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Corruption 'Pervasive' in New York Politics, Says U.S. Attorney

By  Ben Fractenberg and Tom Liddy | April 2, 2013 2:25pm | Updated on April 2, 2013 2:30pm

 City Councilman Dan Halloran, left, was arrested on charges he funneled bribes to GOP borough vice chairman Vincent Tabone, who was also arrested, in a scheme to elect state Sen. Malcolm Smith mayor.
City Councilman Dan Halloran, left, was arrested on charges he funneled bribes to GOP borough vice chairman Vincent Tabone, who was also arrested, in a scheme to elect state Sen. Malcolm Smith mayor.
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NEW YORK CITY — Albany, we have a problem.

Greed and corruption are rampant among politicians in New York, the Manhattan U.S. attorney said Tuesday in a stinging indictment of the state's political system that he unleashed as he announced a massive alleged scheme to rig the city's mayoral race.

"It seems to be downright pervasive," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said during a press conference in which he announced the arrests of state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D) and City Councilman Dan Halloran (R), both from Queens. Top GOP bosses Joseph Savino, chairman of the Bronx Republican Party, and Vincent Tabone, vice-chairman of the Queens Republican Party, were also indicted.

"The charges we unseal today demonstrate once again that a show-me-the-money culture seems to pervade every level of New York government," Bharara said.

 U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

Smith and Halloran, Savino and Tabone — as well as the mayor and deputy mayor of upstate Spring Valley — used "an unappetizing smorgasbord of graft and greed" as part of an elaborate scheme to get Smith on the GOP ballot for mayor, Bharara said.

"Every New Yorker should be disheartened and dismayed by the sad state of affairs in this state," Bharara said. "As I've said once before, every time a politician is arrested in New York it should not feel like a scene from Ground Hog Day, and yet it does."

And far from saying that there were a few bad apples in the barrel, he suggested that the system itself is rotten to the core. In the past seven years alone, 29 state pols have been or accused of a crime or wrongdoing, the New York Times said.

"After the string of public corruption scandals that we continue to expose, many may understandably fear that there is no vote that is not for sale, no office without a price and no official clean of corruption," he said.

"These words should echo in the ears of every New Yorker who still holds onto the dream of honest government: 'That's our politicians in New York. They're all like that."

The arrests cap a long history of alleged and demonstrated corruption in Queens on both sides of the aisle.

Earlier this year, former state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D), who represented Southeast Queens, pleaded guilty to stealing nearly $90,000 from a nonprofit she ran.

For three years beginning in 2005, she embezzled $87,700 from Parents Information Network Inc., telling the state that the money was being used to educate parents.

Democratic state Assemblywoman Vivian Cook, 75, who also represents Southeast Queens, allegedly helped funnel public funds to Huntley in exchange for shopping sprees, according to the New York Post.

Last year, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng's father, Jimmy Meng (D), pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges. In that case, he promised to bribe Manhattan prosecutors in exchange for $80,000 in a fruit basket.

Just days before Hurricane Sandy struck the city last October, Queens District Leader Albert Baldeo (D), who ran for the City Council twice before, was accused of trying to boost his matching funds by using phony donations.

In 2011, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D) was under investigation by the House Ethics Committee  on charges he failed to disclose a $40,000 loan from a Queens real estate broker who had been investigated for fraud, according to a published report.

The committee found that Meeks failure to disclose the loan was "inadvertent," the Daily News reported.

Two years earlier, former state Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio (D-Southwest Queens), pleaded guilty after being accused of taking more than $1 million in exchange for legislative favors beginning in 1999, according to the New York Times.

Among the allegations in the indictment was the $310,000 Seminerio accepted on behalf of an unnamed New York City hospital in exchange for favorable treatment.

And that's just recent history.

In 1986, Democratic Party boss and former Borough President Donald Manes killed himself after it came to light that a massive corruption investigation was focused on him.

Bharara hinted that Tuesday's arrests likely are the tip of the iceberg.

“Just because certain people are charged criminally doesn’t mean that we catch everybody," he said.

To illustrate the point, he used Halloran's words after he allegedly accepted a $7,500 cash bribe.

“Money is what greases the wheels — good, bad or indifferent,” Halloran said, according to Bharara. “That’s politics. That’s politics. It’s all about how much…You can’t do anything without the money.”