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Photo by Christina Santucci
By Rich Bockmann

Lawyers for Vince Tabone, the former vice-chairman of the Queens Republican Party who was charged earlier this year in a public corruption scheme, are arguing their client was too low on the totem pole to be prosecuted as a public official.

Tabone was indicted in May on three counts of conspiring to defraud the city’s Republicans by allegedly selling off Queens’ mayoral nomination to state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) for a sum of $50,000 in federal court in White Plains, N.Y.

Along with Tabone and Smith, the FBI arrested City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), Bronx GOP Chairman Jay Savino and two others from Rockland County in the suspected bribery scheme.

In a letter sent to U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas of the federal court in White Plains dated Nov. 27, Tabone’s attorney argued that under state law only the highest-ranking member of a party committee is considered a public official.

“Clearly, the New York state Legislature perceived political party chairman as potentially having considerable influence and power over public or state action,” wrote attorney Grant Lally. “Less influential individuals, including volunteer county vice chairman and ordinary party members like Mr. Tabone are simply not held to the same standards of transparency and disclosure under the public officer’s law.”

Although Tabone officially held the title of vice-chairman, federal prosecutors claimed he, and not Queens GOP Chairman Phil Ragusa, held the party’s reins.

When asked if he had the power to deliver the county’s endorsement, Tabone allegedly told an undercover FBI agent, “I run the Queens County Republican Party. Nobody else runs the party. I run the party,” according to his indictment.

Tabone’s request was a follow-up to a motion his attorneys filed earlier in September when they asked that all charges against him be dropped.

Toward the end of September Ragusa, representing the Queens GOP, signed an amicus brief supporting Tabone’s motion to dismiss the charges.

But in early November Ragusa filed another letter, saying he received the brief during a time when the county party was going through an election and he was undergoing treatment for a serious medical condition.

Ragusa said he did not have time to read the brief over carefully, and upon looking it over he withdrew his support.

Last month Savino pleaded guilty to all three charges Tabone is facing.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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