NEW YORK (AP) — A once-powerful New York politician convicted of using his position as Senate majority leader to pressure companies to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars for his son was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison, the latest in a spate of corruption cases that have roiled Albany.
The sentence for Dean Skelos was significantly lower than prosecutors had asked for, and the judge noted that the dollar value in the case “pales in comparison” to that of New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison in his bribery case this month.
But, U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood told Skelos: “The effect of your crime has much in common with him.” She calculated the total dollar amount loss of his crime at $680,120, and she fined him $500,000.
Skelos’ son, Adam, was sentenced 6.5 years later Thursday. Both were convicted last year of extortion, fraud and bribery.
The dynamics of their 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.
“I wish I could answer that question,” Gage said. “I certainly wish it had not happened.”
Dean Skelos, 68, told the judge that the convictions had destroyed his reputation and asked for leniency for his son.
“It is heartbreaking to stand before you,” he told the judge. “Somewhere along the way my judgment became clouded.”
The son said he was deeply embarrassed by his actions and regretted what he had done. He choked up as he spoke about his relationship with his father.
“I love him more than anyone in the world,” Adam Skelos, 33, said as his father wiped his own eyes.
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.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, “These sentences show there is zero tolerance for those who use public service for private gain. Today, the guilty were punished and justice prevailed.”
Prosecutors said in court papers that the father and son 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.
On one tape, jurors heard Adam Skelos snapping at a supervisor on the no-show job and saying, “Guys like you aren’t fit to shine my shoes.” In another, the senator coached his son about the need for discretion amid the state capital’s ongoing corruption scandal, saying, “Right now we’re in dangerous times, Adam.”
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. The defense took a similar position in court papers seeking probation instead of prison time for both defendants.
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.
The father and son “have fed the public’s worst fears and suspicions about their government: that our elected officials are not looking out for the public good, but instead looking out only for ways to turn the immense power entrusted in them into personal profit,” prosecutors wrote. “At a time when the public’s trust in their government is at an all-time low, Dean and Adam Skelos, through their conduct and their words, have managed to lower the bar even further.”
Skelos and Silver were among a group dubbed the “three men in a room” in Albany, a nod to the long-standing practice of legislative leaders and the governor negotiating key bills behind closed doors. They were the highest ranking of the more than 30 lawmakers who have left office facing criminal charges or allegations of ethical misconduct since 2000.