NEW YORK — A former New York state Senate leader came under fire at his bribery trial on Monday by a federal prosecutor demanding that he explain why real estate executives who needed his support on legislation also agreed to steer work to his underemployed son.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Diskant repeatedly asked Dean Skelos if he expected jurors to believe that he thought the job opportunities didn't have anything to do with his position as one of the state's most powerful politicians. Skelos insisted they should.
"Absolutely," Skelos said at one point in the cross-examination. "So help me God."
Asked if he kept his oath of office, he said, "I've never misused my office for personal gain."
The testimony came at the retrial of the Republican from Long Island and his son, Adam, in federal court in Manhattan. Prosecutors have alleged that Dean Skelos and his son abused the father's authority by strong-arming the businesses into funneling more than $300,000 to the son through consulting work and a no-show job or else lose the senator's backing on bills.
Skelos, 70, began testifying in his own defense last week, describing himself as an overprotective father who was worried about a son who had emotional struggles as a child and financial woes as an adult. He claimed he was merely asking the businessmen to help out as friends.
"I didn't see a problem with it," he said on Friday. "I asked a lot of people to help my son."
On Monday, Diskant grilled the elder Skelos about his habit of asking for favors for his son at the close of meetings with executives from Long Island developer Glenwood Management, which was lobbying for tax abatements. The prosecutor sought to get Skelos to admit he contacted one of the executives in 2012 because he was frustrated with him for letting two years pass without giving his son work.
"Not frustrated, no," Skelos said. "I'm not frustrated right now."
Prosecutors allege that in 2013, a Glenwood executive arranged to give Adam Skelos a $20,000 payoff — disguised as a referral fee for title insurance work — to get his father to back off.
The father and son were convicted in 2015 of extortion, conspiracy and bribery. But a new trial was ordered by a federal appeals court in Manhattan after the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the law regarding public corruption as it reversed the conviction of former Republican Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Dean Skelos was expected return to the witness stand on Tuesday.