Editorial: Dean Skelos and justice in Nassau

The Island Now

The federal appeals panel decision last week overturning the 2015 corruption convictions of former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son, Adam Skelos, may just be a temporary setback for prosecutors seeking to root out the culture of corruption in Albany. Or not.

The appeals panel’s decision, which followed a similar ruling for former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, was based on a finding that the judge’s explanation of an official action was too broad in light of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that narrowed the definition of a corrupt act.

But panel members made it clear that they believed the government’s evidence was still sufficient to establish that there had been a quid pro quo arrangement in three schemes – all of which took place in Nassau County.

Federal prosecutors said that just as they have done with Silver they intend to move quickly to retry Skelos and are confident they will obtain convictions based on what Joon H. Kim, the acting United States attorney in Manhattan, said was “overwhelming evidence.”

If nothing else, the appeals panel’s decision once again reminds voters in New York State in general and Nassau County in particular of the corruption that pervades county and state government — just in time for elections that include the county executive, all 19 members of the county Legislature and leadership of the Town of North Hempstead.

Congressman Tom Suozzi, a Democrat, has taken a small step in the right direction by introducing a bill with Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican, to broaden the definition of  “official acts” by elected officials.

The legislation makes sense, but making sense doesn’t seem to carry much weight with Congress these days.

In New York State, the Legislature continues to do nothing about the so-called LLC loophole, which permits companies doing business with the state to give unlimited amounts of money to the campaigns of elected officials.

The largest user — or abuser — of this loophole just happens to be Glenwood Management, a New Hyde Park-based developer that relied on both Skelos and Silver for hundreds of millions of dollars in tax subsidies for luxury office and residential buildings, mostly in New York City, low-interest, tax-exempt bond financing and favorable rent regulations.

Not so coincidentally, Glenwood and its affiliates have also been the No. 1 campaign contributors in the state, making at least 1,834 contributions worth $13.2 million between 2000 and 2014 to both Democrats and Republicans.

While perfectly legal, the LLC loophole is corruption nonetheless.

Making matters worse is the enormous growth in independent expenditure groups spending unlimited amounts of money on behalf of candidates contributed by donors whose identities are unknown — at least to the public. The groups can support particular candidates, they just can’t coordinate with them. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean.

Both Skelos and Silver were accused of going even further and taking money for themselves or in Skelos’ case, his son Adam, who received a $20,000 payment from Glenwood.

Skelos was also accused of using his position to help AbTech, a company for which his son worked, to win a $12 million storm water treatment contract from Nassau County.

The accounts of Skelos’ schemes are once again moving to the forefront at a time when the issue of corruption is playing a central role in the race for county executive between former state Sen. Jack Martins, a Republican, and Nassau County Legislator Laura Curran, a Democrat.

Martins more or less kicked off his campaign for county executive by joining other Republican legislators in calling for the resignation of Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, a day after Mangano and former Town of Oyster Bay Supervior Joe Venditto, both Republicans, were indicted on charges of political corruption.

Martins has since touted his ability to bring back honest government in Nassau County, while tying Curran to a political consulting firm involved with controversies surrounding New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Bit his narrative has run against a large obstacle — Skelos.

Curran’s campaign has pointed out that the day after Skelos was arrested, Martins blocked a motion from Democrats to remove him from power. And a day later, he signed a letter reaffirming his support for Skelos, saying “I don’t think he let anyone down.”

Martins’ success at the polls could hinge on his ability to convince voters that his ties to Skelos are overstated and he is not part of a culture of corruption in Nassau County.

We hope the outcome of that effort is a just one.

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