NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Former New York Senate Leader Dean Skelos, a once-powerful politician convicted of using his position to pressure companies to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars for his son, was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison.
As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported, Skelos was stonefaced as he entered the courthouse to hear his sentence Thursday, and perhaps to reflect on his downfall. Just a year before he was charged, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office used a picture of the governor, Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver as the powerful “three amigos,” also known as the “three men in a room,” who ruled Albany.
But Skelos has now joined Silver in the corruption hall of shame.
“The days of using your public office for private gain should be over,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “If you do that, you face time in the slammer.”
Skelos’ sentence was significantly lower than what prosecutors had asked for, and the judge noted that the dollar value in the case “pales in comparison” to that of Silver, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison in his bribery case this month.
PHOTOS: Dean Skelos And Son Sentenced
But U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood told Skelos that “the effect of your crime has much in common with him.”
“You have caused immeasurable damage to New Yorkers’ confidence in the integrity of government,” she said.
Skelos told Judge Wood that it was “heartbreaking” to stand before her.
“I am deeply remorseful,” Skelos said. “I destroyed my reputation, which I worked so hard to earn.”
But Wood said, “You began to ignore what I would call your moral compass.”
Wood calculated the total dollar amount loss of Skelos’ crime at $680,120, and she fined him $500,000. She also ordered him to forfeit over $300,000.
The judge said Skelos “repeatedly threatened and pressured” large constituents to help his son, portraying him as destitute even while he was earning over $200,000 annually.
Skelos’ son, Adam, was also sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison. Both were convicted in December of extortion, fraud and bribery.
The dynamics of the Skeloses’ father-son relationship took center stage at the sentencing hearing.
Wood interrupted attorney G. Robert Gage as he spoke on behalf of the Long Island Republican to ask why the father did not reach out to his many friends to help find his son a job rather than use his position to extort companies.
Adam Skelos said through tears: “I’m sorry. I was selfish and reckless and I know all of you have been hurt because of me.”
The younger Skelos also choked up as he spoke about his relationship with his father.
“I love him more than anyone in the world,” Adam Skelos said as his father wiped his own eyes.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Masimore said it didn’t matter that the father and the son were blinded by their love for each other when they committed their crimes. He said that would be like robbing a bank and then saying it was done for the benefit of the family.
“It is a sad day for the state of New York and the people of New York as well,” Masimore said. “Dean Skelos knew better. He knew better than to do this.”
And Judge Wood said called Adam Skelos “bullying” and “appalling” before pronouncing his sentence.
Prosecutors said in court papers that Dean and Adam Skelos sought more than $760,000 in extortion payments, bribes and gratuities and ultimately succeeded in obtaining more than $334,000 to line their family’s pockets.
At trial, the government had accused the elder Skelos of strong-arming three companies with a stake in state legislation — a major real estate developer, an environmental technology company and a medical malpractice insurer — into giving his son about $300,000 through consulting work, a no-show job and a payment of $20,000.
The scheme unraveled when investigators began recording phone calls between the father and son.
Defense attorneys argued at trial that the tapes and other evidence showed only that Dean Skelos was a devoted father looking out for his son, and that overzealous prosecutors were overreaching.
Dean Skelos’ conviction “represents a complete aberration in an otherwise extraordinary and honorable record of service,” the papers say. “Tragically, the conduct which led to his conviction was fundamentally driven by Dean’s love and concern for his only son — a love that is the hallmark of his family life.”
A government filing had demanded a stiff sentence near or within advisory guidelines of roughly 12 to 15 years for Dean Skelos and 10 to 12 years for Adam. Defense attorneys asked for probation.
Gov. Cuomo released a statement supporting the sentences issued Thursday.
“These sentences show there is zero tolerance for those who use public service for private gain. Today, the guilty were punished and justice prevailed,” Cuomo said in a statement.
The Skelos convictions were two more notches on the belt of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. In a statement, Bharara said, “The people of New York deserve better.”
“In the span of just 16 months, we have seen the arrest, prosecution, conviction, and sentencing of both leaders of the New York State legislature,” Bharara said. “The nearly simultaneous convictions of Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, whose corruption crimes were laid bare during fair and public trials, have no precedent.”
Bharara also said, “The most effective corruption investigations are those that are… not in danger… of interference or premature shutdown.” It was a clear slam at Cuomo, who established and then suddenly abandoned a corruption commission two years ago.
Federal are now investigators are looking into Cuomo’s office and potential conflicts of interest surrounding a massive upstate development project. The governor’s office says it has hired an investigator to look into any wrongdoing.
When the Skeloses left court on Thursday, cameras swarmed, and a family member, Billy Skelos, was arrested by police and charged with assault for grabbing a reporter’s phone and flinging it across the street.
Dean Skelos will still be granted his pension of roughly $95,000 a year. Current pension forfeiture law effects only public officials who took office after 2011.
The judge will soon decide whether Dean and Adam Skelos can remain out of prison on bail while a higher court considers their appeal.
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