Former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son, Adam, were convicted in 2015 of federal corruption.
By Michael V. Cusenza
Two months after a federal appeals panel overturned the fraud and extortion conviction of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the Second U.S Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday tossed the corruption convictions of former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son, Adam.
The Skeloses were convicted in December 2015 of extortion under color of official right, soliciting bribes in connection with a federal program, and conspiracy to commit honest services fraud. Southern District prosecutors charged that the duo extorted those with business before the state to make payments to Adam, 35, with the expectation that such payments would result in official action by his father.
Father and son were also charged with bribery and honest services fraud schemes. Among other things, Dean, 69, illegally obtained a $20,000 payment for his son from a large real estate developer dependent on the GOP senator for tax breaks and a $10,000 monthly payment from an environmental technology company seeking government-funded contracts in New York.
The guilty verdicts in both the Silver and Skelos cases were rescinded based on the definition of public corruption and its impact on jury instructions. In overturning Silver’s verdict, the three-judge panel of the Second Circuit noted that after Silver was convicted and sentenced, the Supreme Court issued its decision in McDonnell v. United States, “which clarified the definition of an ‘official act’ in honest services fraud and extortion charges. The Supreme Court, vacating the conviction of former Governor Robert McDonnell of Virginia, held that ‘an official act is a decision or action on a question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy’ involving ‘a formal exercise of governmental power.’”
Silver’s lawyers argued that “the District Court’s jury instructions defining an official act as ‘any action taken or to be taken under color of official authority’ was erroneous under McDonnell.” The lawyers representing Dean and Adam Skelos argued the same case law.
Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon Kim was not thrilled with Tuesday’s development.
“The Second Circuit, while finding that the evidence was more than sufficient to convict Dean and Adam Skelos, held that a part of the jury instruction is no longer good law under the Supreme Court decision in McDonnell. While we are disappointed in the decision and will weigh our appellate options, we look forward to a prompt retrial where we will have another opportunity to present the overwhelming evidence of Dean Skelos and Adam Skelos’s guilt and again give the public the justice it deserves,” Kim said. “Cleaning up corruption is never easy, and that is certainly true for corruption in New York State government. But we are as committed as ever to doing everything we can to keep our government honest. That is what we will do in this prosecution as well.”