U.S. Second Circuit - The FindLaw 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Court Throws Out 'Official Acts' Convictions for Ex-NY Senate Leader Skelos

Sometimes, you just have to count your lucky Skeloses.

Dean Skelos, former New York state Senate majority leader, and his son Adam Skelos have won a reprieve from their corruption convictions. The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals said jury instructions in United States v. Skelos were faulty.

But for an intervening decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in an unrelated case, the Skeloses might be wishing upon a different star. They were each looking at six years in prison.

Two Plus One

The father and son duo were convicted of extortion, wire fraud, and bribery in 2015. Their cases followed the conviction of former New York state Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver on bribery charges.

As fate would have it, Silver's conviction was vacated two months before the Skeloses' successful appeal. Or more accurately, the same Supreme Court decision gave them all a break.

In 2016 -- after Silver and the Skeloses were convicted -- the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction of former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell. In that case, the High Court said the "official act" jury instructions were too broad and could result in convictions based on legal acts.

Under the ruling, officials can't be convicted of bribery unless they take action involving a formal exercise of government power. While the Silver and Skelos convictions were thrown out, prosecutors have vowed to retry the defendants.

High-Profile Victories

The cases were high-profile victories for former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. He focused on public corruption during his tenure before President Trump fired him and most of the U.S. attorneys from the prior administration.

Skelos, the senator, was found guilty of using his position to pressure companies seeking his political support to make payments to his son. In exchange for payments, prosecutors said, Skelos pushed legislation to benefit the companies.

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