NEW YORK CITY — State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son conducted a brazen bribery and kickback scheme for years, bilking money from an environmental company while making bungling attempts to try to evade authorities, according to officials and court documents.
In exchange, Skelos advocated for legislation that would help the firms get controversial tax abatements, raise rents on tenants with stabilization and ease environmental controls in the event that fracking were to be approved.
The arrests come just months after Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested for an alleged kickback scheme involving real estate deals and asbestos cancer patients.
According to the criminal complaint, the charges stem from a scheme where Skelos, 67, abused his "official position by extorting money from others" by receiving payments to his son Adam Skelos, 32, from companies to whom he promised to use his elected office to benefit.
The scheme has been ongoing since late 2010 and continued even after Silver's indictment. Both men changed their modes of communication but they were being wiretapped.
They discussed using Apple's FaceTime video conferencing believing that it couldn't be tracked electronically.
During one intercepted call on March 28, Adam Skelos told his father that "you can't talk normally because its like f-----g Preet Bharara is listening to every f-----g phone call. It's just f-----g frustrating," he said referring to the Manhattan US Attorney, who spearheaded the case against Silver.
Dean Skelos replied: "It is."
The alleged scheme involved payments from a real estate firm and an environmental technology company which paid Adam Skelos almost $200,000 since then.
When the environmental technology company was up for a multi-million contract from Nassau County in 2013, Skelos, a Republican, and his son threatened to block the contract unless monthly payments jumped to $10,000 per month from $4,000 per month.
The real estate firm paid Adam Skelos $20,000 for title work he did not perform.
In exchange, Dean Skelos, who has represented Long Island since 1984, voted for legislation favorable to the real estate company and facilitated the approval of a $12 million contract with Nassau County for the environmental firm.
Dean Skelos' office did not immediately comment. His attorney G. Robert Gage Jr. was also not available for comment. Adam Skelos attorney Christopher Conniff was also unavailable for comment.
The father and son surrendered to authorities Monday morning and were set to be arraigned in the afternoon. Photos showed father and son walking into court with their arms around one another.
"Senator Skelos and Adam Skelos worked as a team to illegally monetize the senator’s power and influence to take care of Adam’s financial needs," Bharara said at a press conference.
Dean Skelos' arrest marks the second major indictment of a leader of a legislative body following the case against Silver in January for using his powers as an elected official to elicit millions "in bribes and kickbacks" that he masked as legitimate income.
But even Silver's indictment did not deter the illegal activity of Skelos and his son, according to federal authorities. Instead, the pair began changing the way in which they communicated after the Silver indictment.
Adam Skelos began using a self-described "burner" cell phone to avoid having his calls monitored by authorities, officials said.
Federal authorities used a wiretap and caught Skelos bragging about the extent of his influence, saying on the call that as senate president and majority leader "I'm going to control everything," including who sits on which committees, which legislation makes it to the floor and the budget.
Senate president is one of the "three men in a room" positions, along with Governor and Assembly Speaker, that hashes out the state's budget every year.
The complaint also say that there are cooperating witnesses from the companies who made payments to Adam Skelos.
When Adam Skelos threatened to hold up the environmental firm's contract, one cooperating witness wrote to another: "I can't believe he's going to try to hold us hostage to renegotiate the contract."
In exchange for the payments to his son from the real estate firm and environmental firm, Dean Skelos introduced legislation to extend the controversial 421-a program which provides tax abatements to developers and voted for legislation that allows landlords to increase rent on rent stabilized apartments.
Among the benefits the environmental company received was help with an attempt to obtain favorable Department of Health regulations concerning wastewater from hydrofracking in case the procedure was approved in New York state.
Dean Skelos also advocated for increased budget spending on the type of wastewater projects the firm specialized in.
Both Skelos and his son face charges of conspiracy, extortion, theft of honest services and bribery.