After the federal corruption convictions of Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos were thrown out, the question now is - what's next? Federal prosecutors have vowed to retry both former legislative leaders, but it's unclear whether bringing the cases in the first place changed the culture in Albany. State House Reporter Zack Fink explains.
In July, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and this week the corruption conviction against former Senate Masjority Leader Dean Skelos was also vacated.
Both men were prosecuted by former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara who trumpeted the 2015 trials as a means to clean up the tainted political culture in Albany. Bharara spoke about the convictions being thrown out on his new podcast Thursday.
"If you want to know how I feel about it, I'm unhappy about it. The prosecutors in my office are unhappy about it. The FBI agents who worked on the case are unhappy about it. And a lot of people in New York State who care about clean government are unhappy about it," Bharara said.
In June the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the definition of Honest Services Fraud, the statute Bharara used to go after Skelos and Silver. The high court found that setting up meetings could not be considered official acts for politicians.
The decision was not unexpected, and now some lament a lost opportunity to change the way business is done in Albany.
"So, I think these reversals with Silver and Skelos are wake up calls that relying on federal prosecutors to clean up the mess in Albany may not be the best course of action," said State Senator Todd Kaminsky
Kaminsky is a former fedeal prosecutor who won the Skelos seat on Long Island.
"Federal prosecutors are really the only thing that scares a lot of people in Albany. And to know that they are not winning cases I think is troubling," Kaminsky said.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, once targeted unsuccessfully by Bharara, says corruption prosecutions need to be done properly.
"The case was not legal. It was overturned because it was not legal. So, if you are using the legal system to quote-on-quote reform government you have to do it legally," Cuomo said.
Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi has introduced federal legislation that he says would close the loophole on Honest Services Fraud. It would expand the definition of official acts to include setting up meetings, for example. While Suozzi is a Democrat and in the minority, his legislation has bi-partisan support.