Amid a growing perception that corruption is a serious problem in New York, six politicians pleaded not guilty Tuesday in a federal case that alleges an audacious plot to buy a line on New York City’s mayoral ballot.
Even one of the suspects said it, according to the indictment: When it comes to politicians taking money, “they’re all like that.”
None of the defendants, including state Sen. Malcolm Smith, spoke at Tuesday’s arraignment. Their not-guilty pleas were entered by their lawyers. Smith is accused of scheming with New York City Councilman Daniel Halloran, a Republican, to bribe county Republican leaders for the GOP line on this year’s mayoral ballot.
The indictment said two Republican Party leaders, Joseph Savino, of the Bronx, and Vincent Tabone, of Queens, accepted tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for their agreement.
Halloran is also accused of agreeing to steer City Council funds to a company in exchange for more bribes.
The indictment quotes him as saying, “That’s politics; it’s all about how much. Not about whether or will, it’s about how much, and that’s our politicians in New York, they’re all like that.”
In a separate bribery scheme, Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin and Deputy Mayor Joseph Desmaret are accused of taking money and property to approve a real estate project.
All six defendants remain free on bail.
Since the case exploded three weeks ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced several anti-corruption proposals, and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said that he has met with the FBI “to discuss expanding our corruption efforts.”
“It seems that a culture of corruption has developed and grown, just like barnacles on a boat bottom,” Bharara said Monday. “And just as with barnacles on a boat bottom, when a growth is permitted to spread and grow unchecked, it takes an unrelenting, collective effort to clean up.”
The prosecutor said Tuesday that all the detainees have been asked to provide 150-gigabyte hard drives to hold the mountain of evidence against them.
One casualty of the arrests has already come in: Republican attorney Dennis Saffran announced his intention to mount a primary bid for Halloran’s city council seat. He said that he was running to restore, “the tradition of integrity and honesty in government set for many years.”
Saffran, 57, a conservative, ran for the same seat in 2001 but lost by a tiny margin to Tony Avella, now a state senator, by 200 votes. Rudy Giuliani, a cousin of his more famous namesake, is also rumored to be considering a run for the seat.