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Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos taken into custody, FBI says

State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), Long Island's

State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), Long Island's highest-ranking legislator and majority leader of the Senate, is the focus of a federal investigation into allegations of corruption. Above, Skelos in July 2012. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos used his position as the state's most powerful Republican to extort bribes, generate campaign contributions and steer a lucrative Nassau County contract, federal prosecutors said Monday in announcing the arrest of him and and his son on corruption charges.

Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), 67, and his son Adam Skelos, 32, surrendered to FBI officials in Manhattan before 10 a.m. Monday.

Shortly thereafter, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara released a 43-page criminal complaint that charged the senator and his son on six counts: three for extortion, two for soliciting bribes and one for conspiracy.

"Public corruption is a deep-seeded problem in New York State," in both chambers of the legislature, Bharara said at a news conference shortly after noon. "We are deadly serious about tackling that problem."

Bharara alleged that the scheme began right after the 2010 elections, in which Republicans regained Senate control, with Skelos pressuring a "major real estate" developer about campaign contributions and the pending expiration of key legislation for the industry.

But the key elements of the charges center on the senator pressuring the developer to channel money to an environmental firm - Arizona-based AbTech - that would later hire Adam. In turn, prosecutors alleged, the senator pressured Nassau County to award a $12 million storm-water contract to AbTech.

Further, Senator Skelos pressured the real-estate company to send all of its title work to his son, who worked for a title company. In all, the companies directed more than $200,000 in payments to Adam Skelos, according to the complaint.

The complaint relied in part on cooperating witnesses from the real estate company and AbTech. It also relied on wiretaps that intercepted numerous conversations of Adam Skelos' up until March. Father and son even changed their communication, using "burner" phones and coded language to talk about contract and legislation the senator was trying to insert in the 2015-16 state budget that could bring stormwater business to AbTech.

In one recorded call with his father, Adam Skelos allegedly said: "You can't talk normally because it's like (bleeping) Preet Bharara is listening to every (bleeping) phone call."

In another call, Senator Skelos pressured Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, a fellow Republican, about the awarding of the stormwater contract, the complaint said. In an email, the senator directed a "cooperating witness" about how to funnel campaign contributions through various real-estate subsidiaries.

The complaint said that Adam Skelos was financially dependent on his father, who had personally given him more than $100,000 since 2010.

Skelos is the second state legislative house leader charged with corruption this year by Bharara.

In late January, the U.S. attorney's office also charged former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) with pocketing $4 million in kickbacks disguised as legal fees. Silver has pleaded not guilty. Colleagues forced Silver to resign as speaker, though he remains an assemblyman.

Last month, Dean Skelos said he was cooperating with the inquiry and had no plans to step down as majority leader.

Neither Skelos, his attorney nor his son commented Friday on reports of the imminent arrest and have not commented Monday on news of the announcement by Bharara.

-- With John Riley


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