pay to play culture of Albany. The governor can make up for shutting down Moreland by standing up to Senator Skelos and insisting on including public funding of elections in this year's budget."

Bartoletti sees the Silver episode as a "tipping point."     "Don't forget, since 2000 there have been approximately 30 legislators that have been under indictment, convicted, gone to jail, etc., so I don't think anybody can dispute the need for reform."

She adds there needs to be a political will. Chartock expects "things are gonna really open up."    "There are a lotta knees knocking in Albany right now. There are a lot of hands shaking. There are people who know that they've done exactly the same thing. And I would expect that some of them are gonna beat their path thru the snow to the federal authorities, the prosecuting authorities, Preeet Bharara and say 'Boy, I'll tell ya, I got a lotta stuff here, I'll give it to you but then you have to leave me alone.' That is done in law enforcement all the time, those kind of deals, and I expect it's gonna happen now."

As Bharara put it last week, "stay tuned."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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