A powerful senator’s efforts to help his son were highlighted in a Yonkers corruption trial yesterday.
Senate Deputy Majority Leader Tom Libous has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but is the second official to be singed in an investigation that has already tripped up former Westchester Sen. Nick Spano.
A key prosecution witness, former Spano aide Anthony Mangone, testified in federal court both Thursday and yesterday that Libous leaned on Mangone’s Yonkers law firm to hire his son Matt Libous, then caused funds to be steered to the firm to bump his son’s salary from $100,000 to $150,000.
Under questioning, Mangone revealed he had described Libous to federal investigators as “Senator Nick Spano’s ‘go-to guy.’ ”
“I can’t comment because it’s a criminal trial and it would be inappropriate for me to comment,” Libous said yesterday in Albany, after the Journal News reported the claims. “I read the story this morning like everybody else.”
Spano, a Republican in a mostly Democratic area who used member items to help maintain power during his 1987-2006 tenure, last month pleaded guilty to filing fraudulent tax returns.
His name has come up several times in the ongoing trial of Zehy Jereis, the former Yonkers Republican Party Chair, and Jereis’s distant cousin, former Yonkers City Council Member Sandy Annabi, a Democrat. Both face several corruption counts, centered on events from 2006.
Jereis is charged with using some $170,000 in gifts and payments over several years to control Annabi’s votes, notably for two development projects in Westchester County.
Defense attorneys brought up Libous while hammering at the credibility of Mangone, a now-disbarred attorney who’s already pleaded guilty to bribery and tax evasion in the Yonkers case and is the only witness who can connect Jereis to a bribe.
Anthony Siano, Jereis’s defense attorney, drew on previous Mangone statements to investigators to portray Mangone and his firm as ethically compromised.
Siano brought up an account of how Libous, asking Mangone and his law partners to hire his son, promised “he’d get you so much work you’d have to build a wing” on their office.
Mangone said he didn’t know if his firm would have hired Matt Libous, who was about four years out of law school, if they hadn’t gotten the request from his father.
Mangone testified that Senator Libous got the firm to raise his son’s salary from $50,000 to $100,000. But when the senator asked the partners to raise the salary to $150,000, they balked.
William Aronwald, defense attorney for Annabi, used Mangone’s past statements to describe how Matt Libous was paid $150,000 when the firm only wanted to pay him $100,000.
They would bill Hiffa, a “consulting firm in Putnam County, $50,000 in legal services.” Matt Libous was in charge of that account.
(The provenance of Hiffa remains unclear, but there is an Albany-based lobbying firm called Ostroff, Hiffa, and Associates, which has a lot of business before the state, including representation of SUNY Binghamton, which is in Libous’s district. The firm has more than 200 registered contracts with the state lobbying commission over the past six years.)
The Hiffa funds were used to help pay Libous’s salary.
“You knew … the reason the Senator wanted you to bill Hiffa was because ‘it would not look good’ if there were any checks directly from Hiffa to the Senator?” Aronwald asked.
“Yes,” responded Mangone.
Mangone told the FBI that the partners had become very dissatisfied with Matt Libous, because he missed court appearances. Around the fifth or sixth month of Matt Libous’s work, Mangone said in court, “we just made him ‘of counsel’ because we had a concern about liability issues.”
Former Yonkers City Council Member John Murtagh, who testified earlier in the Annabi-Jereis case, said he was surprised to read Libous’s name in the paper: “I wasn’t aware he had any connections down here,” he said.
Given that Mangone’s “stock in trade were political connections to Nick Spano,” Murtagh commented, “I can’t say I was totally surprised Senator Libous’s name came up.”
Mangone had a severe gambling problem, racking up debts of nearly $150,000 during 2007 and 2008 at just two Atlantic City casinos. He also admitted to having abused alcohol and prescription drugs.
Defense attorneys on Monday caught Mangone in several discrepancies between his statements to federal investigators in 2008, before he was charged, and 2010, after he was indicted.
On redirect, Mangone insisted that his testimony in this case was truthful, and that his hopes of getting a break on sentencing–he faces up to five years on the tax charge and 10 years on the bribery charge–rested on his being honest and accurate.
The case is ongoing in federal court in Lower Manhattan, before Judge Colleen McMahon. It’s still in the prosecution phase and should last at least into next week.