Ex-GOP head Savino pleads guilty in bribe scheme

Jay Savino, the former head of the Bronx Republican Party, has followed in his predecessor’s footsteps, pleading guilty in a bribery scandal.

The former chief of staff to the late powerful Senator Guy Velella, who eventually rose to take his place, will likely turn government witness, helping to bring down a state senator, a city councilman and others involved in the scheme.

Velella served a short prison term after his own guilty plea in a state bribery case and died of cancer a short while after his release from jail.

The ex-Bronx GOP boss behind a massive corruption scandal admitted to taking bribes in a “play-to-endorse” scandal.

Joseph “Jay” Savino pled guilty in federal court in White Plains on Nov. 12 for agreeing to accept bribes in exchange for okaying Democratic state Sen. Malcolm Smith to run as a Republican in the New York City mayor’s race.

Savino took a plea deal, agreeing to file amended tax returns for 2005 and 2012 and pay back taxes. In exchange, Savino will serve as a cooperating witness against the five other defendants in the widespread scandal. He still could face jail time, up to 30 years in prison, when he’s sentenced on Feb. 25.

After Velella’s fall from grace, Savino tried to re-energize the the party, which had been dominated up to 2004 by strong leaders, including former Senator John Calandra and Velella, both holding powerful positions in Albany that translated into local clout.

“With the fall of Velella, the Bronx lost the most important senate seat in the state, with Democrat Jeff Klein capturing it,” said a party source. “Jay tried to re-energize it by opening the party up and bringing in new blood.”

Savino also became the latest of a long line of Bronx electeds to wind up convicted on bribery and other various charges, both state and federal. Former state Senators Efrain Gonzalez and Pedro Espada Jr., his former City Councilman son Pedro G. Espada, and former City Councilman Larry Seabrook are all currently serving federal prison terms. State Assemblyman Eric Stevenson is currently under feder4al indictment, charged in a bribery scheme.

The Savino case began a year ago when he was allegedly asked by Queens Councilman Daniel Halloran to allow Smith to run as a Republican for the New York City mayor’s race.

Smith would need approvals from three city Republican Party chairs to be cleared. Smith also sought support from former Queens County GOP boss Vincent Tabone.

Savino told a judge that Halloran agreed to the scheme after Smith ensured Halloran would be a top official in his mayoral administration. Savino would eventually agree to use his authority as GOP boss to sign a Wilson-Pakula certificate, a legal waiver that clears unregistered members of a politcal party to run as its candidate in a given race.

Despite the allegations, Smith has maintained his position as senator, though he was removed as a member of the influential Independent Democratic Conference overseen by Sen. Jeff Klein.

Savino at first asked for $30,000 in cash, reminding anyone involved in dirty politics they must “pay a mortage.” But it was soon bumped down to $15,000.

With Smith and Halloran lacking funds to satisfy Savino, they turned to the moneymen behind the sting–an cooperating witness who was a real estate tycoon, and an FBI agent posing as another wealthy land owner. In exchange for the UC and , Malcolm would then use his power to obtain state funds to benefit a real estate project in Rockland County’s Spring Valley, Savino’s hometown. Bribes related to the project also embroiled the town’s mayor and deputy mayor, who would agree to offer the real estate project to the cooperating witness and the undercover FBI agent.

Savino was caught in a wiretap accepting the $15,000 cash bribe outside a Manhattan restaurant. He was soon arrested on April 2nd, along with Smith, Halloran, Tabone and two other Rockland County officials.

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