Former GOP Vice Chairman Tabone receives 42 months, ex-Sen. Smith gets 7 years in prison

By Sadef Ali Kully

Surrounded by family and friends who filled the courtroom, former southeast Queens state Sen. Malcolm Smith sat with his head bowed Thursday as a federal judge sentenced him to seven years in prison and two years of parole on bribery and fraud charges.

An hour later, former Queens Republican Party Vice Chairman Vincent Tabone glanced at his family before being sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison and one year of parole for bribery, fraud and witness tampering in federal court in White Plains.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas, who presided over the political corruption trial that rocked Queens, handed down the sentence to the grim-faced Smith and a weeping Tabone. Smith, 58, had been facing a maximum sentence of 45 years and Tabone, 48, was facing a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison. City Councilman Dan Halloran from northeast Queens was tried separately on the bribery charges and began serving a 10-year sentence June 8.

The case revolved around an attempt to get Smith, a former Democratic majority leader in Albany, a spot on the Republican line in the November 2013 mayoral race.

Smith and Tabone were convicted after a four-week jury trial in February.

Smith’s attorney, Gerald Shargel said letters showed Smith’s “selfless, good deeds” and he asked the court to show leniency during Smith’s sentencing.

The prosecution reminded the court that although Smith did not take any cash bribes, he still attempted to corrupt the democratic process.

“He was a phenomenal politician, but he was phenomenally corrupt,” one of the six prosecutors in the courtroom said. “He was one of the three men in a room.”

After Smith was sentenced, Tabone and his family entered the courtroom. Tabone’s attorney, Samuel Braverman, also asked for leniency and mentioned that Tabone had been sober after 15 months of not drinking.

Smith sent a letter to the judge before he was sentenced, but Tabone chose to address the court and the judge.

“I accept full responsibility,” Tabone said tearfully, citing the “dire consequences” of his actions. “My conduct here was dead wrong.”

Karas responded by saying he never understood Tabone’s place in the scheme,

“Smith was greedy with power, Halloran, who I will remember for the rest of my life, brazenly lied. [Tabone’s] story is the most perplexing and tragic in this case.”

In the elaborate bribery and fraud scheme that took place from November 2012 through April 2013, Smith, Tabone and Halloran participated in two overlapping corruption plots that involved the payment of bribes to obtain a Wilson-Pakula certificate, a way to run for office on another party line.

Smith is scheduled to report to prison in September, while Tabone asked to begin his term in October.

Smith was first elected to the state Senate in November 2000 in the district covering Jamaica and surrounding neighborhoods. He served as the Senate’s minority and majority leader and acting lieutenant governor.

He authorized the payment of $110,000 in cash bribes for Queens Republican Party leaders, including Tabone, to allow him to run for mayor on the Republican ticket, according to testimony at his trial. Smith also agreed to use his influence to help steer almost $500,000 in state funds to an undercover FBI agent and a cooperating witness for a real estate project in Spring Valley in exchange for paying bribes on his behalf.

During the scheme, Joseph Savino, the chairman of the Bronx Republican Party, and other party leaders met with an undercover agent to accept the cash bribes. Tabone accepted a $25,000 bribe and Savino similarly accepted a $15,000 cash bribe, both expected more money later on, trial testimony showed. In return for his efforts in negotiating the bribes, Halloran accepted $15,500 as a down payment and expected to be appointed first deputy mayor if Smith was elected mayor.

Additionally, Tabone was convicted of witness tampering when he attempted to persuade former Queens County Republican Party Chairman Philip Ragusa not to testify against him.

Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skully@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4546.

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