By Sarina Trangle
State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) allegedly compared his campaign coffers to an IPO and former Queens GOP leader Vincent Tabone allegedly bartered with the party’s endorsement as precursors to the crimes they are charged with at their impending federal corruption trial, prosecutors contend.
Prosecutors submitted a filing last week seeking to introduce as evidence untoward conversations not directly related to the court case against Smith and Tabone. But U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office argued the discussions illustrated the two’s motivations and would help rebuff potential entrapment defenses.
Smith is accused of attempting to buy his way onto the GOP ticket in the 2013 mayoral elections. Tabone, once the Queens GOP vice chairman, is charged with accepting a suspected bribe in exchange for helping the senator seek the GOP line. The trial begins Jan. 5.
Lawyers for both have maintained their clients’ innocence.
In their latest filing, prosecutors zeroed in on an August 2008 fund-raising event in Kingston, where prosecutors claim Smith told lobbyists they should donate to his campaign because he was bound for a leadership position. Later that same year Smith was chosen majority leader of the state Senate, a post he held only briefly.
“Smith told the attendees that they should treat the fund-raiser as an (initial public offering) by donating early while prices were low and while there was still an opportunity to participate,” the filing read. “Smith’s comments implied that those who failed to make contributions to his campaign at the time would find themselves having to pay more later or being unable to accomplish anything with the Senate under Smith’s leadership.”
Prosecutors also alleged Smith solicited larger donations than he was allowed to accept during the 2012 campaign from a man he believed was a developer, but who was cooperating with the government. The senator allegedly agreed to let this man appoint a key staff member to his team and steer state money to an upstate project in exchange for these donations. Prosecutors maintain Smith sought the contributions so he could dole money out to fellow candidates’ campaigns and buy their support in the Senate’s next leadership vote.
Gerald Shargel, Smith’s attorney, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Prosecutors also honed in on a March 2010 meeting between then-gubernational candidate Rick Lazio, Queens GOP Chairman Philip Ragusa and Vice Chairman Tabone, who was running for the state Assembly at the time.
Tabone allegedly pulled aside Lazio’s campaign manager and asked the GOP candidate to provide financial support to his campaign and the Queens GOP in exchange for its endorsement, prosecutors said.
Tabone’s attorney, Leo Ahern, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Before a mistrial pushed Smith’s and Tabone’s case over to 2015, White Plains Federal Court Judge Kenneth Karas permitted prosecutors to introduce similar conversations with jurors, albeit with instructions to only consider them as context to the criminal charges. A jury previously found Bayside’s former GOP Councilman Daniel Halloran guilty of brokering Smith’s deals and accepting kickbacks. Halloran is scheduled to be sentenced this Friday.
Halloran’s case was severed from Smith’s and Tabone’s this summer.
Their attorneys successfully sought mistrials because prosecutors did not release hours of conversation in Yiddish from a wiretap on a cooperating witness’s phone ahead of the trial.
Reach reporter Sarina Trangle by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 260–4546.