Former NY state Sen. Malcolm Smith convicted of scheming to bribe way onto NYC mayoral ballot


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WHITE PLAINS, New York — Former Democratic state Sen. Malcolm Smith was convicted Thursday of scheming to bribe his way onto the ballot in the 2013 New York City mayoral election.

A federal jury found Smith guilty on all four charges: bribery conspiracy, wire fraud, use of interstate facilities to commit bribery and extortion.

A co-defendant, former Queens Republican Vice Chairman Vincent Tabone, was also convicted of four charges: bribery conspiracy, wire fraud, use of interstate facilities to commit bribery and witness tampering.

The conviction comes the same week that longtime Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, stepped down from his leadership post in the face of federal charges that he accepted nearly $4 million in payoffs and kickbacks.

Also Thursday, a $580,000 settlement was announced to end a lawsuit filed by two former legislative staffers who accused disgraced former Assemblyman Vito Lopez of sexual harassment. The state will pay $545,000 of the settlement, with Lopez, a Brooklyn Democrat, paying $35,000.

When Smith and Tabone were arrested last year, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the case illustrated a "culture of corruption" in New York politics, which he referenced again last week when he arrested Silver.

On Thursday, Bharara said in a statement: "As the jury unanimously found, the give-and-take of the political process should not be the giving and taking of bribes, which is what Malcolm Smith and Vincent Tabone tried to make it."

Smith, once one of the state's most powerful lawmakers, lost his re-election campaign last year after being indicted.

In 2013, prosecutors said, Smith wanted to be mayor but also wanted to avoid a Democratic mayoral primary. So he instead decided to obtain the backing of Republican leaders in three boroughs, which would allow him to run for the GOP line, the indictment said. Prosecutors said he authorized bribes totaling about $200,000.

Jurors saw video recordings of transactions that prosecutors said were bribes, and they heard testimony from an FBI informant identified only as "Raj," who had posed as a wealthy real estate developer and was in on meetings involving Smith and Republican leaders.

Prosecutor Justin Anderson said Smith displayed "selfish ambition, blatant greed and a me-first sensibility."

Smith's attorneys claimed the senator had been entrapped, never paid a bribe and was lied to by informants.

"The government violated the law in the manner in which they investigated this crime," said defense lawyer Gerald Shargel.

The defense said Smith made a bad decision — but did not commit a crime — when he became aware of bribes and failed to report them.

Prosecutors, however, said Smith was usually the first person in the scheme to mention bribery.

Tabone claimed he believed his $25,000 was legitimate pay for political consulting work. And he denied that he tried to influence a witness who was his mentor.

Of four other politicians who were arrested with Smith and Tabone, one has been convicted, two have pleaded guilty and one is awaiting trial.

Associated Press writers Larry Neumeister in New York and David Klepper in Albany contributed to this report.

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