Suffolk Closeup: A Long Island web of corruption

KARL GROSSMAN

KARL GROSSMAN

The arrest on federal corruption charges of Long Islander Dean Skelos, majority leader of the New York State Senate, and his resignation from that post last week, casts a spotlight on a major law firm.

Ruskin Moscou Faltischek is a mover-and-shaker of governments on Long Island and one of its partners is an East Ender in charge of lobbying activities for the firm.

For more than 20 years, Mr. Skelos has been associated with RMF. But “with his grip on power in Albany slipping,” as the New York Times stated last week, Mr. Skelos’ name “was no longer on the firm’s website, and a page with his biography was removed.”

The Times article said “the criminal complaint in the case — which cataloged a series of accusations centered on the senator’s efforts to use his official position to extort money for his son — did not reflect well on the firm.” The Times noted that the federal charge alleged that “at the senator’s request, the law firm ‘steered title insurance work’ to his son, Adam B. Skelos, ‘including at least one real estate transaction’ for over $32.6 million.”

I obtained a cached copy of the page — actually two full pages — on which RMF featured Mr. Skelos. Although it was taken down last Tuesday, May 5, it was still on the law firm’s website on Monday, May 4.
Mr. Skelos was presented on the law firm’s website in the context of his official position — “Senator Dean G. Skelos, Of Counsel,” was its heading. Although now mired in legal problems involving alleged corruption, one passage speaks, with an irony that’s almost funny, about Senator Skelos “building upon his record of combating fraud and abuse in government.”

According to the federal charge, the senator began working at the firm in 1994, he has been paid more than $2.6 million, despite the fact that it appears, based on evidence gathered during the investigation, that Mr. Skelos “did not perform any actual legal work” for the firm.

RMF describes itself as “a 60 member professional firm” that has “built a reputation as one of the region’s leading providers of innovative legal services.”

An unusual aspect of the firm is what it calls its “government relations arm, Empire Government Strategies.” This is headed by Arthur “Jerry” Kremer of Bridgehampton.

In a section on the law firm’s website devoted to Mr. Kremer, under his photo is a quote: “Law and politics have always been closely aligned. Many of my clients turn to me for legal counsel, but also for my insights into the political arena, which is a constantly changing landscape.” He is described as a partner in the law firm.

Mr. Kremer is a Democrat and for 23 years was a member of the New York State Assembly. As a lobbyist, he’s been active in Suffolk County representing, among other clients, the tobacco industry and seeking to block measures advanced by the Suffolk Legislature to restrict smoking.

Although a highly active lobbyist, for 20 years he has regularly appeared as a political and government analyst on Cablevision’s News12.

Newsday, in an investigative article by reporter Mark Harrington in 2013, detailed how the “influential law firm and its government relations arm have a history of close ties to the Long Island Power Authority and stand to gain billions if new LIPA contracts come their clients’ way in coming weeks and months.”

It noted that the Uniondale-based firm “long has represented Caithness of New York City through its government relations arm” and “helped the energy company through lobbying and consulting work to secure a $1.49 billion LIPA contract for a new power plant.” Caithness is now pushing to add a second gas-fired power plant to the one it built in Yaphank.

The law firm through its “Empire Government Strategies,” the Newsday piece continued, “also has represented PSEG of New Jersey since at least last year. PSEG is slated to see a $200 million-plus expansion of its $3.8 billion contract with LIPA if the State Legislature OKs Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposal to give PSEG near total control of the LIPA grid in January,” .

Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, which includes Long Island, has been doing a extraordinary job exposing how New York State government functions (or dysfunctions). His charges against Mr. Skelos of Rockville Centre follow the indictment in February, also on corruption charges, of the top Democrat in the State Legislature, Sheldon Silver of Manhattan, the Assembly speaker, also forced to resign his leadership post. Earlier, Mr. Bharara brought a series of successful prosecutions against other state officials.

Meanwhile, Mr. Skelos was replaced last week as Senate majority leader by a Suffolk resident, GOPer John Flanagan of East Northport. This marks the highest position in the State Legislature attained by a Suffolk person since Republican Perry Duryea, Jr. of Montauk was Assembly speaker from 1968 to 1974.

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