Dean Skelos started abusing his power before he even had it.
In her opening statements in the once-mighty politician’s corruption trial, prosecutor Tatiana Martins said Skelos started trying to cash in on his role as Senate Majority Leader even before he officially had the job – and continued brazenly “strong-arming” companies to make payments to his family after he formally got the gig .
“He was the most powerful person in the state senate and one of the most powerful people in the state,” Martins said, and he quickly abused that power “to satisfy personal greed.”
“It wasn’t just wrong. It was not just politics as usual. It was corrupt. It was criminal,” Martins told jurors on Tuesday afternoon.
Skelos, 67, is charged with using extortion and bribery to land his hot-headed son Adam, 33, $300,000 cushy no-show jobs from companies that did business with the state.
“The businesses in this scheme could thrive or fail based on decisions by Albany,” Martins said.
Skelos became Majority Leader in January of 2011 – and started wielding his influence for his family’s benefit a month earlier, when it became clear he was going to get the job, Martins said.
He went to meet with billionaire Glenwood Management founder Leonard Litwin and his chief counsel Charles Dorego to thank them for their support, and to discuss tax breaks that were coming up for renewal in the coming months.
“At the end of the very same meeting, Sen. Skelos asked them to direct title insurance (work) to his son,” Martins said. Adam Skelos had been doing title insurance work, and sales work from Glenwood would mean commissions to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, the prosecutor said.
Dorego was surprised by the request – he didn’t think it would look good for Glenwood to be paying Skelos’s son – and “tried to stall,” Martins said.
The request wasn’t a one off- Skelos asked about a dozen more times in the months that followed.
“Sen. Skelos wouldn’t let it go. He asked meeting, after meeting after meeting,” and as the deadline to renew Glenwood’s tax breaks was fast approaching, Martins said.
Dorego – “who was caught between a rock and a hard place” – came up with a plan to put Adam on the payroll of a company called AbTech, that was partly owned by Litwin’s family. He’d make $4000 a month doing “government relations,” the Assistant US Attorney said.
But the elder Skelos complained his son wasn’t being paid fast enough – so Dorego came up with a plan to get the scion a single $20,000 payment from another title insurance company, which wouldn’t be traceable to Glenwood.
Adam “didn’t have to lift a finger, except to the grab the money,” Martins said.
The Skeloses maintain they didn’t do anything wrong, and the companies gave Adam his jobs because of their respect for his dad, not because they were trying to get anything from the state.
At AbTech, Adam Skelos and his dad helped arrange for the company to get a lucrative multi-million dollar contract with Nassau County – and then threatened to hold the deal up unless Adam Skelos got paid more.
The company relented – and upped his payments to $10,000 a month, Martins said.
When payments to AbTech from Nassau County weren’t moving fast enough, Dean Skelos pressured County Executive Ed Mangano to step up the process- while they were at the wake for slain NYPD officer Wenjian Liu, the prosecutor said.
Dean Skelos also pushed to get his son a job at another company reliant on state business called Physicians Reciprocal Insurers, or PRI, which was run by an old friend of Skelos’s named Anthony Bonomo. He told Bonomo Adam had been having financial problems.
“That wasn’t true at all,” Martins said, noting that Adam had been pulling in excess of $100,000 a year before his scams with his dad, and had just bought a $675,000 house with a pool.
Bonomo offered Adam a $78,000 a year job at PRI, which the ungrateful son would only show up to to put in time sheets, Martins said. When a supervisor complained, he told the man he’d “smash” his head in and he wasn’t “fit to shine my shoes.”
Bonomo called Dean Skelos to tell him what had happened with the supervisor – and Skelos said he should “straighten (the supervisor) out.”
“Bonomo got the message, load and clear,” Martins said. “He had to keep him on the payroll.”
Former US Sen. Al D’Amato even tried to talk to Skelos about the situation – and was told simply that his son needed the job.
Martins said the feds’ case is bolstered by numerous wiretapped phone calls between the father and son, and hundreds of emails. They show that as Skelos’s “power in the Senate grew, Adam Skelos’s wallet grew too.”
Adam Skelos’s lawyer, Christopher Conniff, said his client “isn’t perfect’ and would sometimes “exaggerate” about his influence with his dad, but “he’s not a criminal.” He said the companies wanted to hire him because of his connections.
Dean Skelos’s lawyer, Robert Gage, said the wiretaps show “a typical father-son relationship,” not criminality. He insisted there was no “quid pro quo” for the companies, and noted the tax breaks and other assistance for the companies were consistent with Skelos’s record. “There’s no extortion,” he said.
Martins said that kind of shakedown is a “dream” for a corrupt politician.
“There’s no better scenario than getting bribes for what you would have done anyway,” she said.