Cash Bribes Described at Ex-Lawmaker’s Corruption Retrial

January 6, 2015 Updated: January 6, 2015

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y.—Jurors will see video recordings of political party leaders accepting bribes—envelopes stuffed with cash—that were meant to get former state Sen. Malcolm Smith a spot on the 2013 New York City mayoral ballot, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

Smith’s second trial on corruption charges—the first ended last year in a mistrial—began Tuesday with opening statements.

Smith, a Democrat, wanted “to avoid a primary and jump right into the general election,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Perry Carbone said. So he authorized bribes of up to $25,000 to get permission from Republican Party leaders to run for mayor on the GOP line, Carbone alleged.

Jurors will see video recordings of political party leaders accepting bribes.

But Smith’s lawyer, Evan Lipton, said the evidence will prove only entrapment—that “agents of the government invented a crime and lured Malcolm Smith into it.” He said Smith did not offer any bribes. He made “a bad decision” when he became aware of the bribes and failed to report them, but never committed a crime, Lipton said.

Lipton blamed the scheme on an informer and an undercover FBI agent who posed as wealthy real estate developers who wanted to support Smith’s candidacy. The agent, identified only as “Raj,” is expected to be a key witness.

Smith’s co-defendant, former Queens Republican Vice Chairman Vincent Tabone, is accused of taking a bribe and tampering with a witness, county GOP leader Philip Ragusa. Tabone’s lawyer, Dennis Ring, said Tabone considered his $25,000—in 250 $100 bills—to be legitimate pay for political consulting work, “which is what he does for a living.”

He acknowledged that Tabone met with Ragusa just before Ragusa was to testify, but said that was simply part of their “20-year friendship.”

Of four other politicians who were arrested with Smith and Tabone, one has been convicted, two have pleaded guilty, and one is awaiting trial. At the time of the arrests, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the case illustrated a “culture of corruption” in New York politics.

From The Associated Press