A prominent Democratic New York state senator and a Republican city councilman were arrested Tuesday in an alleged plot to get the senator onto the New York City mayoral ballot by paying off GOP county chairmen, authorities said.
Democratic State Sen. Malcolm Smith, City Councilman Dan Halloran and four others were arrested by the FBI Tuesday morning.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Smith "tried to bribe his way to a shot at Gracie Mansion."
Bharara said Smith conceived the plot to get onto the GOP primary ballot, and Halloran "quarterbacked that drive by finding party chairmen who were wide open to receiving bribes." The charges include conspiracy to bribe, wire fraud and extortion.
"The allegations in this complaint do not tell the full story," Gerald Shargel, Smith's attorney, said after his court appearance. "We intend to enter a plea of not guilty if and when the indictment is returned."
NBC 4 New York's calls and emails to offices and attorneys of those arrested were not immediately returned.
The Democratic field in this year's mayoral race is crowded with several candidates, and getting on the GOP ballot would be a way to sidestep that battle in heavily Democratic New York City. Smith has indicated his interest in running in the Republican primary, but because he is a registered Democrat, he would need to be approved by three of the five county chairmen to get on the primary ballot.
Two Republican county chairmen — Joseph Savino, of the Bronx, and Vincent Tabone, of Queens — were among those arrested Tuesday.
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Court papers say Smith arranged for a wealthy real estate developer, who was actually an undercover FBI agent, to fund the bribes, and Halloran negotiated the payments to be $40,000, plus promises for $40,000 more.
In one discussion, according to court papers, Smith is accused of saying "Look, talk to me before you close it. But it's worth it. Because you know how big a deal it is."
Prosecutors say as part of the bribery scheme, Smith also agreed to use his influence to help get state funds for a road construction project that would benefit the fake real estate developer.
FBI New York Director George Venizelos said in a statement that "public service is not supposed to be a shortcut to self-enrichment. .... As alleged, these defendants did not obey the law; they broke the law and the public trust."
Halloran assumed office in 2010 and represents the 19th district in Queens, succeeding Tony Avella.
"That's politics, that's politics, it's all about how much," Halloran is accused of saying in a meeting with the witness. "Not about whether or will, it's about how much, and that's our politicians in New York, they're all like that, all like that."
At a later meeting with the witness, Halloran is accused of telling the witness to get him a tax identification number, name and address of an organization and an application for funding "so that there's no questions, it raises no flags, and everybody's got it the way it's gotta be."
Halloran garnered widespread attention after New York City's Christmas 2010 blizzard, when he said five municipal employees told him that workers had engaged in a deliberate slowdown in clearing snow.