What’s a state got to do to get some JUSTICE around here?
Once again, federal judges have decided to overturn the conviction of yet another corrupt politician from Albany. This time, it was Republican and former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and his son, Adam, who saw their convictions tossed out by a federal appeals court Wednesday.
This is the second time in two months New Yorkers have watched a high-ranking state official get out of serving hard time for their crimes. The first was in July when the court decided to overturn a corruption conviction handed down to former Democratic state assemblyman and speaker of the New York State Assembly Sheldon Silver.
In December 2015, the Skelos father and son were found guilty of extortion, bribery and conspiracy after a lengthy trial which concluded the former Senate speaker used his office to force three companies into paying his son for doing little to no work.
Dean Skelos apparently used his position and his ability to pass legislation those companies favored as a tool to pressure AbTech Industries, Glenwood Management, and Physicians’ Reciprocal Insurers into paying Adam Skelos a lot of money.
As the New York Times reported back in 2015:
“Glenwood Management, a New York City real estate developer, was directed to funnel a $20,000 payment to Adam Skelos, and to help get him consulting payments at AbTech Industries, an environmental technology company, officials said. Another company, Physicians’ Reciprocal Insurers, gave Adam Skelos what amounted to a no-show job.”
But on Wednesday, much like what happened with the Silver case, judges referenced how the Supreme Court overturned the corruption charges of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell in 2014.
It’s a long story, but suffice it to say the decision significantly narrowed the definition of what counts as corruption and making it much easier for sleazy politicians to sleaze in the eyes of the law.
In fact, according to the Associated Press, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals even used the same logic used in the McDonnell and Silver cases: that the jurors who found them guilty weren’t properly instructed and misunderstood what constitutes an “official act” under the law.
“In the Skelos case, jurors were told that an ‘official act’ can encompass ‘acts customarily performed by a public official,’” AP reporter Jennifer Peltz writes. “Including those that further long-term goals or are only steps toward achieving some outcome — language that the Supreme Court later found wasn’t specific enough.”
Coincidentally, in another similarity to the Silver case, the charges were initially brought against the Skeloses following work done by the Moreland Commission, a special board of attorneys formed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to investigate corruption across the state.
Cuomo ultimately disbanded the commission seemingly after its members did their job and started looking into his top aides – one of which was his former right hand man, Joey “Ziti” Percoco.
On top of a governor who appears unwilling to live up to his pledge to put an end to corruption, right now, there’s also a coalition of groups attempting to convince people to say no to an upcoming vote on a statewide Constitutional Convention, effectively throwing away what some say is the first real shot they’ve had in decades to tackle the issue head-on.
By approving the Constitutional Convention, residents would have the opportunity to rewrite the state’s founding document, effectively seizing the opportunity to fundamentally change New York’s laws.
Joon H. Kim, the acting United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Wednesday he state is willing and eager to retry both cases in an attempt to make sure justice is served.
For the record, Kim is the guy who replaced Preet Bharara, former federal attorney who brought the charges against Silver and the Skeloses. Donald Trump fired Bharara almost immediately after he took office. Plus, given that the fed is currently in the middle of helping to make it easier for Wall Street to break the law, residents shouldn’t be expecting them to be much help anyways.
In New York, though, residents are all too familiar with corruption as justice is rarely served when it comes to relying on the state to hold politicians and corporations accountable for their actions. Seeing the Skeloses added to the long list of people who were rich and powerful enough to evade justice is nothing new.
Some New Yorkers are hopeful that Kim gets his wish and gets his retrials, and maybe residents will vote in favor of the Constitutional convention in November and change the rules to make sure things like this never happen again. We’ll see.
And even if those things do happen, there is no guarantee that they will be successful in eradicating corruption in New York. But as of right now, it seems relying on the current system to deliver justice to those who abuse and break the law is is becoming increasingly more foolish.
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