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Smith, Tabone corruption trial begins

By Sarina Trangle

With fresh faces in the jury booth, federal prosecutors and defense attorneys resumed their places in White Plains federal court Tuesday, gestured toward two Queens political figures and recited familiar arguments.

Except this time defense attorneys for former southeast Queens state Sen. Malcolm Smith and former Queens GOP leader Vincent Tabone were quick to seize on the conviction of a third co-defendant, ex-City Councilman Daniel Halloran, whose corruption case was severed from theirs this summer.

Smith and Tabone successfully sought mistrials because the government did not hand over hours of a wiretap, but Halloran’s lawyer continued with the trial, citing financial strain.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Perry Carbone opened the government’s argument by pointing at Smith and saying he bribed Tabone, who the attorney turned his finger toward next.

As a registered Democrat looking to avoid a primary on the Republican line in the 2013 mayoral elections, Smith needed at least three of the five borough GOP parties to sign a Wilson-Pakula authorizing him to run, Carbone said.

Smith had no luck wooing the party bigwigs honestly, Carbone contended. So Smith allegedly capitalized on a relationship with men he believed were wealthy developers —an undercover FBI agent named Raj and cooperating witness Moses Stern, an upstate Orthodox leader who pleaded guilty to unspecified charges.

Smith funneled $500,000 in state transportation funding to a pseudo real estate project in exchange for the two undercovers financing his suspected bribes of Republicans needed for a Wilson-Pakula, according to prosecutors.

A jury convicted Halloran, a Republican, of negotiating and accepting some of these alleged bribes with borough GOP bosses, among other charges.

Halloran has said he will appeal following his Jan. 21 sentencing.

Tabone pocketed a $25,000 bribe in an SUV parked outside Sparks Steakhouse on Valentine’s Day 2013, prosecutors said.

In his opening argument, Smith’s attorney Evan Lipton said Smith was the victim of entrapment.

Lipton said Smith informed Raj and Stern of how they could apply for the transportation funds in question and sent a letter to local leaders requesting their plan be considered.

Smith spent 11 months rebuffing the pair’s pressure and was incredulous when he found out they had paid bribes on his behalf, according to Lipton.

Lipton said the legislator should have said “no” or reported it to law enforcement, but did not.

“This case is not a morality test; it’s about criminal intent,” he said.

Tabone’s attorney, Dennis Ring, said he accepted the $25,000 as a payment for legitimate legal and political consulting services.

Ring said Tabone’s role as vice president of the Queens GOP did not make him an elected official or bar him from getting paid to push other borough parties to sign the Wilson-Pakula.

Ring, who once worked as Halloran’s chief of staff, said the councilman was desperate because he was going through a divorce and his home was in foreclosure, so he leaned on Raj and Stern for financial assistance.

“Halloran, he says, ‘Hey, he [Tabone] can be bought off,’” Ring said. “What my client says comports in no way with what Daniel Halloran says.”

Ring insisted there was no evidence behind a witness tampering charge Tabone was hit with for allegedly going to the late Queens GOP President Phil Ragusa’s home in an attempt to convince him not to give a deposition.

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle by e-mail at stran‌gle@c‌ngloc‌al.com or by phone at (718) 260–4546.

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