Malcolm Smith trial shows it took years for prosecutors to investigate Queens GOP corruption

By LOUIS FLORES

A second federal trial against former New York State Senator Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) began Monday with jury selection, moving into opening statements, and then into testimony this week, returning attention to the election system that can easily be rendered corruptible in New York City.

Former State Senator Smith faces criminal charges that he tried to bribe his way onto the Republican Party ballot line for the 2013 mayoral race in New York City.  In this second trial, he is being tried along with a co-defendant, Vincent Tabone, a former vice chairman of the Queens County Republican Party.

Former New York State Senator Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) at a healthcare hearing on February 3, 2014, faces a second trial over federal criminal corruption charges after a first court case ended last June in a mistrial.  Source :  New York State Senate/YouTube Screen Shot

Former New York State Senator Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) at a healthcare hearing on February 3, 2014, faces a second trial over federal criminal corruption charges after a first court case ended last June in a mistrial.  Source :  New York State Senate/YouTube Screen Shot

A prior court case against former State Senator Smith ended last June with a mistrial.

A central figure in the case, former New York City Councilmember Daniel Halloran (R-Queens), was found guilty in a federal jury trial last July of five counts of bribery, wire fraud, and racketeering

For years, Queens Republicans have challenged their very own county GOP organisation over complaints that the established, party leadership of the Queens County Republican Party milked candidates “for financial gain," according to a 2012 report in The New York Post.  Prior to that report, some Queens Republicans had initiated litigation, ultimately unsuccessful, challenging the election of the now late, former chairman of the Queens GOP organisation, Philip Ragusa.  Unbelievably, this discord traces itself back to 2007, when Mr. Ragusa defeated Bart Haggerty to become chairman of the Queens County Republican Party, according to The New York Post.  

The trial of former State Senator Smith reveals that it can take years before prosecutors investigate complaints about political misconduct.  Tellingly, the trial is taking place in federal court under the prosecutorial direction of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has been on a years-long crusade to bust political corruption.  In contrast, the Queens County District Attorney's Office, headed by Richard Brown, rarely, if at all, prosecutes cases of political corruption.

Discord within the Queens GOP organisation has led to a schism along two factions, one that embraces reform of the party system and another that defends the established party system.  

When former State Senator Smith was planning his mayoral run, he naturally had to work with the gatekeepers of the party endorsement process :  the established leadership of the Queens GOP organisation.  The two Queens Republican officials implicated in former State Senator Smith's case, Mr. Tabone and former Councilmember Halloran, were aligned with the late, former chairman of the Queens GOP organisation, Mr. Ragusa.

Gerald Shargel, the attorney representing former State Senator Smith in the federal criminal trial now under way, refused to answer questions posed by Progress Queens about how the encumbered nominating process at the Queens GOP organisation may have contributed to former State Senator Smith's troubles.

A report in Capital New York in December indicated that the two warring Queens GOP factions had reached a truce, but the factions had not yet agreed on a new chairman.  More importantly, it's not known what changes would contribute to reforming a culture at the Queens County Republican Party that reportedly requests political candidates contribute to housekeeping accounts, for example.

New York City Councilmember Eric Ulrich (R-Queens), who is a leader of reform of the Queens County Republican Party, did not answer a request for comment.

However, those amgonst the establishment aren't alone in facing criminal charges over political corruption.

Even some amongst those labeled as reformers of the Queens County Republican Party have run into legal troubles.  Bart Haggerty's brother, John Haggerty, Jr., was sentenced to prison after an elaborate electioneering scheme where former mayor Michael Bloomberg (R-New York City),  who had in the past been endorsed by the Queens GOP organisation, funneled money to Mr. Haggerty, Jr., through the Independence Party.

Still yet others with ties to the Queens County Republican Party have stirred controversy.  Joseph Concannon, a former candidate for the New York State Senate, who was endorsed by the Queens GOP organisation, has reportedly been involved in whipping up discontent within the New York Police Department in an effort to undermine the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City).