A high-ranking Democratic New York State senator was arrested on Tuesday and charged with trying to buy a place on the Republican ticket in the city’s next mayoral race, an effort that prosecutors said was part of a wide-ranging bribery scandal and reflected pervasive corruption in New York politics.
Five other politicians, all Republicans, were also arrested and charged with collectively accepting more than $100,000 in bribes in meetings in parked cars, hotel rooms and state offices, according to court papers.
Authorities described the scheme - potentially one of the biggest political scandals to hit New York in years - as an attempt to game the city’s first wide-open mayoral election in more than a decade. New York will choose a new mayor in November, before Michael Bloomberg’s third term comes wraps up at year’s end.
The charges center on State Senator Malcolm Smith, a Democrat from Queens, who prosecutors said made payments to a city councilman to set up meetings with top New York Republicans to assist in getting him on the mayoral ballot.
Smith and the councilman, Daniel Halloran, a Republican from Queens, were among the six politicians arrested on Tuesday morning in connection to the bribery scandal.
Charges against the six include bribery, extortion, and wire and mail fraud.
“From time to time the question arises, how common is corruption in New York?” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara at a late-morning press conference. “Based on the cases that we have brought and continue to bring, it seems downright pervasive.”
Recent years have seen another high-ranking New York state Senator, Democrat Pedro Espada Jr., convicted of stealing more than $600,000 from Soundview HealthCare Center, a partly federally funded company he worked at; and a pay-for-play scandal at the state’s pension fund that saw the state comptroller resign and serve 21 months in prison.
Authorities arrested four other Republicans: Queens County Republican Party Vice Chairman Vincent Tabone, Bronx County Republican Party Chairman Joseph Savino, Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin and Spring Valley Deputy Mayor Joseph Desmaret.
Smith’s lawyer, Gerald Shargel, defended his client but said he had not yet fully reviewed the charges. “Malcolm Smith is a dedicated public servant who has served … his constituents in an exemplary fashion,” Shargel said.
Representatives of the other five officials all either declined to comment or did not respond to phone calls on Tuesday morning.