The arrest of Bronx Republican Party leader Jay Savino in a federal bribery and wire fraud scheme sent shock waves through the Bronx.
The 45-year-old Savino was snagged on Tuesday, April 2 in a pay-for-endorsement scheme involving Queens’ Democratic state Senator Malcolm Smith’s bid to get on the GOP ballot line for mayor.
Smith’s alleged agent in the scheme, Queens City Councilman Dan Halloran, was charged with expediting the bribery scheme, with Savino and Queens GOP Vice Chair Vincent Tabone allegedly receiving bribes.
In Savino’s case, it allegedly was $15,000 in cash, delivered in an envelope in a car outside a Manhattan restaurant.
Two Rockland County town officials were also indicted in an unrelated scheme.
According to the criminal complaint filed by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Preet Bharara, an undercover FBI agent and Halloran met with Savino on Feb. 1 at a Manhattan restaurant at which Halloran and Savino discussed getting Smith on the Republican ballot.
“Savino, in substance, said that if the UC purchased insurance from Savino’s insurance agency or sent work to this law firm, that would make things ‘very easy.’
“Savino also stated that ‘everyone has to pay their mortgage’ and suggested that the UC also pay a retainer to another Republican county chairman” in order to gain their support for putting Democrat Smith on the GOP mayoral ballot line.
A week later, Halloran met with an undercover FBI agent and a cooperating witness at a Manhattan hotel on Feb. 8 and told them that in exchange for Savino being one of three county leaders needed to get Smith the GOP line, Savino wanted $25,000 “in an envelope.”
Smith later allegedly suggested structuring the payments as retainer payments for legal and accounting services.
On Feb. 14, the complaint states, Savino met with the undercover and cooperating witness at a Manhattan restaurant, with FBI undercover agent and Savino stepping outside to meet privately in the undercover’s car, and taking $15,000 in cash. They also agreed that the undercover would pay Savino an additional $15,000 after he signed a “Wilson Pakula certificate” that would help put Smith on the GOP ballot.
“During the conversation, Savino, who is a lawyer, proposed that he wluld send the UC a retainer agreement for $15,000 in services.
“The UC told Savino, ‘If you need some bullshit bnumber, or something, to call it…just invoice me for something,’ and Savino responded, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’”
At his arraignment at the federal courthouse in White Plains, Savino was ordered to surrender his passport and freed on $250,000 bond. He was formally charged with one count of wire fraud and Travel Act bribery conspiracy, which carries up to five years in prison is convicted, and one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum 20 year sentence.
The Bronx Republican chairman listed his residence as Congers, in upstate Rockland County.
Savino had previously backed former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, who dropped his Democratic registration to run as unaffiliated on the GOP line, then later dropped Carrion to support former Rudy Giuliani deputy mayor Joe Lhota.
Bronx Republicans have escaped prosecutor’s clutches since former Bronx GOP Chair Guy Velella resigned as state senator and party chair after his conviction on bribery charges in 2004.
After Velella went off to prison, a brief legal battle ensued over leadership of the party and its bank accounts before Savino, then Velella’s chief of staff, assumed the leadership role of a party outnumbered 10 to 1 in the overwhelming Democratic borough.
Since then, a number of Bronx Democrats have been convicted and jailed, but no Republicans criminally charged until Tuesday’s round of FBI arrests.
Savino was not without his defenders, including one saying that after the arrest, he told friends he should had what he called a business “retainer” brought to his law office.
Smith’s arrest also threw a curve at Bronx state Senator Jeff Klein, who had recruited Smith to join his breakaway four-member Independent Democratic Conference, which had been accused by regular Senate Dems of lacking any minority members.
The choice of Smith, already under an investigative cloud, did not bode well for Klein, although he retains dual leadership with Republicans in the Senate.
After Tuesday’s arrests, Klein immediately stripped Smith of all his commitee chairmanships. He also suggested in a statement that Smith might consider resigning his seat.