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Skelos & Son: Focus Of Federal Probe


A federal grand jury is reportedly taking a hard look at business dealings involving New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son.

Back in January, after the arrest of longtime Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on corruption charges, a New York City television station reported that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was looking into outside income the Republican head of the state Senate, Long Island’s Dean Skelos, had received, particularly involving the real estate industry.

A Skelos spokesperson called the WNBC report "irresponsible," and added it did not meet the standards of serious journalism. But the tide is turning, according to WAMC's Political Observer Alan Chartock:   "There once were three men in the room and we heard Preet Bharara talking about those three men in a room. He said it was the basis of the corrupt culture of Albany.  Sheldon Silver has been indicted. Now we're looking at trouble, real trouble, for Dean Skelos."

The New York Times reports the FBI is zeroing in on business dealings involving Skelos’ son, Adam, and whether the elder Skelos exerted any influence to help him. The report says Arizona-based AbTech Industries hired Adam Skelos and was later awarded a storm-water treatment contract in Skelos' home district in Nassau County, even though a different company submitted a lower bid. There's also question surrounding a $20,000 payment Adam received from a title insurance firm he never worked for.

Authorities are also probing whether Adam’s hiring as a consultant was part of a scheme in which the senator, in exchange, would take official action that would benefit AbTech or another company, Glenwood Management, a politically influential real estate developer that has had ties to AbTech.

Based on information from confidential sources, the Times story appeared on line Thursday night. It says no one has been charged with a crime.

Chartock calls the elder Skelos "a very decent fellow."  "He's been in these studios. He's a guy who doesn't have the outward appearances of somebody who you might think could be a crook. But the call of the legislators to do favors for people, to get deals done, especially when you're in the top position in the state Senate, is mighty. And one, of course, is going to see what evidence the government rolls out, but, the leaks to the New York Times that we have seen now, show that there may be some real problems for Skelos and for his son."

According to the Times, investigators have served a number of subpoenas in recent weeks, including several to state senators on Long Island, and federal prosecutors have interviewed people who have had dealings with Adam Skelos. "I said when Sheldon Silver was indicted that you could hear knees rocking together from here to California. Obviously, anybody who has ever done anybody a favor and gotten something back for it, is gonna be now concerned," added Chartock.

Should anything happen to Skelos, it could tip the balance of power in the Senate, where Republicans hold a majority by one vote.

Barbara Bartoletti is Legislative Director for the New York State League of Women Voters.  "Most of the legislators in the legislature are honest, ethical people. It's that the system allows for those people that want to self-aggrandaise or line their pockets, the system allows for that, and it's the system that has to change."

Bartoletti frets these kinds of stories popping up in the headlines could well discourage voters from turning out to cast their ballots.  "For all of the governor's rhetoric about the system of historic reforms in the nation, the culture of corruption in Albany just has very long tentacles, and it continues. And until we have far more comprehensive reforms encompassing both campaign finance and pay-to-play here in Albany, these types of things are gonna continue to flourish."

A request to Skelos for comment was not returned.

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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