By Sadef Ali Kully
Former state Senate leader Malcolm Smith and former Queens County Republican Party Vice Chairman Vincent Tabone plan to appeal their guilty verdicts after a federal jury convicted them of bribery and fraud last week in deliberating that lasted only four hours, their lawyers said.
Smith, 57, who represented southeast Queens in the Senate for 14 years and served as the Democratic majority leader, was also found guilty of extortion for his role in obtaining state funding for a real estate project in exchange for cash bribes. In addition, Tabone, 48, was convicted of witness tampering when he attempted to persuade the now late Queens County Republican Party Chairman Philip Ragusa not to testify against him.
The two were convicted after a four-week jury trial before U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas in White Plains. The jurors reached their decision after a few hours.
Former City Councilman Dan Halloran, a Republican from northeast Queens, was originally tried with Smith and Tabone, but his trial continued after the judge declared a mistrial for the other defendants. Halloran, 42, was found guilty of conspiracy, wire fraud and bribery and is awaiting sentencing on March 2.
“It was under very difficult circumstances to try this case and we will be appealing this verdict,” said Gerald Shargel, Smith’s attorney.
The trial centered on Smith’s bid to win the Republican line in the 2013 city mayoral race through what prosecutors described as a series of bribes.
Testimony uncovered Smith’s participation in two overlying criminal schemes as he tried to corner votes for the Wilson-Pakula certificate, which allows any party member to run on a different party plebiscite after a committee vote.
Court documents showed that Smith authorized $110,000 in cash bribes to pay off Republican party leaders, including Tabone. Smith also influenced the funneling of almost $500,000 in state transportation funding to a real estate project proposed by the undercover agent and witness Moses Stern for a development in Spring Valley in exchange for paying the bribes on Smith’s behalf.
Smith authorized the undercover agent and Stern to meet Tabone and Joseph Savino, chairman of the Bronx County Republican Party, who pleaded guilty last year to bribery, and other party leaders. Court records brought to light that during the meeting Tabone and Savino accepted cash bribes. In exchange for his efforts in negotiating the bribes,Halloran accepted $15,500 as a down payment on a “broker’s” fee of at least $75,000 and expected to be appointed first deputy mayor if Smith was elected mayor, testimony showed.
“Although we respect the voice of the jury, we are very disappointed in the outcome of the trial. We believe that the evidence was insufficient to prove that our client participated in any bribery scheme. In fact, his words on the tape indicated the very opposite,” said Tabone’s attorney Samuel Braverman, who will also file a motion for a new trial in addition to appealing the verdict.
The four-week federal corruption trial was subject to a few mishaps: one mistrial due to delayed evidence, weather delays, and one sick juror, along with hours of audio and video recordings.
“My prayers are with the Smith family as they deal with this ordeal and I am saddened by this turn of events,” said state Sen. Leroy Comrie, who defeated Smith in his re-election bid last fall. “Public corruption is unacceptable and our community demands more accountability and transparency.”
Smith and Tabone were scheduled to be sentenced by Karas July 1.
Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 260–4546.