The race to replace term-limited New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is still in its relatively early stages, but it delivered something of a bombshell this morning in the form of a half-dozen arrests in an alleged plot by one would-be candidate to bribe his way onto the ballot. The Associated Press with the details of the FBI-led investigation, along with some choice pullquotes from an U.S. attorney:
New York state Sen. Malcolm Smith and New York City Councilman Dan Halloran were arrested Tuesday in an alleged plot to rig the New York City mayor’s race, federal authorities said. Four other political figures also were charged in what U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called “an unappetizing smorgasbord of graft and greed involving six officials who together built a corridor of corruption stretching from Queens and the Bronx to Rockland County and all the way up to Albany itself.”
Smith “tried to bribe his way to a shot at Gracie Mansion,” Bharara said in a statement, referring to the official mayor’s residence. “Smith drew up the game plan and Councilman Halloran essentially quarterbacked that drive by finding party chairmen who were wide open to receiving bribes.”
The other four politicians charged in the case are: Bronx County Republican Party chairman Joseph Savino, Queens County Republican Party vice chairman Vincent Tabone, Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin, and Spring Valley Deputy Mayor Joseph Desmaret.
The case centers mostly on Smith and Halloran. Smith, a Democrat who had suggested publicly that he was considering a mayoral run as a Republican, allegedly paid Halloran in exchange for the councilman’s help in setting up meetings with local GOP leaders as part of his effort to get on the ballot. Unfortunately for the two men, the people allegedly acting as their intermediaries were actually an undercover agent and a cooperating witness for the government, either/both of whom were wearing a wire.
According to the FBI, Smith agreed with the witness and agent (who was posing as a wealthy real estate developer) to bribe GOP leaders—with money and/or favors—in all five of New York City’s boroughs for specific certificates authorizing him to run on the GOP ballot despite his Democratic registration, the New York Times reports.
From the quote-heavy nature of the federal complaint, it would appear that Smith was often caught on tape talking openly about the bribe. Here’s one excerpt the Times flags this morning:
The senator at one point became impatient, asking the undercover and the cooperating witness during a meeting in his office whether the committee leaders were delaying getting his certificates because they wanted more money.
Mr. Smith, according to the complaint, instructed the two men not to pay the committee leaders any more money until they had “close[d] … the deal.” He also said that before the leaders received “even a nickel more, [he’d] have to stand on the Empire State Building and drop every person [he] endorsed and hold Malcolm up and say he’s the best thing since sliced bread. Matter of fact, he’s better than sliced bread.”
Smith has denied any wrongdoing through his lawyer. The others have yet to comment publicly.
This post has been updated for clarity.