If you read the tabloids here in New York, you can't help noticing the string of recent federal convictions of state pols. Just the past few days have brought two new convictions of high-ranking members of the New York State Senate. On Wednesday July 22 a federal jury in White Plains (Southern District of New York) convicted Senator Tom Libous, Republican of Binghamton, who had until recently been the Deputy Majority Leader of the State Senate. (The recent Majority Leader, Dean Skelos, Republican of Nassau County, is also under indictment in the Southern District.) On Friday July 24 another federal jury, this time in Brooklyn (Eastern District of New York), convicted John Sampson, Democrat of Brooklyn, who served from 2009 to 2012 as leader of the Democratic Conference of the same body.
So what were Libous and Sampson convicted of? Turns out that in both cases the pols were convicted of obstructing an FBI investigation or lying to the FBI -- and of no underlying crime! Really??? In the case of Sampson, it appears that at least there was a bona fide underlying crime under investigation, but the prosecutors blew the statute of limitations. In the case of Libous, it is highly dubious that there was any underlying crime at all.
Here is the Libous indictment. There is only one count, and it is for "making materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statements and representations" to the FBI, under 18 U.S.C. Section 1001. What are the alleged false statements? There is no allegation that any of the false statements were made under oath. The basic idea is that Libous leaned on a small and struggling law firm to give his son a job, and in the process made a statement to the effect that the firm "would have to build a new wing" to accommodate all the business it would receive. Then, when questioned by the FBI about the subject, Libous allegedly said things that included that "he could not recall how his son began work at Law Firm I," "no deals were made to get his son the job at Law Firm I," and "he never promised to refer work to Law Firm I."
So it's not just that there was no charge or conviction of any underlying crime. It's also that it doesn't appear that there ever was any underlying crime at all. Yes, "deprivation of the intangible right to honest services" is a (completely phony) federal crime, never mentioned here, although the Supreme Court has said that that fake crime can only be prosecuted constitutionally when there is proof of a bribe or kickback. Anyway, this indictment doesn't even mention the existence of that "crime." Moreover, for a bribe or kickback there has to be consideration going to the pol, and the only consideration mentioned here is a job for the kid -- nothing is mentioned going to Libous himself. And would the quid pro quo be this business about "hav[ing] to build a new wing" to accommodate the gusher of work? If Libous actually used those words, would any sane person take it as anything other than pure puffery, stated with an obvious tone of humor in recognition that it could well not happen? Libous was a State Senator -- he didn't have any ability to deliver New York State's legal work. So maybe he could recommend this firm to some of his political supporters, and maybe some of them would hire the firm? So????
The charges against Sampson stemmed from an investigation into whether he had embezzled some $500,000 from funds entrusted to him as court-appointed referee for foreclosed properties. Here is a July 24 Daily News article discussion the charges and conviction. But all the substantive charges against him were dismissed for failure to comply with the statute of limitations:
Last year, Federal Judge Dora Irizarry dismissed the embezzlement charges ruling that the statute of limitations had passed.
That means that we are not going to find out if Sampson actually committed the embezzlement.
I'm certainly not going to stand up for the overall honesty of the New York State Legislature. But it is deeply troubling that the prosecutors constantly investigate all the legistors, find nothing to prosecute them for in their conduct of their job and life, but only accuse them of crimes arising out of their response to the investigation itself for essentially "dissing the prosecutors." And this prosecutorial conduct is particularly troubling as to the New York State Senate, which hangs in precarious Republican control in this very blue state, and thus where prosecutions of Republican leadership or Republicans in swing districts could greatly affect the political balance.
Meanwhile the Southern District prosecutors got a superseding indictment a few days ago against the recent (Republican) Majority Leader, Dean Skelos. I covered the previous indictment here. As far as I can see, the new charges, like the old, all involve a job for Skelos's son, and no personal benefit to Skelos himself. Well, at least there's an alleged underlying wrong, and not just dissing the FBI in the course of the investigation. But it still sounds even thinner than the charges of which the next previous Senate Majority Leader, Republican Joe Bruno, was acquitted.