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New York State Sen. Malcolm Smith and five other politicians pleaded not guilty Tuesday to corruption charges in connection with an alleged plot to buy a line on New York City's mayoral ballot.
The allegations revived public concerns about a documented culture of exploitation in Albany that has prompted officials to seek legal recourse to induce change. Even one of the suspects said it, according to the indictment: When it comes to politicians taking money, "They're all like that."
According to court documents, Smith allegedly schemed with New York City Councilman Daniel Halloran, a Republican, to bribe county Republican leaders for the GOP line on this year's mayoral ballot.
Because he's a Democrat, Smith would have needed three leaders' permission.
The indictment said two Republican Party leaders, Joseph Savino of the Bronx and Vincent Tabone of Queens, accepted tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for their agreement.
Halloran is also accused of agreeing to steer City Council funds to a company in exchange for more bribes.
The indictment quotes him as saying, "That's politics, it's all about how much. Not about whether or will, it's about how much, and that's our politicians in New York, they're all like that."
In a separate bribery scheme, Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin and Deputy Mayor Joseph Desmaret are accused of taking money and property to approve a real estate project.
The bribery and extortion charges produced hand-wringing in the city and in Albany, where Smith was removed from his most influential post.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced several anti-corruption proposals and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who announced the charges three weeks ago, said Monday that he has met with the FBI "to discuss expanding our corruption efforts."
"It seems that a culture of corruption has developed and grown, just like barnacles on a boat bottom," Bharara said. "And just as with barnacles on a boat bottom, when a growth is permitted to spread and grow unchecked, it unsurprisingly takes an unrelenting, collective effort to clean up."
A Quinnipiac University poll released last week found that 48 percent of New Yorkers see corruption as "very serious," the highest share since the poll began asking the question in 2003. And a Siena College poll released Monday showed 81 percent of New York voters expect more corruption arrests.
The complaint and indictment make clear that much of the evidence will come from recordings made by an undercover FBI agent and a cooperating witness.
Neither is identified by name in the indictment, but the witness has been widely reported to be Moses Stern, a Rockland County real estate developer. Prosecutors acknowledge that the witness pleaded guilty to unspecified federal charges last month, hoping to win leniency at sentencing.
Desmaret's attorney, Kenneth Gribetz, said Monday he's eager to see the details of that plea bargain.