Prosecutors sum up their bribery case against former Councilman Halloran

By Kelsey Durham

Eight weeks after the proceedings first opened, attorneys began presenting their summations and closing statements Friday in a federal corruption case against former City Councilman Dan Halloran.

Prosecutor Justin Anderson took about 2 1/2 hours to reintroduce the 11-member jury to each piece of evidence the federal government had presented against Halloran, who is facing a lengthy indictment alleging that he accepted bribes in exchange for funneling city money from discretionary funding to two men who were later revealed to be undercover FBI operatives. He is also facing bribery charges in a scheme to pay off GOP powerhouses across the city to support running state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) on the Republican ticket in the 2013 mayoral race.

In the federal courthouse in White Plains, N.Y., Anderson replayed several recordings, taped by an undercover FBI agent, that the prosecution alleges proves Halloran’s guilt.

“This speaks volumes about the critical role Halloran played in bribing Republican leaders to throw their support behind Malcolm Smith,” Anderson said.

Halloran testified at his trial that the money he accepted, both in the discretionary funding scheme and the alleged bribes involving Smith, was in the form of personal loans for fees for his professional services as a lawyer or political consultant. But Anderson asked the jurors to rethink Halloran’s week-long testimony and consider its credibility, contending that Halloran created a web of “after-the-fact” stories to cover up his crimes.

Halloran represented northeast Queens in the Council but decided not to seek another term after his indictment last year.

After the jurors agreed to stay an extra hour Friday, Halloran’s attorney, Vinoo Varghese, got through 90 minutes of his summations before court adjourned for the day, breaking just after Varghese finished replaying his defense of the charges involving the discretionary funding kickback scheme.

Varghese maintained his client’s innocence by stating he never actually accepted any money from the two FBI operatives because Halloran did not intend to orchestrate a bribery scheme. Instead, Varghese said, he falsely promised money to the two men knowing the city would never allow it to be allocated to them in an attempt to avoid doing business with them while not angering potential campaign contributors.

“Sometimes things look and sound bad, but there is no crime here,” Varghese said.

The defense attorney also questioned the credibility of the two FBI operatives who recorded the conversations federal prosecutors are using as evidence against Halloran. He called one man, Moses “Mark” Stern, a “four-and-a-half-century fraudster,” in reference to the 455 years in prison Stern is allegedly facing in another corruption case, and called the FBI agent a “professional liar” who gets paid to fool others all day long while working undercover.

“Knowing what you know about Mark Stern, would you even ask him for directions across town?” Varghese asked the jurors. “Would you trust him?”

After the trial adjourned for the day, Varghese was scolded by Judge Kenneth Karas for incorporating strange photographs in the computer presentation he used during his summations. He included an image of a “get out of jail free card” from the board game Monopoly in one slide referring to Stern’s plea deal that allowed him to work with the FBI.

Another slide, mentioned in reference to one of the FBI operatives claiming to be in North Carolina while some of the alleged crimes were committed, contained images of the state flag, state bird and state drink. Prosecutors voiced objections about the fact that only evidence that has been formally introduced is legally allowed to be shown during summations, Anderson said.

Varghese was set to begin his defense summations on Halloran’s alleged involvement in the Smith bribery scheme on Monday.

Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at kdurham2cnglocal.com.

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