By Kelsey Durham
Queens had mixed reactions to the conviction of former City Councilman Dan Halloran, who was found guilty this week of accepting bribes and plotting to pay Republican power brokers to support state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) as the GOP candidate in the 2013 mayoral race.
Although the trial lasted nearly two months, the 11-member jury took less than an hour and a half to convict the former northeast Queens lawmaker of all charges against him, including two counts of wire fraud, two counts of travel act bribery and one count of conspiracy.
“It’s a tragedy and I’m very saddened by it,” said former U.S. Rep. Bob Turner, a Republican leader from the Rockaways, who said he was not surprised by the verdict.
Halloran faces up to 45 years in prison and could be fined as much as $250,000 when sentenced Dec. 12, according to prosecutors in federal court in White Plains, N.Y.
Vinoo Varghese, Halloran’s attorney, said after the verdict that he planned to appeal, if necessary.
“We are obviously disappointed in the verdict,” he said. “We accept the verdict and we respect the system, but the jury got it wrong.”
Halloran, who represented Bayside, College Point and Whitestone from 2010-13, was arrested in April 2013 after an undercover FBI operation revealed that he helped two men, whom he believed to be real estate developers, orchestrate a kick-back scheme to send city money from discretionary funding to a fake charity, enabling them to pocket the funds in the end.
It was later revealed that both men, Moses “Mark” Stern, and an undercover agent known as “Raj” were working with federal authorities.
Halloran was also convicted of arranging bribes for GOP chairmen in Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx in an attempt to win their support for running Smith, a Democrat, on the Republican line for mayor.
Vince Tabone, former vice chairman of the Queens GOP, was also arrested last year for allegedly accepting a $25,000 bribe to support Smith, and Bronx GOP Chairman Joseph Savino was accused of accepting a $15,000 bribe and agreeing to take another $15,000 after he voted to put Smith on the Republican ticket.
Tabone and Smith are awaiting a trial set to start in January, and Savino pleaded guilty in November to accepting bribes in exchange for supporting Smith.
Tabone’s attorney, Leo Ahern, said he did not think the outcome of Halloran’s case would affect his own client’s trial because the two cases are “dramatically different.”
“Each one of these cases can stand or fall on its own merits,” Ahern said. “As I advertised to the first jury, [Tabone] was at a meeting where there was passing of money, but other than that, he was not involved in the planning and edificing that Mr. Halloran was.”
The third county chairman Halloran targeted with bribes, Dan Isaacs of Manhattan, did not accept any money and was not charged by federal prosecutors.
Throughout the trial, Varghese maintained that his client was innocent because he continuously acted in “good faith” and came close to the line but never crossed it into doing something illegal.
Varghese accused prosecutors of cherry-picking sections of conversations, recorded by Stern and Raj, to make Halloran look guilty of crimes he did not commit.
The defense attorney also attacked the credibility of the two men the FBI used as undercover operatives, calling Stern a “four-and-a-half-century fraudster” in reference to the 455 years in prison he is currently facing in an unrelated case and calling the FBI agent a “professional liar” who gets paid to fool people while working undercover.
Halloran said during his 5 1/2-day appearance on the witness stand that the money he accepted from Stern and Raj during the discretionary funding scheme was either personal loans or fees for his services as a political consultant.
Varghese also said Halloran was unaware of any bribes that were offered to GOP leaders and instead told jurors he was only looking to use political leverage to get them to support Smith’s run as a Republican candidate.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the guilty verdict would contribute to a larger effort to clean up New York’s political corruption.
“As the jury unanimously found, Daniel Halloran played a key role in two distinct political corruption schemes,” Bharara said. “Halloran was the lone defendant in the trial that just ended in his conviction, but he is unfortunately not alone in a crowded field of New York officials who are willing to sell out their offices for self-enrichment.”
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who represents the area Halloran formerly served in Council, said the decision sends a clear message that the political process is “not for sale.”
“Those who abuse their positions in public office must be held accountable and held to the highest standard possible,” Avella said.
Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at [email protected].