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Former NY Senate Leader's Corruption Conviction Overturned

Former New York state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos
Karen DeWitt
Former NYS Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos

Former New York state Senate Leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam saw their federal corruption convictions overturned by a federal appeals court panel Tuesday. Skelos is the second former legislative leader to win his case on appeal in the past two months, after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling revised the laws under which they were convicted.

The men were convicted in December 2015 of extortion and bribery in an alleged scheme by the elder Skelos to use his political influence to steer work and to award a no-show job to his son.

Prosecutors say they will retry Dean and Adam Skelos.

Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Joon Kim, said in a statement that while he is “disappointed” in the decision, there was “overwhelming evidence” that was “more than sufficient to convict Dean and Adam Skelos.”  

Kim replaced U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who oversaw the Skeloses' cases, after Bharara was fired by President Trump.

Kim says the only issue in the appeals panel decision is that the jury instructions were incorrect, because of the recent Supreme Court decision, which involved former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife.  

Susan Lerner, with the government reform group Common Cause, says that’s a key point. 

“We think it is extremely likely that another 12 New Yorkers , will look at this conduct, apply their common sense under this corrected legal standard,” said Lerner. “And they’ll find that this is objectionable conduct yet again.”

It is the second time in recent months that the conviction of a former legislative leader has been overturned on appeal. Former New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in July also saw his 2015 conviction on bribery and kickback charges rescinded. He is also facing re-trial.  

Both former legislative leaders benefited from a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that occurred after their trials. It reversed corruption charges against McDonnell and his wife. The court ruled that federal attorneys had interpreted the law too broadly, and that the jury was not properly instructed on the meaning of an “official act” within the federal bribery statutes.

Dean and Adam Skelos were sentenced to prison terms, of five and six and a half years, respectively. But they have remained free on bail as they awaited the appeal result.

Lerner, with Common Cause, says New York state should enact reforms and make changes to its laws so that the actions by the former legislative leaders are clearly prohibited. She says there “really should never be a question”, when an elected official uses “taxpayer-funded resources” to gain favors for themselves and their family.

“That’s illegal, period,” said Lerner.

State lawmakers have so far not approved a range of reform proposals, including banning outside income for legislators. They have approved a proposal to let a judge decide whether to rescind the pensions of politicians who are convicted of felonies. That measure goes before voters in November.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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