New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam B. Skelos were arrested on federal corruption charges this morning. The charges include conspiracy, extortion, wire fraud, and bribery. They surrendered at the FBI’s office in lower Manhattan.
No one is quite sure whether Skelos plans to resign as leader of the Senate Republicans. Sheldon Silver, who was charged with corruption earlier this year, stepped down from his role as speaker of the New York State Assembly in January.
Skelos, who has led the state Senate GOP since 2008, repeatedly told reporters he had no plans of stepping down while the investigation was ongoing. However, a few people at the state capitol told the New York Daily News that they couldn’t imagine Skelos’s colleagues allowing him to keep his position, especially if the charges were especially damning.
The corruption charges involve the Skeloses’ involvement with AbTech, an environmental company that paid the younger Skelos money, and was later awarded a contract in the older Skelos’s neck of the woods in Nassau County — despite not offering the lowest bid.
The investigation used wiretaps heavily, and the federal criminal complaint unsealed on Monday details many of the conversations Adam Skelos had with his father and his staffers. He complained about his inability to talk to his dad about very important matters, bitterly wondering if he should “just send some signals or a little pigeon with [a] fucking note [tied] to its foot.” He also told his dad, “You can’t talk normally because it’s like fucking Preet Bharara is listening to every fucking phone call,” he said, a statement that was one of the many overheard statements collected in U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s indictment. It’s just fucking frustrating.” Adam Skelos tried several tactics to avoid federal investigators, including using a burner phone. The evasions did not work.
In the past few years, Bharara has been aggressively pursuing big corruption cases in state politics — and getting a lot of attention for doing it. New York Magazine’s Chris Smith wrote about the expected Skelos charges in January, listing the different ways this case could unfold.
But the new flurry of subpoenas and testimony has started wheels turning in Albany: If Dean Skelos is indicted, will he lose his post atop the senate?
Silver was essentially ousted as speaker six days after he was arrested. Skelos, if he needs to try to avoid the same fate, has a couple of things working in his favor. The first is that while Silver’s appearance in handcuffs was deeply damaging, it came after he’d been boss for nearly 21 years. His Democratic Assembly caucus, particularly the younger members, were already restive, complaining that Silver had overstayed his welcome. Skelos only took the Republican reins in 2008, after Joe Bruno resigned while under investigation by the FBI.
Skelos also commands a smaller and more cohesive tribe than Silver did: Thirty-two state Senate Republicans, as opposed to the 103 Assembly Democrats whom Silver had to wrangle. Many of those Republican members, particularly the eight fellow Long Islanders, are seemingly loyal to Skelos. Still, the speculation game has started. If Skelos were to step aside, either temporarily to fight any changes or permanently if the charges turn out to be severe, the top contenders to replace him could be Syracuse’s John DeFrancisco and Suffolk County’s John Flanagan.