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Pols enter not guilty pleas

State Sen. Malcolm Smith is surrounded by media as he leaves federal court in White Plains Tuesday. AP Photo/Seth Wenig
TimesLedger Newspapers

Two Queens lawmakers, the former vice chairman of the borough’s Republican Party and three co-defendants pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges Tuesday before learning that their next day in court is nearly three months away.

An April 18 indictment handed up by a grand jury accused state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) and City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) of orchestrating a scheme to put Smith on the GOP line in the mayor’s race through a series of bribes.

Smith and Halloran stood before Magistrate Judge Lisa Margaret Smith in White Plains federal court Tuesday, alongside the four others named in the indictment — former Queens Republican Party Vice Chairman Vince Tabone, former Bronx Republican Chairman Joseph Savino, Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin and Deputy Mayor Joseph Desmaret — saying nothing as their attorneys entered their not guilty pleas.

Smith then assigned the case over to U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas, who set the next court date for July 19, the court clerk’s office said.

The six were arrested earlier this month and have since been out on bail. Halloran, who has been stripped of his City Council committee assignments, has been working out of his Whitestone office, his spokesman said.

Smith, who was also removed from his committees and booted from the Independent Democratic Conference, which he had headed, kept a low profile aside from one Twitter photo of him meeting with constituents to discuss health care weeks after his arrest.

Smith, dressed in a suit and wearing a gold watch, said little during the brief arraignment, while Halloran did a lot of chatting with his lawyer, Dennis Ring.

Tabone entered the room, sat down and scanned the packed courtroom while tapping his fingers on the table he sat behind. He was then seen laughing with his attorneys before the proceeding began.

Soon after their arraignment, some the accused, including Halloran and Tabone, exited the courthouse professing their innocence while a group of angry protesters chanted at them, “Fair elections now!”

Halloran, dressed in a dark suit and sporting an American flag pin, darted through a mass of reporters as he paced away from the building.

“I’m innocent,” was all Halloran said.

Tabone took more time to speak upon leaving the courthouse, stopping to claim his innocence.

“I am innocent. I will have my day in court,” Tabone said, while emphasizing he was an unpaid Republican Party volunteer. “I believe justice will be done.”

The roughly 30-page indictment accused the Queens officials of bribery, conspiracy and wire fraud — some of which was allegedly committed in the face of an undercover agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Prosecutors handed the evidence over to the court Tuesday in a pre-trial conference to be examined before the next court date.

Smith, who was elected to the Senate in 2000, allegedly used $500,000 in taxpayer dollars to solicit favors from Republican leaders in order to land his name on their ballot for mayor, the indictment said.

All the while, prosecutors said Halloran allegedly helped Smith in his efforts by arranging meetings with the party leaders and helping negotiate massive payoffs.

Halloran was also accused of offering $80,000 in his Council discretionary dollars to the undercover agent after he agreed to inject more funds into the councilman’s 2012 run for Congress, according to prosecutors. The scheme landed him about $39,000 in cash and $6,500 in checks made out to his campaign, the indictment said.

“That’s politics, that’s politics, it’s all about how much,” Halloran said on recordings. “Not about whether or will, it’s about how much, and that’s our politicians in New York, they’re all like that, all like that.”

If convicted of bribery, conspiracy and wire fraud, the two lawmakers face up to 45 years in prison. Tabone faces a maximum of 25 years.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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