Associated PressSep 26, 2017, 12:17 pm

Ex-NY Senate leader Skelos gets new trial in corruption case

Court found the jury in Dean and Adam Skelos' case was wrongly instructed

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NEW YORK (AP) — Former New York state Senate leader Dean Skelos and his son were granted new trials Tuesday in their corruption case, with a federal appeals court citing a Supreme Court ruling that has already unraveled convictions of other powerful politicians.

The court found the jury in Dean and Adam Skelos' case was wrongly instructed, in light of a recent Supreme Court ruling narrowing the definition of what it takes to convict a public official.

"Because we cannot conclude that the (instruction) error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, we are obliged to vacate the convictions," the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals wrote.

The ruling came less than three months after the same court reversed former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's separate corruption conviction on the same grounds. Together, the cases brought about the downfall of the state's two most powerful lawmakers. Skelos is a Republican, Silver a Democrat.

Prosecutors said they would assess their appeal options but looked forward to retrying the Skelos case. They also have pledged to retry Silver.

"We will have another opportunity to present the overwhelming evidence of Dean Skelos and Adam Skelos' guilt and again give the public the justice it deserves," Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said in a statement. He noted that the appeals court had found there was enough evidence to convict the two.

Dean Skelos' lawyer, Alexandra Shapiro, said the former senator is grateful "for the court's careful consideration of the issues" and looked forward to the next steps in the case.

"We believe that as events unfold, it is going to become clear that this is a case that never should have been brought," she said in a statement. Adam Skelos' attorney didn't immediately respond to a telephone message.

Prosecutors said Dean Skelos strong-armed three companies into giving his son $300,000. Father and son were convicted in 2015 of extortion, conspiracy and bribery in one of a series of corruption cases that roiled the state.

Dean Skelos was sentenced to five years in prison. His son got 6½ years. Both remain free on appeal.

Tuesday's ruling hinged on a 2016 Supreme Court decision tightening rules on what constitutes an "official act" by a public official, saying that merely setting up meetings, calling other public officials or hosting an event do not necessarily qualify as an "official act" taken in return for money or services received. The ruling reversed a jury verdict against former Virginia Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell.

A growing list of politicians — including Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and others — have used the ruling to try to win a new trial or force an end to their prosecutions.

Dean Skelos, an attorney, was first elected to the Legislature in 1980 and served in the state Senate for more than three decades. He and Silver once epitomized Albany's backroom political culture by hammering out deals on the state budget and legislation in closed-door negotiating sessions with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Over 30 New York state lawmakers have left office under a cloud of criminal or ethical allegations since 2000. More than a dozen have been convicted of charges including authorizing bribes to get on a ballot, diverting money meant for community programs into a campaign and skimming funds from contributions to a Little League baseball program.

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