Tabone gets 42 months in prison, Smith 84 months for bribery

By Sadef Ali Kully

Former southeast Queens state Sen. Malcolm Smith was sentenced to 84 months in prison on bribery and fraud charges Thursday while former Queens Republican Party Vice Chairman Vincent Tabone got 42 months 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, who also was given two years of parole to be served concurrently, and a tearful Tabone. Both had been facing a maximum sentence of 45 years in prison.

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 sent a letter to the judge before he was sentenced, but Tabone chose to address the court and the judge, who also ordered him to serve one year on parole after finishing his prison term.

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

In the elaborate bribery and fraud scheme that took place from November 2012 through April 2013, Smith, Tabone and former City Councilman Daniel 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. Halloran, who represented northeast Queens, has begun serving a 10-year prison term, following his conviction in a separate trial.

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 in a dimly lit SUV parked in front of a Manhattan restaurant and agreed to accept another $25,000 after his committee authorized Smith to compete in the Republican primary. Savino similarly accepted a $15,000 cash bribe and agreed to accept another $15,000 after he voted to authorize Smith to compete for the Republican ticket, 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.