Six New York politicians were arrested for their alleged role in a bribery scandal in which a prominent Democrat paid top Republicans for permission to run on their ticket in the city's upcoming mayoral race, prosecutors said.
Authorities described the scheme - potentially one of the biggest political scandals to hit New York in years - as an attempt to game the city's first wide-open mayoral election in more than a decade. New York will choose a new mayor in November, before Michael Bloomberg's third term wraps up at the end of the year.
The charges center on State Senator Malcolm Smith, a Democrat from Queens, who prosecutors said made payments to a city councilman to set up meetings with top New York Republicans to assist in getting him on the mayoral ballot.
Smith and the councilman, Daniel Halloran, a Republican from Queens, were among the six politicians arrested on Tuesday morning in connection to the bribery scandal, an official at the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan said.
Charges against the six include bribery, extortion, and wire and mail fraud.
"A show-me-the-money culture seems to pervade every level of New York government," said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. "The complaint describes 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."
Authorities arrested four other Republicans: Queens County Republican Party Vice Chairman Vincent Tabone, Bronx County Republican Party Chairman Joseph Savino, Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin and Spring Valley Deputy Mayor Joseph Desmaret.
Smith's lawyer, Gerald Shargel, defended his client but said he had not yet fully reviewed the charges. "Malcolm Smith is a dedicated public servant who has served ... his constituents in an exemplary fashion," Shargel said.
Representatives of the other five officials all either declined to comment or did not respond to phone calls on Tuesday morning.
"A PRETTY PENNY"
The scandal, uncovered by FBI agents working with an undercover investigator and a cooperating witness, allegedly involved a series of secret meetings in restaurants, hotels and Smith's Senate office in Albany, New York in which bribes were discussed or money exchanged.
In one January meeting, Smith, one of the highest-ranking Democrats in the state Senate, and the unnamed cooperating witness discussed the cost of the bribes, prosecutors said.
"It's worth it as long as they're going to do it," Smith said, according to court papers released on Tuesday. "He can't tell you he's going to do it and then doesn't do it ... You know, don't waste a pretty penny."
Prosecutors said that two of politicians charged in the scheme - Tabone and Savino - received a total of $40,000 in bribes for promising to support Smith. Halloran, the Queens Councilman, was said to have gotten $20,500 for setting up a meeting with people Smith believed were supporters but were in fact the cooperating witness and an undercover FBI agent.
Since 2000, Smith has represented a district in eastern Queens that includes Jamaica as well as wealthier neighborhoods near Nassau County.
Two of the other politicians arrested on Tuesday, Jasmin and Desmaret, were charged for their role in a related bribery incident involving a proposed real estate project in Spring Valley, a suburban town located about 35 miles (56 km) north of New York City.
The chairman of the state Republican party, Ed Cox, called the arrests "deeply concerning."
"The integrity of the electoral process for the voters of New York City must be preserved," Cox said in a statement.
Bloomberg, a former Democrat, changed his party affiliation to Republican before his first run in 2001 and later became an independent.
A large field of candidates hope to fill his desk at City Hall. The most prominent contenders include City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, former Comptroller Bill Thompson, current Comptroller John Liu and former Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota.
Of that field, only Lhota is a Republican
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