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Jury Selection Underway In Malcolm Smith Corruption Trial

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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Prospective jurors in the corruption trial of state Sen. Malcolm Smith were asked Monday if they recognized any names on the witness list.

As WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell reported, nearly all said they knew just one of the names: former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Jury selection began Monday at federal court in White Plains. Smith, a Democrat, is charged with trying to bribe his way onto the Republican Party ballot line in last year’s mayoral election. He allegedly paid off former City Councilman Daniel Halloran and top Republican Party bosses. He needed three of the five county leaders to sign off.

Prosecutors said more than $100,000 changed hands.

Smith is described by federal prosecutors as a prime example of the kind of corruption that pervades Albany. He’s running for re-election despite his legal troubles that could land him in prison.

The judge is aiming to select a jury Monday and procede to opening statements and witnesses Tuesday.

Other names on the witness list include former Republican mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis and former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, Cornell reported.

Halloran and Vincent Tabone, who was vice chairman of the Queens Republican Party, are Smith’s co-defendants in the trial.

Prosecutors say they have a recording of Halloran saying, “That’s politics. It’s all about how much. Not about whether or will. It’s about how much, and that’s our politicians in New York. They’re all like that.”

Halloran is accused of helping to arrange and negotiate the bribes. Prosecutors say Tabone accepted a bribe.

“Smith drew up the game plan, and Councilman Halloran essentially quarterbacked that drive by finding party chairmen who were wide open to receiving bribes,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said when the charges were unveiled.

Court papers have made clear that much of the evidence at the trial will come from about 30 recordings made by an undercover FBI agent known as “Raj” and a cooperating witness.

The witness has been identified as Moses “Mark” Stern, a Rockland County real estate developer. Prosecutors acknowledge that Stern pleaded guilty last year to unspecified federal charges, hoping to win leniency at sentencing.

It’s unclear if Stern will testify. Undercover agents will testify using aliases, and any exhibits that show their faces will be sealed, the judge ruled Friday.

The three defendants have pleaded not guilty. Each faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Halloran has revealed he wants to pursue an insanity defense due to brain surgery he underwent in May of 2012.

Smith’s attorney, Gerald Shargel, said last week that Smith will claim entrapment while denying he authorized bribes.

“For nearly a year, an aggressive FBI agent teamed up with a self-confessed fraudster — in an effort to entrap the senator in a criminal plot, a plot the senator never joined,” Shargel said.

Smith faces several opponents in a Democratic primary and had sought to delay the trial until after his campaign, but Judge Kenneth Karas refused.

Former Republican county chairman in the Bronx, Joseph Savino, pleaded guilty in November to three counts of bribery, conspiracy and wire fraud.

Two other politicians who were arrested with Smith have pleaded guilty: Bronx Republican leader Joseph Savino, who may testify, and Joseph Desmaret, former deputy mayor of Spring Valley.

A sixth defendant, former Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin, is being tried separately. She maintains she’s innocent.

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