The outline of the story is bizarre enough in its own right: A Democratic state senator plans to run for mayor of New York City as a Republican, and attempts to bribe GOP county leaders to support his effort, only to be arrested and charged when it turns out the real estate tycoon financing his bribery plan is actually an undercover FBI agent.
That’s the scenario sketched out in the federal complaint against state Sen. Malcolm Smith and five others unsealed by prosecutors this morning. The whole document is worth reading–there’s plenty of juicy material in the charges, which are full of secret parking-lot meetings, phony real estate deals, mail fraud, and more.
Whoever wrote the official statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office was certainly excited about it:
“Today’s charges demonstrate, once again, that a show-me-the-money culture seems to pervade every level of New York government. 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.”
The FBI’s statement is equally colorful, describing an incriminating episode involving Bronx Republican Chairman Joseph Savino and Queens GOP Vice Chariman Vincent Tabone this way:
After a series of meetings to negotiate the price for their approval, Savino and Tabone each met with Halloran and the undercover–at separate times, in the same restaurant–to receive their payoffs from the undercover. This was Valentine’s Day, but the way to their hearts wasn’t a box of chocolates or a dozen roses. It was cold hard cash in an envelope.
When Tabone, the Queens Republican vice chairman, was asked if he could deliver the Wilson-Pakula letter, he boasted, “Nobody else runs the party. I run the party.”
Clearly aware the scheme was illegal, Tabone patted down the undercover to see if he was wearing a recording device. He was–but Tabone was less skilled at conducting a pat-down than he was at conducting a shakedown.
But arguably the best part of the whole story is that the man Smith tapped to broker his doomed bribery scheme is none other than New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, whom Voice readers may remember from Steven Thrasher’s 2011 profile, “America’s Top Heathen.”
As the Voice reported, Halloran, a Tea Party politician representing the 19th City Council District in Queens, identified as a “Theodish Heathen.”
Halloran was no garden-variety pagan. He was the “First Atheling,” or prince, of his own Theodish tribe, called New Normandy. He had “thralls” who swore their allegiance to him. He didn’t just spend weekends reconstructing the religious activities of the pre-Christian Norse and Germanic gods–he led his flock, about 100 people at its height, in their polytheistic celebration of the gods (plural). They’d gather for “blot” (sacrifice and feast), “sumble” (“boast and toast of the gods”), and play games that, to the outside eye, looked like something from Dungeons & Dragons or a Renaissance fair.
Halloran, a former police officer, had recently endorsed the mayoral campaign of Republican and former Giuliani Rat-Czar Joe Lhota. Tabone, meanwhile, was a campaign adviser to another Republican mayoral candidate, John Catsimatidis, as well as the in-house counsel to his company, which owns the Gristedes grocery chain.
Meanwhile, Smith himself was a key piece of the rogue faction of Democrats that allied with Senate Republicans to give the GOP effective control of the chamber. His replacement is unlikely to cut a similar deal, leaving the future balance of power in Albany up in the air.
As Capital’s Azi Paybarah notes, the implications of this investigation will take “weeks, if not months,” to resolve.
This mayoral election cycle is still young, but it is already shaping up to be one of the most peculiar and exciting in a long time.