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Top N.Y. lawmaker arrested in alleged corruption scheme

Accused of trying to buy way onto ballot for mayor

State Senator Malcolm Smith

MARY ALTAFFER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

State Senator Malcolm Smith, a Queens Democrat, rose to become the first black president of the state Senate.

NEW YORK — A top New York state lawmaker was arrested early Tuesday in what federal prosecutors said was his central role in a brazen series of bribery and corruption schemes, including an attempt to buy a spot on the ballot in this year’s race for New York City mayor.

In outlining the charges against state Senator Malcolm A. Smith, as well as five other politicians and Republican Party leaders, US Attorney Preet Bharara said the case was but the latest evidence that corruption in New York is ‘‘pervasive.’’

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“Every New Yorker should be disheartened and dismayed by the sad state of affairs in this great state,’’ Bharara said.

Smith, a Queens Democrat, rose to become the first black president of the state Senate. He was accused of conspiring with City Councilman Daniel J. Halloran III, Republican of Queens, to get his name on the ballot for mayor as a Republican, which would require approval of a majority of the party’s leadership in the city.

The others arrested were Joseph J. Savino, the Bronx Republican Party chairman; Vincent Tabone, vice chairman of the Queens Republican Party; and Noramie F. Jasmin, the mayor of the Rockland County village of Spring Valley, and her deputy, Joseph A. Desmaret, a criminal complaint said.

The complaint alleges a scheme hatched in a series of clandestine meetings in hotels, with cash passing hands in parked cars and hushed conversations in a restaurant on Valentine’s Day and even in Smith’s office in Albany.

The meetings, recorded by an undercover agent or a cooperating witness, were primarily among Smith, the undercover agent, and the witness, and Halloran and the agent and the witness. The scheme involving the race was one of three bribery schemes charged in the case.

Bharara, at a news conference, pointed to Halloran’s own words in a recorded conversation with the confidential witness as evidence of how ‘‘money greases the wheel.’’

‘‘That’s politics, that’s politics,’’ Halloran is quoted in the complaint as saying. ‘‘Not about whether or will, it’s about how much, and that’s our politicians in New York, they’re all like that. And they get like that because of the drive that the money does for everything else.’’

The charges immediately reverberated at City Hall and in Albany, threatening to upset the Republican primary for mayor of New York and the leadership coalition that governs the state Senate.

‘‘It is very, very troubling,’’ Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said of the charges. ‘‘We have zero tolerance for any violation of the public integrity and the public trust, so they’re very serious.’’

At the Capitol, Smith is a key member of an independent faction of Democrats who joined forces with Republicans to seize control of the Senate this year. Although that coalition has enough members to retain control without him, the charges against him are sure to taint the coalition as well as the rest of the Senate Democrats, who have been struggling to distance themselves from years of corruption.

Jeffrey D. Klein, a Democrat and one of the two leaders of the state Senate, said Smith would be stripped of his committee assignments and his conference leadership position.

In New York City, the case suggests an unseemly connection between money and the Republican Party’s nominating process, and raises questions for a leading Republican candidate, John A. Catsimatidis.

Tabone is an influential campaign adviser to Catsimatidis and in-house counsel to the candidate’s privately held company, which owns the Gristedes supermarket chain. The charges are also likely to be a distraction for Joseph J. Lhota, another GOP candidate, who just days ago celebrated the endorsement of Halloran.

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